(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Amnesty International accused the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbaev, of deceiving the international community with his government’s promise to eradicate torture and fully investigate the lethal use of force by police. In a report published today, Amnesty International exposes how the security forces act with impunity and how torture is widespread.
The report, Old Habits: The Routine Use of Torture and Other Ill-Treatment in Kazakhstan, details how at least 15 people were killed and more than 100 others were seriously injured when security forces used excessive and lethal force to disperse the crowds in protests in the southwestern city of Zhanaozen in December 2011. Numerous people were rounded up by security forces and subsequently tortured in overcrowded underground police cells.
“Security forces in Kazakhstan injured and killed people when dispersing demonstrations in Zhanaozen,” said Nicola Duckworth, senior research director at Amnesty International. ”They tortured the detained in prisons where conditions amount to ill-treatment while the government authorities endorsed impunity by failing to investigate such violations.
“Despite the authorities’ continued assertions that they have conducted thorough and impartial investigations, 17 months on from the violence in Zhanaozen, justice has not been delivered for the use of excessive and lethal force, for the arbitrary detention and the torture and other ill-treatment resulting in unfair trials for scores of people," said Duckworth.
Amnesty International is calling on President Nazarbaev to authorize and facilitate an independent international investigation into the use of lethal force by security forces in Zhanaozen, as recommended by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.
As a result of a criminal investigation in 2012, only five senior security officers were charged with and sentenced to prison for the abuse of power in relation to these clashes. However, no charges were ever brought against other security officers – some who had even publicly admitted that they had shot at protesters.
Eyewitnesses claimed that the detainees were kept incommunicado in overcrowded cells and had been stripped naked, beaten, kicked and doused with cold water. At least one man died as a result of the torture. However, the monitoring by those who were allowed access could not be conducted in an independent and thorough manner.
Kazakhstani authorities continue to dismiss the allegations of torture as unfounded, including those made under oath in court by individuals detained in the aftermath of the Zhanaozen violence. In a travesty of justice, the same team of prosecutors who had investigated the violence and ordered the detentions was appointed to investigate the allegations of torture.
During her trial in 2012, Roza Tuletaeva, a labor activist who was charged for being one of the organizers of the December 2011 protests, stated that security officers grabbed her by her hair, put a plastic bag over her head in an attempt to suffocate her and subjected her to sexual humiliation. The security officers also threatened to harm her 14-year-old daughter. Tuletaeva was sentenced to five years in prison for “inciting social discord.”
Bazarbai Kenzhebaev died on December 21, 2011 – two days after he was released from police custody. He told his family and a journalist from Russia he had been tortured in Zhanaozen’s main police station after being detained following the violence on December 16. The then-acting head of the police detention center, Zhenishbek Temirov, was the only person charged and sentenced in this case. No real attempt to identify and bring to justice other security officers who have tortured Kenzhebaev was made.
“Not only torture and other ill-treatment is entrenched, going beyond physical assaults by security officers,” said Duckworth. “As well, prison conditions are cruel, inhumane and degrading: inmates are kept in degrading conditions and punished with prolonged periods of solitary confinement in violation of international standards.”
Aron Atabek, a 60-year-old dissident writer and poet was detained in 2006 and convicted on charges of participating in mass disorder and for the murder of a police officer. So far, he has spent nearly three years in solitary confinement, in very harsh, unhealthy conditions. In November 2012, Atabek was sentenced to another two years of solitary confinement in a high security prison in Arqalyk, located more than 1,000 miles away from his home town.
In 2010, the Kazakhstani authorities declared to the United Nations that they “would not rest until all vestiges of torture had been fully and totally eliminated.” In a regressive move in 2011, President Nazarbaev transferred control of the entire prison system from the Ministry of Justice back to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, against which most of the allegations of torture were received.
"The promises of the government of President Nazarbaev to the United Nations ring hollow until he allows for a fully independent international investigation to accomplish what the Kazakhstani authorities failed to do for more than a year,” said Duckworth. “Without such an investigation the security forces will continue to act with impunity.”
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists, and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth, and dignity are denied.