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Kazakh Women Describe Slavery Ordeal In Moscow

  • Tom Balmforth

Bakiya Kasymova (left) and Leila Ashirova, both recently freed from captivity, talk to reporters in connection with a recent "slavery" scandal involving migrant workers in Moscow.

Bakiya Kasymova (left) and Leila Ashirova, both recently freed from captivity, talk to reporters in connection with a recent "slavery" scandal involving migrant workers in Moscow.

MOSCOW -- Two Kazakh women have said they were lured into slavery in Moscow on the promise of a job and held in captivity in a supermarket for 10 years where they were beaten and forced to work.
Leila Ashirova, 26, and Bakiya Kasymova said they were among 14 migrants from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, including three children, rescued from slavery by a pair of Russian civic activists in the capital on October 29.

"I personally worked there 10 years and I never left the shop once. I tried a couple of times and they beat me," Kasymova said.
The alleged captives were freed by civic activists Oleg Melnikov and Danil Medvedev who went to the shop accompanied by several local Russian TV crews after they received a tip-off from Leila’s mother Tazhinar Ashirova.
Emil Taubulatov, a lawyer for the Civic Action organization and the Memorial rights groups, said a police investigation is under way. Police brought the owners of the shop in for questioning this week, but they were subsequently released, according to the activists.
The Kazakh women identified the owners of the store as married couple Saken Muzdybaev and Dzhan Sulu Istambekova. Activists alleged the couple’s relatives were also actively involved in the “scheme” and said dozens may still be being held in captivity in different buildings.
Police 'Blind Eye'

Taubulatov said he submitted appeals on November 2 to the Moscow police demanding multiple criminal investigations be launched into the owners of the supermarket for the use of slave labor and grave crimes that may even include murder.

(WATCH: The women are reunited with their families)

“Along with the use of slave labor, there are possible charges of abduction, unlawful detention, kidnapping of a child, and even possibly murder because two of these women a few years ago had their children taken away from them and nothing has been heard of them ever since," Taubulatov said.

"When the mothers asked what had happened to their children, they were told they had died."
Kasymova said she gave birth to a child in 2003, in the first year of her captivity. She said Dzhan Sulu Istambekova took the child from her, informed her that it had been sent to Kazakhstan to be looked after. She was subsequently informed the child had died.
The women accused local district police officers of turning a blind eye to their incarceration.
Leila Ashirova, who said she was forced to lift heavy goods in and out of the shop, told journalists that when "one of the girls escaped from the shop and asked for help from law enforcement officers, they pretended to help her."

"They said that they were taking her to the airport or the train station and that they would help. Then, half way there, they called the owner of the shop and said they had found one of 'yours' and asked what she was doing at the police station. They said, make sure it doesn't happen again. This happened many times," Ashirova said.
Ashirova and Kasymova described how 10 years ago they handed over their passports to the proprietors who said they needed to be officially registered by the authorities. They have not had identification documents since.
Leila’s mother Tazhinar who attended the press conference appealed to the Kazakh Embassy for assistance, but was told to turn to the local police force.
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    Tom Balmforth

    Tom Balmforth covers Russia and other former Soviet republics. He can be reached at balmfortht@rferl.org

     

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