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Kyrgyzstan: Rights Groups Sound Alarm Over Torture Deaths

(RFE/RL) August 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- International and local rights groups in Kyrgyzstan have expressed alarm over the suspected use of deadly torture tactics by law-enforcement officers in northern Kyrgyzstan.

The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and Kyrgyz human-rights group Kylym Shamy (Torch of the Century) said in a press release on August 22 that law-enforcement officers in the city of Naryn appear to have tortured at least three detainees to death. The Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights has also expressed concern about the deaths.

IHF Executive Director Aaron Rhodes says that his organization is investigating several cases of alleged abuse in which detainees have died in police custody.

"If these perpetrators are brought to justice and punished, others will be much more careful in the future...That's why we hope our report will be a catalyst toward an investigation by the national authorities" -- IHF's Aaron Rhodes

"The evidence points very strongly to them having been tortured," Rhodes says. "And in one case, there was an investigation and the police officers involved were acquitted. There was another case in which an individual reportedly hanged himself during predetention circumstances, and an independent commission was formed which concluded that this was not a suicide. So this appears to be, according to this independent commission, a death that has been the result of ill treatment by the authorities."

In a third case, on August 13, Rhodes says that another detainee was beaten to death, reportedly by a senior investigator for the city's law enforcement.

No Response To Complaints

The IHF says that one of the victims, Kurmanbek Kalmatov, died this month as a result of a beating by a security officer in July. His sister, Mira Kalmatova, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that she went to visit her brother soon after the July beating. She said she went to the Naryn City police station within days to file a complaint and seek an investigation.

Her actions led nowhere, Kalmatova said. No one visited the hospital to investigate, and no official complaint was registered at the police station.

The head of rights group Kylym Shamy, Aziza Abdyrasulova, says she went to Naryn to visit the pretrial-detention center and meet with officials. But she said she encountered other signs of police abuse.

"When we arrived, four teenagers between 14 and 15 years of age showed us their hands, with slash wounds. They complained that the police officers had forced them to wear gas masks -- the police officers hit and kicked them and forced them to take the blame for thefts that they did not commit," Abdyrasulova says.

The IHF's Rhodes says such cases are only the tip of the iceberg -- not only in Kyrgyzstan, but elsewhere in Central Asia.

"There are many, many cases of police brutality and these problems exist in almost every country in fact, but the difference is what happens afterwards," Rhodes says. "Here you have this acquittal, and you have to wonder if the courts have really done their job acting as an independent body to thoroughly investigate and fairly judge on the matter."

Losing Faith In The System

Rhodes says the failure of the court system to convict officials or law-enforcement officers for exceeding their authority will inevitably erode public confidence in the justice system.

"In Kyrgyzstan or anywhere else, the best antidote against these tragedies is justice -- so if these perpetrators are brought to justice and punished, others will be much more careful in the future," he says. "That's why we hope our report will be a catalyst toward an investigation by the national authorities. The minister of the interior [and] the minister of justice in Kyrgyzstan have to go to Naryn, have to take up these cases -- because if they don't, the citizens are just going to continue to lose confidence in the state."

Such a loss of confidence was evident in comments from Urmat Akunov. Naryn police claim that Akunov's father, Bektemir, hanged himself in his detention cell. Bektemir Akunov was a member of the opposition United Front for a Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan and a regular participant in antigovernment rallies.

Urmat Akunov says he doubts his family can expect justice for his father's death, especially after hearing that two officers on trial for beating another detainee to death were acquitted.

"The Naryn city judge, [Japar] Ermatov, was also presiding in our father's case. Now, after his verdict, after seeing his approach to the facts, I think we would distrust him," Akunov says.

The IHF, Kylym Shamy, and the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights are vowing to continue their close monitoring of events in Naryn. They are also urging officials there and in the capital, Bishkek, to launch proper investigations into all of the cases mentioned in their report.

(RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service director, Tynchtykbek Tchoroev, and correspondent Jarkyn Ibraeva contributed to this report)

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