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In January, there were mass protests in Kazakhstan, which led to the final departure of the Nazarbayev clan from power, but not to a change in the political system. The authorities declared the protests a premeditated terrorist attack from abroad. Some 3,000 people were detained on suspicion of organizing the unrest, with numerous complaints of torture and falsified criminal cases received by human rights activists immediately afterwards. Those wounded in the protests were taken to pre-trial detention centers straight from hospital wards. There, they were brutally beaten for many hours in an attempt to force them to confess to looting, robbery or involvement in “Wahhabism”. At least two people are known to have died as a result of torture at the temporary detention facility in Almaty, and three others were tortured to death in other parts of Kazakhstan. The Insider spoke with those who claimed they had been tortured to find out how they were forced to confess to being terrorists and how torture allegations are being investigated by torturers themselves.

ALL CARDS
  • «They brought me into a room, tied me up with ropes, and beat me for two hours»

  • «Police officers burst into the room and started beating me with a crutch»

  • «They hit me on the head and in the kidneys, forced me to confess to stealing weapons»

  • «Teeth pulled out with pliers»

  • «The investigator said that since I wasn't burned with an iron or doused with boiling water, it wasn't torture»

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«They brought me into a room, tied me up with ropes, and beat me for two hours»

On January 5, the photographer and masseur Sayat Adilbekuly went out to the pharmacy to buy medicines: his daughter had a fever. Sayat did not manage to get to the drugstore - he was shot in the kidney. He underwent surgery on the same day. Sayat fully regained consciousness only on January 7. The next day, people wearing black masks and helmets, with machine guns and pistols burst into his hospital room.

Together with the other victims Adilbekuly was dragged out into the street and laid face down on the asphalt. They remained like that for about 20 minutes, after which they were loaded into police vans.

“They put 18 of us in a single paddy wagon, inside a small cage, and drove us around the city, beating us up for making any noise or asking questions like, ”Who are you? Where are you taking us?“ We were beaten with truncheons and gun butts”, Adilbekuly says.

From January 8 to 25, he was in the detention center. There the beatings continued: “They came into the cell for 15-20 minutes and beat us. They said that we were terrorists and rapists, that we smashed things and killed people. This happened every day from January 8 to 17.”

“They put 18 of us in a single paddy wagon, inside a small cage, and drove us around the city, beating us up for making any noise.”

He and the other men were not allowed to sign the detention protocol until January 12, although they had been brought from the hospital to the pretrial detention center as early as January 8.

Adilbekuly was accused of participating in mass riots. He completely denies guilt.

Akylzhan Kiysymbaev was detained along with Adilbekuly. He came to Almaty from Pavlodar to work as a welder, and happened to be in the area where the protests took place on his way to work, and then in the same hospital room with Adilbekuly. Kiysymbayev told The Insider that on his first day in the detention center he was taken to a “torture room”, where they tied his hands with two ropes and beat him for two hours. Kiysymbayev was required to sign a confession that he was a “Wahhabite”. Kiysymbaev refused.

«Police officers burst into the room and started beating me with a crutch»

Thirty-year-old Nurtai Kazhgaliyev came to Almaty at the beginning of January to earn money: in his native Uralsk, despite his technical education, he could not find a decent job. On the fifth of January, according to Kazhgaliyev, he was looking for a store to buy food - and then he was shot. The answer of the municipal emergency hospital (BSMP) to the request of his lawyer Galym Nurpeisov, includes a diagnosis: gunshot wound of the right hip, brain concussion, bruises, abrasions of the face.

“He was hit by two bullets. He woke up in the hospital,” says the lawyer. “One bullet was removed, the second was to be removed in two days.”

On January 9, police officers broke into Kazhgaliev’s room and started beating him with a crutch. Then he was taken to the corridor and the beating continued there. Beatings and humiliation, according to Kazhgaliyev, went on in the detention center until the fifteenth of January.

The answer of the BSMP to the lawyer’s request states that “there was no life-threatening condition during the transfer”, but “the patient needed to be treated”. Despite that, Kazhgaliev was transferred along with sixteen other patients in the presence of an officer of the National Security Committee Department (DKNB). A few months ago, Azattyk published a video of an eyewitness, which shows a SWAT team leading the wounded people from the hospital.

According to Nurpeisov, a 61-year-old man had testified against Kazhgaliyev: “He claimed Kazhgaliyev threatened him with a rifle in the Kalkaman district on January 6. Although, even according to the papers, he was in hospital on that day with a bullet wound. They had a lineup and a confrontation before I took the case. The investigator told me: your client will ”go under the ceiling“ or, in other words, everything will be pinned on him. But the BSMP answer clearly states that Kazhgaliev was hospitalized from the fifth to the ninth of January and could not threaten anyone with firearms on the sixth of January.”

Kazhgaliyev is accused of participating in mass riots. The criminal case is not closed, but his measure of preventive restriction has been changed.

«They hit me on the head and in the kidneys, forced me to confess to stealing weapons»

Darhan Ualiyev, a forty-five-year-old cab driver, the father of three children and a political activist, was helping the wounded law enforcers on January 5. That day, unknown people clashed with the SOBR and the National Guard in the vicinity of the Republic Square in Almaty. Ualiyev tried to negotiate with the police near the Police Department to get them to release the administratively arrested political activists, his comrades-in-arms. He hoped their presence would help to overcome the chaos that reigned in some places near the square.

Unlike many who were on the streets in January, Ualiev was an experienced activist: before that, he had received a year of restricted freedom on charges of participating in Koche Partisi, an extremist organization recognized as such because of peaceful rallies and pickets.

On January 10, Ualiev arrived at the Almaty morgue, having learned that his older brother Aslan had been killed. Ualiev was detained near the morgue and taken to the Police Department.

“A hail of blows fell on me. Since my hat was pulled over my eyes and my hands were handcuffed and an officer was dragging me by the hood of my jacket, I could see nothing but the floor and my foot,” Ualiev says in his letters. “That’s why I could neither dodge, nor anticipate any attacks. The blows were coming from all sides and landing all over my body. That’s when I felt myself being pulled up the stairs; as far as the beatings were concerned, it made no difference. At one point I was led down the corridor again, and the beatings continued. Since my torturer told everyone he met I was a ”negotiator“, they would stop and put me against the wall, where that man could torture me unhurriedly. At one point I remember the stairs again, and somewhere between the 4th and 5th floors someone kicked me in the back of the head, so I hit my head on the stairs and lost consciousness. I woke up from a strong electric shock from a stun gun. I was lying in the same place where I lost consciousness.”

Currently, a pre-trial investigation is being conducted on Ualiev's claim of torture. He himself is in the pre-trial detention center.

“Someone kicked me in the back of the head, so I hit my head on the stairs and lost consciousness”

Bulbul Berdykozhanova, Ualiev’s wife, was detained at a peaceful rally in Almaty on April 24, where she demanded the release of her husband and a fair investigation into the torture he had allegedly been subjected to. Along with Berdykozhanova, Bayan Shirinbekova, the mother of two minor children with epilepsy, was detained.

Shirinbekova’s husband Alibek Imanbekov is accused of stealing weapons. Imanbekov does not admit guilt and claims in his statement (available to The Insider) that he was forced to confess that he “in a group of persons, by prior collusion, after breaking into a store, stole two hunting rifles”. Imanbekov himself states he picked up the guns on January 5 in the vicinity of the Almaty Central Department Store, where “there were many people robbing stores”. According to him, he was driving by in a car with three acquaintances of his. Because of a traffic jam, they got out of the car.

“At one point a man ran by me with several guns in his hands. Some time later I saw a gun lying on the sidewalk,” Imanbekov wrote in his statement. “I did not want the gun to fall into the hands of the angry men, as it seemed to me that they were planning something bad. I quickly picked up the gun and got into the car. B. came running after me and got into the car as well. B. also had a gun on him, which he said he also found on the street. Since there was unrest and looting in the city, we together decided to temporarily leave the guns in a safe place, in the barbershop of a mutual friend, A., and then hand them over to the police when law and order had been restored in the city. We called A. in advance and got his permission, so we left the guns and went home. In the days that followed, up to January 11, 2022, I stayed at home, guarding my family, which consists of my sick mother (cancer), my sick wife (epilepsy) and two young children. I called the 102 hotline several times to report the guns found during the riots and looting, but no one answered the phone. That’s when I realized the police were not functioning as an agency during those days.”

Imanbekov was detained on January 11, when he went to his friend’s barbershop. There, he said, they were met by police operatives who started beating them with fists and kicks on their faces and bodies. After that, the men were taken to the Almaty District Police Department, where they were forcibly held in cells and offices - without food or amenities.

“They were met by police operatives who started beating them with fists and kicks on their faces and bodies”

“We were beaten on our heads, kidneys and legs all the time,” Imanbekov wrote. “They made us lie for hours on the dirty and cold floor, with our hands crossed and handcuffed. Despite the fact that I told them the truth, they wanted me to confess I had broken into the gun store and stolen two guns by prior collusion in a group of people, none of which happened in reality”.

Eventually, according to his statement, Imanbekov was forced to admit guilt. He was threatened that otherwise he would be accused of terrorism.

«Teeth pulled out with pliers»

Thirteen minors were among those who were detained and who complained of torture, said Roza Akylbekova, coordinator of the Kazakhstan NGO Coalition against Torture and deputy director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR).

“The guy [in the detention center in Almaty] was very frightened, he obviously suffered from post-traumatic syndrome, his behavior spoke of the torture he had endured. He said he didn’t even know he was entitled to a free lawyer guaranteed by the state,” Akylbekova recalled.

In Taldykorgan, they tried to pull out the teeth of a seventeen-year-old native of the Almaty region with pliers: “They tried to pull out his absolutely healthy teeth, they could not do it because they were root teeth. But now they are loose, so new dentures and implants are needed. Many people don’t believe it, but he showed us himself.”

“The guy in the detention center was very frightened, he obviously suffered from post-traumatic syndrome, his behavior spoke of the torture he had endured”

Other detained and arrested minors complained of having been beaten, kicked, and burned with an iron.

By now, according to Akylbekova, all of them have had their measures of preventive restriction changed, but the charges have not been dropped. Most of the minors are accused under Articles 291 (theft or extortion of weapons, ammunition, explosives and explosive devices) and 287 (illegal acquisition, transfer, sale, storage, transportation or carrying of weapons, ammunition, explosives and explosive devices) of the Criminal Code of Kazakhstan.

Initially eight minors in Taldykorgan reported torture, then their number shrank to six, and today, according to Akylbekova, only three remain: “They are being offered to take the blame for the offenses they had previously confessed to under torture. In exchange for their refusal to complain of torture, they are promised they would have their charges altered and would be sentenced to restriction of freedom instead of deprivation of liberty. Naturally, everyone wants to stay free and freedom is more important to them than proving torture.”

«The investigator said that since I wasn't burned with an iron or doused with boiling water, it wasn't torture»

In March, the authorities announced 243 criminal cases involving torture. “All the criminal cases proceed according to an investigation plan, which contains a set of investigative and operational measures. Many complainants point to police officers who wore masks and helmets, which means they did not even see their faces or know their names. Now the investigation is reconstructing the January events bit by bit, based on the testimony of the complainants and eyewitnesses and the existing video surveillance footage. This work is complicated by the fact that many cameras were not working or were damaged during the riots themselves,” said the head of the Anti-Corruption Service, Olzhas Bektenov.

Bektenov believes that the injuries in question could have been sustained directly in the street riots:

“Therefore, the investigative actions are also aimed at establishing the time period when the complainants suffered bodily injuries. Necessary forensic examinations have been appointed in all criminal cases. Now we know that 46 complainants have light bodily injuries, and 6 have moderate bodily injuries. At the same time, no bodily injuries have been found in 25 persons.”

In early April, Yeldos Kilymzhanov, deputy head of the First Service of the General Prosecutor’s Office of Kazakhstan, said that special prosecutors were investigating ten cases involving unauthorized methods of investigation. According to him, nine law enforcement officers were detained - eight national security officers and one policeman.

Later, on April 25, he stated that “some of the complainants used complaints of torture as a line of defense to discredit and invalidate the evidence against them.”

At the same time, there are cases that can be assessed as obstruction of the work of lawyers representing the interests of torture survivors. A striking example is the case of 38-year-old Azamat Batyrbaev. In late January, photos of him surfaced online - his body showed bruises and burns. His relatives said that Batyrbaev had been beaten and burned with an iron in the building of the Almaty Region Police Department. One officer was sent into custody, but Baurzhan Azanov, Batyrbaev’s lawyer, is convinced that other police officers should also be arrested. “He couldn’t have burned him with an iron by himself, right? Someone had to hold his legs and arms,” Azanov said.

The lawyer twice filed petitions to that effect - once in February and once in April - but they were ignored. “I’ve been working on torture cases for twelve years, and they very rarely go to trial. We like to say on social media we should toughen the penalties for this crime, but in fact we should make sure these kinds of cases go to court more often,” he stresses.

Currently, the interdepartmental investigative group, which is investigating the January events in Taldykorgan, has sent a letter to Azanov’s bar association with a request to subject him to disciplinary liability. The lawyer attributes this to the fact that he had “appealed the actions of the investigators whenever I could,” and demands that they be punished and suspended. “The fact that they have addressed my own bar association suggests that this is their way of attacking me,” the lawyer believes.

The lawyer of Nurtai Kazhgaliev, a man who was removed from the hospital by the law enforcement officers on January 9, also speaks about the obstruction of his work:

“I came to see Kazhgaliev a month after his arrest. At that time, he still had marks of beatings, but when he came out, everything had already healed. I sent a petition to Antikor [Anti-Corruption Agency of Kazakhstan] to request the medical material compiled during his admission to the detention center. It consists of his medical record, video recordings, personal examination record. They said they had received everything, but they did not show it to me. Three or four [Antikor] investigators changed. No matter how many times I tried to get those materials, they wouldn’t let me see them, and then it turned out they were in the city prosecutor’s office. I perceive it as obstruction of an attorney’s work”.

Sayat Adilbekuly is also dissatisfied with the course of the investigation into his torture allegations. In an interview with The Insider, he said that in a conversation with him the Antikor investigator doubted the prospects of the case. “The investigator told me I had not been burned with an iron or doused with boiling water, which means it would be difficult to classify it as torture and bring it to court.”

On April 21, the Qantar Foundation held a press conference during which attorneys stated that the investigations into cases involving torture, gunshot wounds, and murder had been delayed. “We can now conclude that the January events and the response of law enforcement and the judiciary to them are inadequate. Lawyers who try to represent individuals in criminal cases point out that not all of those criminal cases are being properly investigated. There are instances of red tape, with cases involving gunshot wounds being sent back and forth from one government agency to another. While a case travels between agencies, the evidence gets lost,” said Daniyar Kanafin, coordinator of the group of lawyers.

The reason is the lack of an independent agency in charge of investigation, says human rights activist and expert of the NGO Coalition against Torture Tatiana Chernobil:

“Torture is being investigated by those who, one way or another, are interested in a positive outcome for the government. That’s why it is difficult, even theoretically, to speak about objectivity. Especially in a situation like the January events when almost everyone who had been detained de jure or, more often, de facto was brutally tortured with complete impunity. To expose those responsible would be, as the authorities must have imagined, to place the reputation of the law enforcement agencies at risk. But isn’t it already at risk? On the contrary, the solution would be to investigate objectively, with a willingness to accept and bear responsibility.”

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