Kazakhstan: New report accuses President of 'pulling wool over eyes' of world on torture

Report comes a week after Cameron’s controversial trade trip to oil-rich country

Amnesty International has accused the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbaev, of “pulling the wool over the eyes” of the international community after making - then breaking - promises to eradicate torture in the country.

In particular, Amnesty is calling on the Kazakhstani president to allow an international investigation into the security forces’ use of lethal force during a notorious incident in the town of Zhanaozen following strikes and protests there in December 2011. At least 15 people were killed and more than 100 seriously injured when security forces used excessive force to disperse protesters. Subsequently, scores of people were rounded up by the security forces and tortured in overcrowded underground police cells.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has called for an international investigation into what happened at Zhanaozen.

Amnesty’s report - Old habits: The routine use of torture and ill-treatment in Kazakhstan - comes just a week after the UK Prime Minister David Cameron made a two-day trade visit to Kazakhstan. Asked about human rights during the trip Mr Cameron emphasised that the visit was primarily about economic issues, but said “nothing is off the agenda, including human rights” - though no further details of any human rights discussions have emerged.

Amnesty International’s Senior Director of Research Nicola Duckworth said:

“It is clear that the Kazakhstani government’s assertions of its commitment to eradicate torture are for international consumption only - 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.”

Amnesty International UK’s Head of Policy and Government Affairs Allan Hogarth said:

“During David Cameron’s flying visit to Kazakhstan he brushed off questions about human rights, but the grim reality he left behind is still there.

“Mr Cameron should add his voice to calls for an international investigation into the Zhanaozen killings and alleged torture.”

Last year, following a criminal investigation into the events at Zhanaozen, five senior security officers were sentenced to prison terms for abuse of office. However no charges were brought against numerous other security officers, some of whom publicly admitted that they had shot at protesters. Meanwhile, the Kazakhstani authorities continue to dismiss allegations of torture as unfounded, including those made under oath in court by individuals detained in the aftermath. The same team of prosecutors who had investigated the violence and ordered the detentions were appointed to investigate the allegations of torture.

In 2010 the Kazakhstani authorities declared to the UN that they “would not rest until all vestiges of torture had been fully and totally eliminated”. However, the following year 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.

Bazarbai Kenzhebaev died on 21 December 2011, two days after he was released from police custody. He had told his family and a journalist from Russia that he’d been tortured in the main police station in Zhanaozen after being detained following the violence on 16 December. The then acting head of the police station, Zhenishbek Temirov, was the only person charged and sentenced over his case. So far no credible attempt to identify and bring to justice other security officers who had tortured Kenzhebaev has been made.

Roza Tuletaeva, a labour activist who was charged with being one of the organisers of the December 2011 violence, was put on trial in 2012. At the trial she said that during her interrogation security officers had suspended her by her hair, put a plastic bag over her head to suffocate her and subjected her to assault and sexual humiliation. They also reportedly threatened to harm her 14-year-old daughter. She was nevertheless sentenced to seven years in prison for “inciting social discord”.

Aron Atabek, a 60-year-old dissident writer and poet, was jailed for 18 years in 2007 after being convicted on charges of taking part in mass disorder and for killing a police officer. So far he has spent four and a half years in solitary confinement in harsh, unhealthy conditions. Last November, for criticising the regime, Atabek was sentenced to a further two years’ solitary confinement in a high-security prison in Arqalyk, 1,000 miles away from his home town.

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