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ATYRAU, Kazakhstan -- An Uzbek national has been found dead in a Kazakh prison after complaining to relatives about torture.

Ruslan Otajonov was found dead in a prison near the city of Atyrau in western Kazakhstan on May 8, his father, Rustam Otajonov, said on May 14.

Rustam Otajonov spoke to RFE/RL after being allowed to see his son's body at a morgue in Atyrau.

Ruslan Otajonov’s younger brother, Rasul Otajonov, told RFE/RL by phone on May 14 that several days before his death, Ruslan had sent a video statement to his relatives, complaining of torture.

In the video, which Rasul Otajonov provided to RFE/RL, a man in a blue T-shirt with closely cropped hair introduces himself as Ruslan Otajonov and says that prison guards had threatened him and other inmates, saying that they would "rot in solitary confinement."

"If I die, the prison guards must be he;d accountable," he says.

Ruslan Aitimov of the Atyrau regional prosecutor's office told RFE/RL that Otajonov’s death was being investigated.

The chief of the Correctional System Department in the region, Mirbolat Kopesov, declined to comment on the situation and recommended that RFE/RL send its questions to his agency in written form.

Autopsy and Forensics Center officials in Atyrau told RFE/RL that they could only provide results of the tests performed on Otajonov’s body to his direct relatives.

For years, prisoners in Kazakh penitentiaries have complained of dire conditions.

Inmates have rioted in recent years to protest what they call "torture," often maiming themselves to draw attention to their plight.

On May 10, dozens of people demonstrated in Astana, Almaty, and several other Kazakh cities, protesting “torture" faced by prisoners in the country.

The rallies were quickly dispersed with dozens forcibly taken away from the protest sites by police.

Several protesters were later given sentences of up to several days in jail for "violating regulations on public gatherings."

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has voiced support for the idea of making adherence to U.S. sanctions a criminal offense. (file photo)

Russians who adhere to economic sanctions imposed by the United States could be imprisoned for four years under legislation due to be considered in parliament.

The bill, co-sponsored by leaders of all four parties in the legislature, was submitted to the State Duma lower house on May 14.

It is part of an effort to retaliate after the United States imposed asset freezes and financial restrictions on Russian officials, tycoons, and companies seen as close to President Vladimir Putin on April 6.

Those sanctions, the latest in a series imposed by the United States, European Union, and other countries since Russia seized Crimea and backed armed separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014, were meant to punish Moscow for alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other "malign activity around the globe."

The legislation, which faces three votes in the Duma and one in the upper house before it goes to Putin for his signature, would enable a court to impose a prison term of up to four years on any individual or representative of a legal entity in Russia who refuses to supply services or do business with a Russian citizen due to sanctions. Offenders could also be fined up to 600,000 rubles ($9,710).

Under the bill, helping foreign governments impose sanctions on Russia by providing advice or information would also be a criminal offense, punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to 500,000 rubles ($8,090).

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has voiced support for the idea of making adherence to U.S. sanctions a criminal offense.

But lawmakers have watered down initial proposals for a raft of restrictions on the import of specific goods and services from countries that have imposed sanctions on Russia -- including U.S. pharmaceutical and agricultural products, alcohol, and tobacco -- amid concerns that the measures could hurt Russian consumers and companies.

They also removed a proposal to restrict the employment of U.S. citizens in Russia.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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