Kazakh ombudsman looks into reported police violence against protesters

Elvira Azimova [Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Republic of Kazakhstan]

Kazakhstan’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Elvira Azimova, told EURACTIV on Wednesday (2 February) that her office takes seriously reports that some of those arrested following the protest in early January were tortured and that testimonies were extracted under duress.

This article has been updated with a link to a press release by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan (last sentence below).

AFP has reported cases of the alleged torture of individuals detained after protests which authorities say killed 225 and left thousands injured.

Insider's account: The Kazakhstan unrest

A trusted EURACTIV source in Almaty gave a rare first-hand account of the Kazakhstan unrest that shook up the Central Asian country in the first days of 2022.

Among them was the case of Aset Abishev – a longtime opposition activist in the Central Asian country – who was arrested on 4 January and locked away by the police, who he said tortured him for a week.

According to AFP the 44-year-old was held in Almaty without charge or access to communications and finally released a week later, his body covered in bruises.

Abishev said he spent his first three nights in a room in the police station, including the night of 5 January, when police used guns and stun grenades to repel attacks by unidentified assailants during chaos in the city of 1.8 million.

He was then transferred to a formal detention facility where he shared a cell with seven others, and he said they were severely beaten.

“The chest they did with fists. On the back and arms, it was batons and rifle butts,” Abishev said, as quoted by AFP, pointing to purple and greenish-yellow markings on his upper body, just over a week after he was released without charge on 10 January.

“With the younger men arrested on 5 and 6 January (police) showed no mercy. Plastic bags over the head, throwing them on the floor, jumping on them. They had broken ribs but received no medical attention,” he recalled.

Another case concerns Yerlan Zhagiparov, 49, who ventured outside on 6 January after hearing gunshots echo around Almaty’s city square and was never seen alive by his loved ones again.

About 8 pm that night, Zhagiparov phoned a close friend to inform him he was being detained by employees of Kazakhstan’s national guard, his brother Nurlan Zhagiparov told AFP.

After a long search, he found his brother’s corpse in a city morgue on 12 January, bruised and pierced with bullets, his hands poking through handcuffs and broken at the wrists.

Thanks to the phone calls, “there is a chronology of events”, said Zhagiparov, whose family has appealed to the police to investigate the death.

“We want people to know that he was killed, that he was tortured, and that his murderers are still at large,” Zhagiparov said.

Many accounts

During a media appearance from a hospital bed in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek last week, Kyrgyz citizen Cholponbek Sydykov said police beatings in Kazakhstan had left him and another compatriot with broken ribs and legs.

Another Kyrgyz detained in the violence, jazz pianist Vikram Ruzakhunov, said he had suffered multiple injuries, including broken ribs, but said he was asked not to give interviews about his detention.

“All my public statements are made with consideration of those who are still held hostage in Kazakhstan… Every word can affect them,” Ruzakhunov said in a post on Instagram, without saying who had asked him not to speak.

Ruzakhunov was released not long after a video of him – appearing bruised and dazed and confessing to receiving money to cause violence in Almaty – was broadcast by pro-government media on 9 January.

Fans immediately identified him, prompting Kyrgyzstan’s government to send an official note of protest to Kazakhstan.

Commissioner Azimova, whose role is akin to that of an ombudsman, said that citizens continue to make complaints about violations, which are being investigated.

According to the website of Kazakhstan’s Commissioner for Human Rights, from 13 to 24 January, regional groups of the National Preventive Mechanism for the prevention of torture and ill-treatment visited 81 detention centres, including pre-trial detention centres and temporary detention facilities in 16 regions of Kazakhstan.

Azimova told EURACTIV that Kazakhstan has adopted a commitment to zero tolerance for torture and that the country’s legislation expressly prohibits the use of torture, which entails criminal liability in the form of imprisonment for up to twelve years, and a ban on holding public office.

She added that human rights activists were now raising the issue of tightening the rules, and a draft bill was already being discussed as part of the government’s plan on priority measures in human rights.

“Independent monitoring will continue,” said Azimova.

On 25 January, representatives of the General Prosecutor’s Office announced that their service had received 109 complaints about “unauthorised methods of investigation” and violations of the rights of citizens during the investigation by the law enforcement agencies. Following an assessment of these complaints, 21 criminal cases were reportedly initiated, as reported by the website of Kazakhstan’s Commissioner for Human Rights.

President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev is said to have instructed the Prosecutor General’s office to investigate every complaint.

At the same time, calls and messages continue to arrive through social networks, Azimova said. She noted that people were asking for legal or emotional advice and social assistance.

Azimova said that when considering cases, courts and investigators should carefully ascertain whether citizens have access to lawyers or medical care and whether their rights and other procedural guarantees during the investigation period were observed.

“All evidence obtained under duress is invalid. We must not allow the re-victimisation of those who filed a complaint about a violation,” she said.

Earlier on 25 January, the Prosecutor General’s Office reported that 9,257 administrative cases related to the January events had been processed. Almost half of them have reportedly not resulted in any penalties, as the court only gave 4,584 people a warning.

In this regard, Azimova welcomed the fact that the prosecutors appealed against earlier court decisions on the imposition of administrative penalties, taking into account the character and the socio-economic status of citizens, including pensioners, the unemployed and other socially vulnerable categories.

“In relation to those citizens who for the first time found themselves involved in criminal prosecution in connection with participation in mass riots, I ask to take into account not only the severity of their actions, but also their character and sincere repentance.”

“If guilt is proven, I ask to consider the possibility of imposing criminal penalties that are different from imprisonment,” Azimova said.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/ Alice Taylor]

Following the publication of this article, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan on 3 February published a press release with information in response of questions by Human Rights Watch on cases of excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies during the January events in Kazakhstan.


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