Kazakhstan is party to the Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Relevant agreements impose on state authorities a series of legislative, administrative, judicial and other obligations aimed at preventing the use of torture in the country. Nevertheless, multiple incidents confirm the following: torture in Kazakhstan remains a widespread phenomenon. Authorities only give the appearance of combating torture, but the real measures undertaken by official Astana do not solve the problem of systematic torture in police stations and prisons.
Torture in Kazakhstan is exerted both on detainees as a form of interrogation with the aim of obtaining confessions, and to prisoners in prisons and penal colonies. At the same time, the problem of torture has reached such proportions that even the authorities of the country can no longer completely turn a blind eye to it. Recently, the Prosecutor’s Office of Kazakhstan reported on criminal cases instituted against workers of law enforcement bodies and prisons. The reason for instituting criminal investigations were incidents of the ill-treatment of detainees, criminal suspects and prisoners.
In recent years, the number of complaints of torture, as well as the number of criminal cases instituted with regard to alleged torture has increased in Kazakhstan. According to official data, in 2009, 14 statements on the use of torture were registered in Kazakhstan, in 2010 – 36 statements, 2011 – 52 statements, 2012 – 602 statements and during the first 5 months of 2013 – 304 statements were submitted. In 2009, three criminal cases were instituted in connection with torture in Kazakhstan, in 2010 – 10 cases, in 2011 – 15 cases, in 2012 – 18 cases and during the first 5 months of 2013 – 19 cases. Within six months of 2013, the Kazakhstan Coalition of NGOs Against Torture received 201 complaints of torture and other forms of cruel treatment. Official statistics show that the number of criminal cases, instituted against law enforcement officers on charges of torture, is negligibly small compared to the number of statements on the use of torture. At the same time, law enforcement officials and prison staff who exerted torture, do not face charges under Article 141, section 1 (‘Torture’) of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan (the CC of the RK), but under Article 308 (‘Abuse of power and official authority’).
The scale of torture in Kazakhstan is also confirmed by the high incidence of self-mutilation (committed both by groups and individuals) of inmates in detention centres and prisons. In 2012, the number of cases in which prisoners caused physical injury to themselves in protest against cruel prison conditions and abuse, has significantly increased. Also, numerous cases of deaths of prisoners, who were unable to endure inhumane treatment have been recorded. Despite the statements of witnesses and international observers on the shocking beating of prisoners, the government does not respond adequately to the reports of torture, and human rights organisations are not permitted to enter penal colonies. Due to the closed nature of the penitentiary system in Kazakhstan, it is almost impossible to effectively investigate the statements regarding ill-treatment, filed by prisoners.
This report presents cases of torture, which have become known to the public. The examples of criminal cases against law enforcement officers and prison staff specified below prove that the maximum punishment to which they were sentenced for the use of torture is 7 years’ imprisonment; it is noteworthy that there are also cases in which defendants received suspended sentences. At the same time, for example, persons convicted for political reasons, namely: Mukhtar Dzhakishev, Vadim Kuramshin, Vladimir Kozlov, Roza Tuletayeva were sentenced to 14 years’, 12 years’, 7.5 years’ and 5 years’ imprisonment respectively. Thus, the sentences to which police officers and prison workers for applying torture are rather lenient, especially in comparison with the sentences handed down in connection with ‘political’ articles.
Torture is unacceptable in a state which participates in a variety of international human rights agreements and declares its commitment to democratic values. Unfortunately, it can be concluded that the use of torture is a widespread phenomenon in Kazakhstan. This is due to imperfection of legislation in the sphere of combating torture and corruption in government bodies. Competent authorities frequently ignore statements on torture and do not carry out necessary investigations. Until such time that these and other issues are addressed, the fight against torture will be futile.