AQTOBE, Kazakhstan -- Three Kazakh police officers have been convicted and sentenced to prison for torturing a suspect in a rare ruling in the Central Asian state.
After convicting the three defendants at a trial on March 17, a court in the northwestern city of Aqtobe sentenced two of them to three years in prison apiece for torturing a man suspected of stealing a piece of jewelry.
The third defendant received a suspended three-year sentence, meaning he will not be sent to prison.
Activists have criticized Kazakhstan over its human rights record under President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who has been in power since the Soviet era and appears certain to win a new five-year term in an early election set for April 26.
Rights groups have said torture is a widespread practice among police and in penitentiaries, but prosecutions are rare in the tightly controlled, energy-rich country of 17 million.
International human rights watchdogs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have accused the Kazakh authorities of falling short of keeping their promise to the United Nations in 2010 "to totally eliminate all vestiges of torture."
The rights groups' reports for 2013 and 2014 said that cases of torture by law enforcement officers and investigators were reported across Kazakhstan and that instances of forced confinement to psychiatric clinics, a measure imposed on dissidents in the Soviet era, were also reported.
Kazakh authorities often brush aside such criticism or deny torture accusations, but there have been some recent cases in which police have been prosecuted on suspicion of torture.
In January 2013, a court in the northern region of Qostanai set a precedent for Kazakhs and other Central Asians seeking redress for police torture by upholding a decision to award compensation to a man who was tortured by the police in 2007.
In November 2013, two police officers in the northern Aqmola region were sentenced to three years in jail for torture.
In July 2014, a court in the western city of Atyrau sentenced three police officers to prison terms of between one and two years for torturing a suspect.
Last month, two police officers in the northern city of Pavlodar were sentenced to one year in jail each for torturing a suspect.
With reporting by Tengrinews