When Vasily Maklakov reported a robbery to the police a decade ago, he did not expect to become a victim of torture.
When he reported his abuse at the hands of officers of the law, he did not expect a battle for justice that would drag out over years and bring no redress.
Maklakov is one of the disturbing cases documented in a new report on torture in Kazakhstan by international human rights watchdog Amnesty International, released on March 3.
Amnesty’s study, Dead End Justice: Impunity for Torture in Kazakhstan, suggests that not only is torture rife in places of detention, but even when victims report abuse, the perpetrators usually get away with their crimes.
“The Kazakh system for investigating police abuses is so riddled with loop-holes and the protection of vested interests that torturers are able to act with virtual impunity,” said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty's Europe and Central Asia director.
A crucial finding was that vested interests hamper investigations into torture claims, preventing eradication of the abuse.
“The underlying factor behind the barriers to justice facing victims of torture in Kazakhstan is that it is not in the interests of the agencies and individuals who carry out investigations of torture to do so impartially and objectively,” the report stated.
Obtaining justice is an up-hill struggle as investigators play “bureaucratic ping-pong” with those who file complaints about police abuse.
Maklakov, one of 12 case studies in the report, filed his complaint in 2006.
He alleged that police officers he called out to investigate a robbery at the sauna where he worked in northern Kazakhstan had arrested and tortured him in order to coerce him into confessing to the crime himself.
They struck him with a plastic bottle filled with water, hit him with a chair, kicked him and sexually humiliated him, before eventually releasing him without charge, according to his complaint.
Five years after he lodged it, a court ruled that the complaint should be investigated. It was dismissed two years later on the grounds that the perpetrators could not be identified.
In another case, investigators dismissed the torture allegations of Iskander Tugelbaev, who was left in a coma for three days after a beating in a prison in eastern Kazakhstan, citing “lack of evidence.”
The study pointed to torture allegations in the trial of oil workers accused of fomenting fatal unrest in Zhanaozen in western Kazakhstan in 2011, when defendants complained of being subject to violent abuse in custody — from suffocation to beatings and sexual violence — to force confessions.
The complaints were sent for investigation by the Zhanaozen prosecutor’s office, whose officers were implicated in the allegations. It concluded that no torture had taken place.
Amnesty recommended the establishment of an independent body to investigate torture allegations, with the involvement of civil society.
The watchdog accused Astana of flouting its commitments to prevent torture under international conventions and its own legislation, despite an order issued in 2012 by General-Prosecutor Askhat Daulbayev to “open a criminal investigation into every incident of torture.”
Human rights groups receive hundreds of torture complaints every year, but only a handful ever reach the courts, the study said.
In the first seven months of 2015, 10 cases of torture were prosecuted, of which five resulted in a conviction and only one perpetrator received a prison sentence.
Kazakhstan has legal mechanisms in place to prevent, investigate and prosecute torture, but needs to wield them far more robustly in order to stamp it out, Amnesty concluded.