Kazakhstan: Watchdog Signals Alarm over Torture, Prison Conditions
Torture and inhumane methods of confinement are rife in Kazakhstan, global human rights watchdog Amnesty International alleged in a new report published on July 11.The report, “Old Habits: The routine use of torture and other ill treatment in Kazakhstan,” accused Astana of breaking its “bold promise” to the United Nations in 2010 that it “would not rest until all vestiges of torture had been fully and totally eliminated.”“In 2013, the security forces in Kazakhstan still enjoy impunity for human rights violations,” Amnesty said. The report singled out fatal unrest in the western oil town of Zhanaozen in 2011, pointing to a “lack of effective investigation and prosecution into the use of excessive and lethal force […] as well as the torture and other ill-treatment” of protestors detained over the violence. Fifteen civilians died in clashes with security forces in Zhanaozen after a protracted oil strike spiraled out of control. Allegations of torture by detained protestors – who said they had suffered beatings, suffocation, and sexual abuse – were dismissed by investigators and 37 civilians were convicted of unrest-related crimes. Some were amnestied or given suspended sentences; 10 remain in jail, as does opposition leader Vladimir Kozlov (alleged to have fomented the unrest) and six police officers jailed over the demonstrators’ deaths.Kazakhstan’s government – which did not immediately react to the report – says it has adequately investigated the violence and punished the guilty. It has not acted upon last year’s call by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to allow an independent international investigation, and Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty’s senior director of research, said Astana’s promises to the UN would “ring hollow” until an impartial probe was conducted.“It is clear that the government’s assertions of its commitment to eradicate torture are for international consumption only, that they are an attempt to pull wool over the eyes of the public at home and abroad, while torture and other ill-treatment continue unabated and unchecked,” she said.The report detailed concerns over prison conditions, including “the use of solitary confinement in a manner that might amount a breach of human rights standards.” It mentioned the case of Aron Atabek, a poet who has spent one third of his time in solitary confinement since being jailed in 2007 for 18 years on charges of orchestrating unrest in which a police officer was burnt to death during clashes outside Almaty in 2006.Amnesty’s recommendations include establishing an independent body to investigate allegations of human rights violations by security forces; effectively investigating torture allegations and reviewing convictions where they were involved; and ensuring prison conditions meet international standards.
Joanna Lillis is a journalist based in Almaty and author of Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan.
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