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Kyrgyz Musician Says He Was Severely Beaten In Kazakh Custody, Suffered Multiple Injuries

Vikram Ruzakhunov is a well-known jazz pianist who regularly travels to Kazakhstan for gigs. He appeared on Kazakh state TV earlier this month with clear marks of a recent beating.

BISHKEK -- A well-known Kyrgyz jazz musician, whom law enforcement in neighboring Kazakhstan arrested during deadly anti-government protests in Almaty and presented on TV as "an international terrorist" before his release, says he was severely beaten while in Kazakh custody.

Vikram Ruzakhunov wrote on Instagram on January 24 that he is currently in hospital in Bishkek after undergoing surgery for injuries suffered during his detention, which ended after the Kyrgyz government strongly protested the move.

According to the musician, he suffered a chest injury, broken ribs, a concussion and multiple bruises while in Kazakh custody.

"Until today, I had no idea of the scale of the reaction to the stupid move by Kazakhstan's media to broadcast the infamous video, because they took away my mobile phone, all my belongings, money, my ID card, driver's license, bank card. They did not return them to me, everything mysteriously disappeared," Ruzakhunov wrote.

Anti-government protests, sparked by a protest in the remote town of Zhanaozen over fuel price hikes, erupted in Kazakhstan in early January. Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev has publicly blamed "20,000 extremists who went through training in terrorist camps abroad" for attacking Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, during the unrest. He has not produced any evidence to back up the claim.

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Ruzakhunov's situation became amplified after a Kazakh television channel showed a video where he says that he had been recruited by an unspecified group to come to Kazakhstan to take part in the unrest for $200. In the clip, severe bruises can be seen on on Ruzakhunov's face.

The video sparked protests in Kyrgyzstan, where Ruzakhunov was immediately recognized by his fans. The Kyrgyz government officially demanded that Kazakhstan immediately release the musician.

On January 10, Ruzakhunov arrived in Bishkek from Almaty, but gave few details of his ordeal, only saying that he gave a false statement on camera with the hope it would secure his release.

In his January 24 post on Instagram, Ruzakhunov said that all of his previous official statements were made "for the sake of those who still remain hostage in Kazakhstan, most of whom have families, children, many of them are the only breadwinners for their elderly parents, disabled sisters, and my every single word could affect their situation."

In all, 10 Kyrgyz nationals were detained in Kazakhstan during the violence in Almaty. Some have been released and sent to Bishkek at the Kyrgyz government's request. Two Kyrgyz citizens died during the unrest.

Kazakh officials said 227 people, including 19 law enforcement officers, were killed during the turbulent events across the country.

Human rights groups insist that the number may be much higher as scores of people remain missing, presenting proof that many peaceful demonstrators and persons who had nothing to do with the protesters were killed by police and military personnel following an order by Toqaev's to "shoot-to-kill-without-warning."