Svetlana Gannushkina: The Investigation Must be Conducted in Accordance with the Law

6 November 2012 

Source: (info)

On 2 November 2012, the news agency Rosbalt held a press conference on the release of the Kazakh and Uzbek nationals who were enslaved for many years by the husband and wife business partnership of Saken Muzdybaev and Zhansula Istanbekova, owners of the Produkti shop in Moscow's Golyanovo district. 5 women, 4 men and 3 children, including a 4 month old, were released in total. The fate of another woman and two young children remains unknown at this time.

The conference included statements by the victims themselves, as well as by civil activists and the lawyer Emil Taubulatov, a member of the Memorial Human Rights Centre's Migration Rights network and adviser to the Civic Assistance refugee support committee.

According to Emil Taubulatov, the Kazakh and Uzbek nationals were brought to Civic Assistance on Wednesday 31 October, a day after being freed from years of captivity in the basement of a grocery shop. The operation to free Bakiya Kasymova and Leila Ashirova, both of whom attended the press conference, was carried out by the civil activists Danila Medvedev, Oleg Melnikov and Dmitry Aleshkovsky. The victims' account revealed details of the many years they spent in virtual slave labour in a basement shop on the outskirts of Moscow. Bakiya Kasimova and Leila Ashirova came to Moscow from Kazakhstan. They were lured there with promises of decent pay and good working conditions. They have not received a single kopek for their 10 years of service in Moscow, despite having had to work from 6 am until late in the evening. Not only did they serve customers in the shop and work on the cash tills, they also had to help unload goods, mop the floors, and follow all of their employers' orders. They were not allowed to leave the basement in which they lived and worked, and they had their phones taken away. Security guards at the shop ensured that these rules were strictly followed and the premises were fitted with a large number of video cameras so that every move of the slave labourers could be monitored. The shop owners and security guards would beat the women hard for the slightest mistake. Bakiya Kasimova claims that she gave birth to a son and a daughter whilst in Moscow. The female owner, Zhansulu Istanbekova, took the girl away, saying that she would send her to Kazakhstan, where she would be better off. A while later, she told Bakiya that her daughter had died. The mother knows nothing about the circumstances of her daughter’s death, nor where she may be buried. The other child, who was discovered in the basement by the activists who freed the victims, had spent five years in captivity, has the developmental age of a 3 year-old, has difficulty walking, and does not speak.

Civic Assistance and Memorial formed a team of lawyers who will provide assistance to the victims and the witnesses, who may be subjected to pressure.

On Friday, Emil Taubulatov and the lawyer Gulnara Bobodzhanova submitted statements regarding the incident to the Moscow GUVD (Main Directorate of Internal Affairs). The lawyers list the serious aspects of the offences committed against their clients: the use of slave labour (Article 127.2 of the Russian Criminal Code), unlawful imprisonment (Article 127 of the Russian Criminal Code), intentional infliction of moderate bodily harm (Article 112 of the Russian Criminal Code), kidnapping of a person (Article 126 of the Russian Criminal Code), threat of murder and murder (Article 105 of the Russian Criminal Code). The Main Directorate of Internal Affairs has accepted the statements and is now in the process of assigning jurisdiction. In other words, the Directorate of Internal Affairs must decide which department will conduct the investigation: the Investigative Committee of Moscow’s Eastern Administrative District or the Golyanovo District Department of Interior Affairs. Meanwhile, as one of the defence lawyers points out, many serious questions remain to be asked of the Golyanovo Department itself. The use of slave labour in its district went unnoticed by police officers for a period of ten years, which must at the very least lead to the conclusion that they are not fit for duty. Furthermore, the possibility that they colluded with the shop owners should not be ruled out.

Events in Golyanovo call for the launch of a criminal case on the charges listed above, as well as a breach of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Article 4, which expressly prohibits the use of slave labour.

“The fact that people were held in slavery for ten years in Russia’s capital at the beginning of the 21st Century represents a breakdown of the law enforcement system, which not only failed to prevent a series of serious crimes, but also condoned them”, said Svetlana Gannushkina, Chairperson of Civic Assistance and board member of the Human Rights Centre Memorial.

“It is now imperative that when a crime is discovered an investigation should be conducted with all thoroughness and in accordance with the law. It is unacceptable that this case should become one of many migration cases involving the use of illegal labour, that the criminals might get off on a fine, and that their victims might be deported from Russia, making it impossible for them to testify in court and in the preliminary investigation.”

Questioning of the victims is ongoing at this time. Early on, the activists who freed the victims and the Civic Assistance committee supplied them with small sums of money for food and paid for their accommodation.