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European Delegates Meet Kazakh Prisoners, Hear Torture Claim

Iskander Erimbetov reportedly said he was tortured in custody.

ALMATY -- A European delegation has met with inmates in Kazakhstan whom rights activists consider political prisoners in the tightly controlled Central Asian country.

The delegation led by Polish lawmaker Marcin Swiecicki and the president of the Italian League for Human Rights, Antonio Stango, met on April 16 with jailed businessman Iskander Erimbetov and civil rights activists Almat Zhumaghulov and Kenzhebek Abishev.

Swiecicki and Stango told journalists that Erimbetov told them he had been tortured in custody.

Erimbetov was arrested in November 2017 and charged with involvement in money laundering by Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive Kazakh tycoon and vocal critic of President Nursultan Nazarbaev.

Erimbetov rejects the charge, maintaining his innocence.

Swiecicki and Stango said Kazakh authorities did not let them visit a former president of uranium giant Kazatomprom, Mukhtar Dzhakishev, who is serving 14-year prison term in the central Qaraghandy region.

They said they were told that Dzhakishev is in a maximum-security prison that foreigners are not allowed to visit.

Dzhakishev, who was once Ablyazov's close business partner, was arrested and sentenced on corruption charges in 2009. He and his supporters say his conviction was politically motivated.

Ablyazov, who has been living abroad since 2009, is wanted by Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine on suspicion of embezzling some $5 billion.

He denies wrongdoing and contends that the case against him is politically motivated.

In June, a Kazakh court sentenced Ablyazov to 20 years in prison in absentia after convicting him of organizing and leading a criminal group, abuse of office, embezzlement, and financial mismanagement.

Opponents and rights groups say that Nazarbaev, who has held power in the Central Asian country since before the 1991 Soviet breakup, has taken systematic steps to suppress dissent and sideline potential opponents.

The Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights considers Erimbetov, Zhumaghulov, and Abishev political prisoners.

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