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Torture in Kyrgyzstan: Crime without Punishment

Formally, law-enforcement and security officers may be imprisoned for torture during detention and custody of a citizen. In practice, the victims can hardly reach it as it is almost impossible.

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According to official data, every year Kyrgyzstan registers about 400 or more complaints about torture used by law-enforcement officers. Although, according to human rights defenders, the real number can exceed this figure at least five times. Meanwhile, despite the fact that almost 25 years have passed after Kyrgyzstan officially recognised the fact of torture, just above ten police officers were sentenced for this kind of crime, according to official data.

Torture, battery, threats – daily routine of the police?

A building of one of the district internal affairs departments in Bishkek. Photo for illustration purposes only. Photo: CABAR.asia

On the evening of September 6, 2020, a 51-year-old resident of Nookat district of Osh region, Kabylzhan Alidzhanov, came back home with numerous bruises and pain in kidneys and groin area. Four hours earlier, he was detained and taken to the building of the local police department, where law-enforcement officers extorted more than 570 thousand som (nearly 6,700 dollars) from him as a non-existent debt, according to his relatives. Otherwise, they threatened to incriminate a few crimes in him: fraud, robbery, brigandism, and drug marketing and to imprison him for many years. Because of fear for his life, Alidzhanov moved to Moscow, where he opened business a few months ago. He sent the medical assessment of beatings by police officers from there. The son of Alidzhanov, Sirozhidin, said:

Everyone here is afraid of prosecutors and police officers. Nookat is a small town. He was so much intimidated that he was afraid of going to a hospital or notifying the police. We managed to collect and gave to police officers only 100 thousand som (nearly 1,200 dollars). Our relatives helped us, my mother borrowed some money in a pawnshop in exchange for jewellery. But they want 475 thousand som (over 5,500 dollars) from us. Where can we take this money from?

According to Alidzhanov Jr., the pressure from law-enforcement officers is related to the conflict between his father and his business partner in Russia, who is the native of Kyrgyzstan. 

“The uncle of the father’s partner came to our house and threatened that some people would come to us if we fail to find the money for him until evening. These people were the criminal investigation department officers,” Sirozhidin said.

When beating Alidzhanov, the police officers, according to him, threatened to sell his children and his pregnant daughter-in-law to slavery in Chechnya, and the latter gave birth to a premature child. The local prosecutor’s office, according to the Alidzhanovs, refused to accept their complaint about the police officers. However, after the request to the General Prosecutor’s Office, the regulatory authority of Osh region reported that two pre-trial procedures were initiated against the police officers of Nookat district for illegal detention and use of torture. The investigation department of the Chief Directorate of the State Committee for National Security (hereinafter, GKNB) for Osh city and Osh region is carrying out the investigation. However, even after that, according to the victims, when speaking to them, the investigator of GKNB showed determination to protect the police officers rather than the victims seeking help.

Death after five hours of torture

The building of the Directorate of Internal Affairs, Osh. Photo: 2Gis

On the night of October 16, 2020, 26-year-old resident of Nookat district, Mukhamed Kanybek uulu, died in the building of the Directorate of Internal Affairs of Osh [UVD]. He was detained on suspicion of robbery committed ten days earlier.

“Mukhammed was detained because he had previous conviction of robbery. When he was 18, his friends and he robbed the petrol station with a toy gun,” said the friend of the deceased’s brother, Aibek Sydykov. “But he served time in jail in full. On that day (October 16), he, his wife and his kid were going to go to Bishkek. We thought they already left because they said goodbye to their mother and brother. His brother gave him 500 thousand som so that he could buy a vehicle in Bishkek. No money were found with him.”

Now the police produce an argument that a substantial sum of money was seized from the suspect upon detention, which proved his implication in a crime. According to Sydykov, Mukhammed was detained at 8 pm, and at 1 am his body was already in the mortuary. They learned about what happened only two days after his death from one of local police officers. The deceased had a wife and a six-months-old son.

Everyone was shocked. We didn’t even want to file the report to police because we just wanted to take and bury the body.
“We were told that investigators did not allow to return the body because of the investigation, and we had to wait for one more day. After we saw him tortured, we decided to complete the case and hired the lawyers. He was beaten black and blue. We could assume from the bruises on his body that he was not even tortured, but rather tormented severely,” said Aibek Sydykov.

When the police explained what happened, they first said police officers shot him with a less-lethal weapon when he attempted to resist arrest. Thereafter, he was taken to the regional directorate of internal affairs, went faint, and the ambulance team could not help him. Later on, the interior ministry told another version, where the detained went faint “for unknown reasons after he was taken to the office and died on the way to the emergency ambulance.”

The chief of the department and four field agents were dismissed. Another police officer was levied a disciplinary fine. However, after a wave of public resentment about soft punishment, all six officers of the criminal police service of UVD of Osh region were detained and placed to the temporary detention facility of GKNB on suspicion of the use of torture.

“Aquarium”, “elephant” and rubber ward

Over 90 per cent of torture in Kyrgyzstan are used in law-enforcement system, National Centre against Torture

According to National Centre for the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of the Kyrgyz Republic, over 90 per cent of torture in Kyrgyzstan are used in law-enforcement system. Generally, this “effective” method of interrogation is used in the first hours of detention. However, in recent years, according to the head of the human rights organisation, Bakyt Rysbekov, torture in investigators’ offices, which used to be widespread in the past, is no longer used.

Bakyt Rysbekov, director of the National Centre for the Prevention of Torture in the Kyrgyz Republic. Photo: CABAR.asia

“When we started our activity, people were beaten in internal affairs departments. Now, as they say, the suspects are treated before they are taken to the department,” said Rysbekov. “Do you remember the case of robbery of a great sum of money at the Osh airport? The people who were detained said they were taken to the river, it was the cold season though, were beaten and poured with cold water. They were forced to undress in advance and to get into the river.”

To keep the facts of torture unknown to the wide public, the law-enforcement officers, according to Rysbekov, use refined torture against their victims. And the victims prefer to keep silent about it.

They put plastic bags on their heads. This is one of the most refined methods. In addition to the fact that the person chokes and faints away, he or she urinates and defecates voluntarily, which is the most severe humiliation. And those people who have undergone this method of torture rarely admit it. There is a special subculture with its own rules in closed facilities. Further status of the inmate in the new environment depends on their behaviour. Therefore, the people who have undergone humiliating types of torture rarely speak about them. Such types of torture include raping with a police truncheon, or other expedient articles. They will never tell about it because they are concerned about their future.

In 2012, the number of registered torture reports was 371, in 2015 – 478, and in 2017 – they declined to 418. However, the real number of such facts, according to Rysbekov’s estimates, is many times more than the numbers given. According to Rysbekov, the alleged decline in the number of police reports about torture does not mean the real decline because of the refined torture and the impunity of criminals.

Crime without punishment

Article 305-1 “Torture” that provides for imprisonment for 3 to 5 years appeared in the criminal code of the Kyrgyz Republic in 2003. In 2012, it was improved and brought into line with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The crime was qualified as high crime and punishment for it was increased up to 15 years in prison. In addition, such convicts were deprived of the right to parole and amnesty.

According to the report of the Kyrgyz Republic on the progress of implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment dated October 19, 2018, nearly 150 officers of the interior ministry were charged under 60 criminal cases from 2012 to 2018 for the use of torture and other cruel treatment. Only 15 of them were found guilty. 12 of them were sentenced to 7-11 years in prison. 3 officers were convicted, yet no penalty followed due to the expiry of the period of limitation (the crime was committed until 2012, i.e. before the punishment for the use of torture was tightened). 6 officers of the interior ministry were brought to trial for the use of torture against minors, 2 of them were sentenced to 10 and 11 years in prison.

Beyond powers

The officers of the National Centre to Prevent Torture visit the temporary detention facility of Bishkek. Photo: National Centre to Prevent Torture.

According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in 2020 they received over 5 thousand complaints about the illegal actions of police officers and misconduct in office. By results of internal investigations, 58 officers were dismissed, over 100 were removed from office. However, law-enforcement officers cited only 2 registered cases in the last three years related to torture, including the guy who died in UVD of Osh.

“We do not investigate torture,” the press service of the interior ministry said. “Torture is qualified as a gross violation. Such facts are investigated by prosecution agencies upon report. They initiate criminal cases, and GKNB is responsible for their investigation.”

In 2015, a special department in charge of monitoring the observance of civil rights in pre-trial stage of the criminal procedure was established in the General Prosecutor’s Office. This department was responsible for countering torture and other kinds of cruel treatment. Until the investigation of such facts became the responsibility of GKNB in 2019, 44 criminal cases were initiated under article “Torture”, 11 of which were taken to court. 11 officers were acquitted in 8 cases, and 7 officers were convicted, but only five were imprisoned. The prosecutor’s office failed to specify the prison sentences of each of them.

The decision to hand over competence from the general prosecutor’s office to GKNB was reportedly made to avoid the conflict of interest. However, according to the human rights organisation ‘Bir Duino – Kyrgyzstan’, the anti-ranking of agencies, whose officers use torture, is led by this agency. Then follow the interior ministry and the State Penitentiary Service (GSIN). According to the latest official data, 154 inmates died in closed facilities of GSIN in 2017 to 2019. In the same period, according to the public security service of the interior ministry, 5 detainees “committed suicide” and 2 detainees “died suddenly” in temporary containment cells.

According to Tolekan Ismailova, the human rights defender, leader of ‘Bir Duino – Kyrgyzstan’:

Both GSIN and interior ministry explain the majority of lethal cases in prisons by suicides. This is not true. It is cruel treatment in closed institutions, where the state fails to perform its obligations, that is called extrajudicial killing that brings the citizens to death. According to the convicts, there are so-called rubber wards there, where they suffer from beatings, and the aquarium. They are forced to stay in cold water with their feet bare until they take the fall.
Human rights defender Tolekan Ismailova. Photo: from the respondent’s archive

When the torture investigating function was handed over to GKNB, it worsened the situation, said Ismailova.

“They do not let us into the pre-trial detention centre of GKNB as it the closed facility,” said Ismailova. “Once the investigation function was handed over, they became even more frightened. For example, the extremism law violates the constitution, civil rights. GKNB is a very punitive system. They can place an innocent person and kill him and say afterwards that he died in prison. Afterwards, they do not return their bodies. They don’t even say the place of their burial. In such situation, we cannot even know what actually happened to a person!”

The head of the human rights centre ‘Kylym shamy’, Aziza Abdirasulova, supported her colleague.

The investigative competence was handed over to GKNB, yet they use torture themselves, the most refined methods! How can they prevent torture if they use torture themselves?
Aziza Abdirasulova. The photo was taken from social media

In addition, Abdirasulova noted that there is no feedback from the investigative department of the GKNB. According to her, the prosecution agencies used to provide information about such facts, whereas the GKNB has never replied to any request since this function was handed over to them.

The agency said to the human rights defenders that the national centre’s officers inspect their pre-trial detention facilities almost every week to check the conditions of confinement and use of torture. They also said that there is strict control inside the agency.

“Our specific feature is that we cannot be very transparent,” the press service of GKNB said. “It’s a great job that they inspect us. The national centre to prevent torture provides information about inspections held – we visited them, checked them and found no such facts. Why should we let others in?”

CABAR.asia asked the head of the agency, Kamchybek Tashiev, to comment on the use of torture in GKNB via WhatsApp and he said shortly, “No torture will be used as long as I’m here.” (original author’s spelling”). 

As to investigations, only one case was referred to court under the ‘Torture’ article out of 145 criminal cases in 2019. Moreover, according to the official statistics of GKNB, 70 cases out of 145 were dismissed, 90 per cent of them were dismissed for absence of a crime in the act.

“Cases are dismissed for absence of a crime in the act mainly,” Rysbekov said. “For example, 246 similar facts were registered for 6 months of 2020 with the common register of crimes and offences. However, 129 cases were dismissed, i.e. 52 per cent are already closed! This is the number for 6 months only.”

“The fact that Kyrgyzstan has admitted the fact of the use of torture have let us start fighting this harmful phenomenon, but we have expected different outcomes,” said Rysbaev, director of the National Centre to Prevent Torture. “At the global level, we admitted this fact back in 1997, but the country still denies the fact of torture existence and use. No one wants to investigate such facts in full.”

According to the general prosecutor’s office, 90 per cent of complaints about torture use were dismissed in 2016-2018. In addition, no one out of 26 defendants was punished in 7 criminal cases considered by courts in 2019 under the old version of the criminal code. 22 of them were acquitted for absence of a crime in the act, 2 – for failure to prove a charge, and 2 were found guilty, but they were never punished due to the expiry of the period of limitation.

Hope is still there

Police control room. Photo for illustration purposes only. Photo: CABAR.asia

According to the human rights defenders, torture is no more a closed topic, it is considered by court. The only achievements are the recognition of the fact and the establishment of the National Centre for Monitoring in 2012, as well as the attempts to introduce the so-called Istanbul Protocol in 2014, i.e. the practice of documentation of traces of torture by medical personnel. However, the health ministry has failed to provide any information about the protocol. According to them, there is no objective basis for the situation improvement. Their hopes are based on the change of the national leadership only.

“New president Sadyr Zhaparov said that the detainees were mostly non-guilty persons or arrested for minor offences. He promised to expand the list of persons eligible for a pardon once he becomes the president,” Ismailova said. “After the inauguration we’ll see if the new president of the country has political will. Basically, he was the detainee himself. Of course, we do have hope. But all we can do is just hope.”

The vicious system

The main reason for the use of torture is the extraction of forced confessions. Moreover, the interior ministry have said repeatedly that they do not use the previous system of incentives and punishments for crime detection, but it is still used. According to the ex-head of the internal security service of interior ministry, Aitmamat Rakhmanov, torture is used to get the best crime detection rate in the reporting period.

It does exist, yet secretly, because they get punished for undetected crimes. It’s not only the police, but the entire law-enforcement system is built this way. We should eliminate it from the roots,” said Rakhmanov. “In the past, both officers and investigators did violate the criminal standards. The prosecutor’s office is linked with them because it is the systemic corruption. Some turn a blind eye on it, others pay bribes every month. It was, is and continues like this so far.

“This is the weakness of the prosecutor’s office. In the past, everyone was afraid of a prosecutor of any district. Now they are all puppet, twisty, buy their offices and work like this to cover their costs,” Rakhmanov said.

The interior ministry, in turn, said that they struggle against torture by improving the professional level of the manpower, including in the field of knowledge of human rights and liberties. Moreover, all temporary detention facilities of the republic, according to the agency, are equipped with CCTV cameras. However, the national centre to prevent torture cannot even say how many cameras are in working condition.

“He beat himself”

The closed craniocerebral injury, hypertension, headaches, nausea and emotional instability, severe pains in the area of kidneys, and the inability to urinate. This was the condition of 38-year-old Ulan Nazaraliev who was taken to the Dzhalal-Abad regional hospital from the temporary detention facility of a local police station. However, according to the medical forensic examination, they detected only “light harm to health”. Moreover, according to the experts, “Nazaraliev could have hurt himself with a sharp and blunt object. The prosecutor’s inspection ended up with the refusal to initiate criminal proceedings because “the reasons listed in the complaint were not justified,” while “the actions of police station officers of Dzhalal-Abad did not contain crime components.”  When Nazaraliev exhausted all legal remedies at the national level, he turned to the UN Committee on Human Rights, which in November 2020 found him as a victim of torture, and ordered to recover the compensation from the state.

Given this decision, human rights defenders submitted their suit to the Pervomaisky District Court of Bishkek and demanded to pay out 3 million som (over 35,500 US dollars). The fact of beating and abuse was denied by the internal ministry at the case hearing on February 11, 2021. However, the general prosecutor’s office reported strict measures against police officers. On February 24, the court partially complied with the demand – the victim had to receive 50 thousand som (nearly 6,000 dollars).

This is not the first case of the kind. According to human rights organisations, there have been four decisions made by the Supreme Court so far, i.e. they have passed through all three instances and the decision was to pay compensation to the victims of torture. The state has paid 200 thousand som of compensation (just above 2,300 dollars) to one of them only. So far, there are six decisions of the UN Committee on recognition of the victims of torture as such. No one has received compensations under these decisions so far.

The precedent decision

A temporary detention facility of Tash Kumyr. Photo for illustration purposes only.  Photo: Turmush.kg

On December 1, 2020, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women made the precedent decision regarding the failure of Kyrgyzstan to fulfil its obligations related to the observance of rights of women prisoners, namely, the resident of Mailuu-Suu in Dzhalal-Abad region, Roza Gorbayeva. The state was recommended to compensate the damage caused to the victim. 

As soon as Gorbayeva receives the decision of the UN Human Rights Committee, with which she is corresponding now, according to her lawyer, she is going to file a lawsuit against the interior ministry, GSIN and judicial authorities.

It’s not about the amount of compensation for damage. I just want to punish the people who did this to me. I want them to be held liable, Roza Gorbayeva
Roza Gorbayeva was detained back in 2013 on a charge of murdering her neighbour, which she never committed, according to her. In the course of legal proceedings, when the case papers were submitted for further inquiry many times, the accused spent three years in six temporary detention facilities of the republic: in Dzhalal-Abad, Tash-Kumyr, Mailuu-Suu, Bazar-Korgon, Nooken and Batken. However, according to the law, the time of detention in a temporary detention facility, which is not intended for long-term detention, may not exceed 48 hours. Moreover, she said she was beaten by truncheons, forced to put on a gas mask, and forced to confess in the crime. She had to live, sleep and ease herself in the premises where men lived.

“Some wards were intended for two inmates only, and large ones were for 7-8 people,” said Gorbayeva. “It was unbearable.  I couldn’t have a wash, or ease myself, you know. Men were all around me. I spent every day of these three years in tears and stress. When I was taken to the pre-trial detention centre of Osh, it was like a paradise to me. It had a separate toilet room, water, TV set, beds, normal linen; it was warm there. But I was there for a few months only.”

In 2016, Gorbayeva was found guilty and sentenced to 12 years in prison. However, Gorbayeva was released on parole because her prison time was recalculated: one day in a temporary detention facility is counted as two days in prison and the amnesty was applied to her.

In March 2017, Nargiza Radzhapova, her husband, minor son and brother were detained on suspicion of murder of an inspector of the drug trafficking control office. According to Radzhapova, police officers were beating her and her family, strangled them by putting plastic bags on their heads, inserted needles under the fingernails. One of them raped her with a bottle, and Radzhapova lost her two unborn children as she was in the second month of pregnancy. Her husband could not bear it and took the fall, however provided that they let them get back home. However, after Radzhapova turned to the prosecutor’s office and gave interview to journalists, new criminal cases were initiated against her and her brother on articles “Fraud” and “Misprision of crime”. As a result, Radzhapova’s husband was sentenced for life, and her brother was sentenced to 12 years in prison. She was acquitted for failure of evidence.

Only one year (!) later, according to Radzhapova, the general prosecutor’s office initiated a case over torture and illegal confinement. By that time, the case was dismissed and resumed several times.

“They are in fear,” Radzhapova said. “All those detective officers have been promoted. Some of them have become chiefs, others have become deputies. But I won’t quit this case. My unborn children have died! My husband is disabled now, he cannot walk. He’s sentenced to life. My brother was found guilty. The case was initiated against three police officers, but there were 12 of them! They did a number on me! And the worst thing about it is that they keep on doing the same! A guy was recently tortured in Osh, the same police officers were involved.”

The woman continues to seek the status of a victim in her torture case for more than three years. She is connected to the investigation as a witness(!) not as a victim. Having little hope for justice in local law-enforcement and judicial authorities, Razhapova has also filed a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee.

This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project

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