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Watchdog Raises Concerns Over Kazakh Ill-Treatment Of Zhanaozen Prisoners

A police officer stands guard in Zhanaozen in the days after the December 2011 violence.
A police officer stands guard in Zhanaozen in the days after the December 2011 violence.
A new report published by Amnesty International says Kazakhstan has failed to fulfill its pledge to end prisoner abuse and to fully investigate the authorities' use of force during antigovernment protests in the western Kazakh city of Zhanaozen in 2011. RFE/RL correspondent Farangis Najibullah speaks to Amnesty International's David Diaz-Jogeix, the deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia Program at Amnesty International, about the contents of "Old Habits: The Routine Use of Torture and Other Ill-Treatment in Kazakhstan."

RFE/RL: How many people do you estimate were detained in connection with the Zhanaozen events?

David Diaz-Jogeix: According to the information provided by [Kazakhstan's] General-Prosecutor's office, there were about 16 people who were arrested on charges of organizing the violence, while over 130 had been detained for participating in violent mass disorders. However, an official list seen at the central police station in Zhanaozen [that] day contained the names of as many as 700 individuals detained in the aftermath of the clashes, although we are in no position to further corroborate that. However, that's why we are calling for a full investigation into the events in Zhanaozen.

RFE/RL: What were the most commonplace methods you found were used to mistreat detainees?

Diaz-Jogeix: In Zhanaozen, what Amnesty International came across is a very fairly systematic pattern of torture and other ill-treatment. This investigation came from people who, during trials, raised their concerns about being tortured, as well as witnesses of the prosecutor who recounted their confessions, their statements against a defendant.

What we were confronted with were fairly sustainable allegations where people were subjected to beatings, people jumping upon them. They were stripped naked and held in the court of the police station in subzero temperatures. Cold water was thrown on them, inflicting pain, as well as particular allegations of beating the bodies of different detainees.
A still from an amateur video taken as protesters fled police in Zhanaozen on December 16, 2011.
A still from an amateur video taken as protesters fled police in Zhanaozen on December 16, 2011.

RFE/RL: Are Zhanaozen suspects still being held and mistreated in Kazakh prisons?

Diaz-Jogeix: There are a couple of persons whose detentions we are following. That includes [activist] Roza Tuletaeva. We don't have information of ongoing ill-treatment. However, we have raised concerns with regards to their access to a doctor. According to international standards, it is important that there is no denial of adequate medical care to a prisoner because otherwise it could amount to cruel and humiliating treatment.

RFE/RL: Kazakh authorities insist that they have thoroughly investigated the Zhanaozen events, and have punished officials responsible for the deaths of protesters. Do you find their response satisfactory?

Diaz-Jogeix: Not really. We at Amnesty International call for an independent international investigation into the events in Zhanaozen. We would have liked that the investigation into the actual killings and the actual shootings by police officers was done in a manner that it was done thoroughly, impartially, and independently. There are a couple of people who were convicted -- mainly very high-level officials who were convicted -- for some of the killings in Zhanaozen. But the nature and the volume of the killing, the amount of arms that were actually shot, and also the fact that some of the police [officers] testified in court that they themselves had shot bullets into the crowd, merit a review of this case and a real look into the responsibilities of all individuals involved.

RFE/RL: Apart from cased related to the events in Zhanaozen, how widespread is ill-treatment of detainees and prisoners elsewhere in Kazakhstan?

Diaz-Jogeix: The Amnesty International report does not only focus on Zhanaozen. We have brought additional cases where we have concerns. These concerns are not with torture and other ill-treatment but basic prisoners' rights. We have various concerns as well with the abuse of solitary confinement -- particularly with [bringing] attention to [the case of Kazak poet] Aron Atabek, who has spent one-third of his time in prison so far in solitary confinement in very harsh and unhealthy conditions. We also raise our concerns of the restriction of prisoners' rights that are [protected under] international standards. Some of them have their access to family visits restricted in a fairly severe manner. And we also have the particular case of Zhasulan Suleimanov, who is a wheelchair user and a paraplegic who has spent a considerable amount of his time in prison in isolation and without proper and adequate medical care.

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