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17 U.S. senators write to Kazakh President on Yerimbetov case

Seventeen United States senators wrote a letter of concern to Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev calling for the release of political prisoner Iskander Yerimbetov. The July 29 letter is a bipartisan initiative by senators Marco Rubio and Robert Menendez, with other signatories including Bernie Sanders and Tim Kaine. The senators highlighted the political nature of the charges and the physical and psychological tortures inflicted on Yerimbetov, a businessman whose imprisonment is linked to the human rights advocacy of his sister, lawyer Botagoz Jardemalie. Yerimbetov was listed in the State Department’s 2018 Human Rights Report on Kazakhstan as one of 24 political prisoners in the country.

The senators stressed that Yerimbetov’s detention is in violation of international law. “In October 2018, Mr. Yerimbetov was convicted of fraud and sentenced to seven years in prison. However, on numerous occasions Mr. Yerimbetov’s interrogators allegedly told him that the charges would ‘go away’ if he persuaded his sister, Botagoz Jardemalie, who has been granted political asylum in Belgium, to return to Kazakhstan and testify against Mukhtar Ablyazov, a political opponent of the Kazakh government.” The senators reiterated that the charges against Yerimbetov are fabricated and based on political grounds as part of a broader smear campaign against opponents of the Kazakh government.

The letter referred to numerous appeals from human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch, the Coalition Against Torture in Kazakhstan and the Open Dialogue Foundation, which have publicly denounced the torture and ill-treatment of Yerimbetov. The senators also called Tokayev’s attention to Opinion No. 67/2018 of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, dated November 2018, pointing out that the UN “called for his immediate release and compensation, as well as an investigation of the circumstances around his detention and appropriate measures against those responsible for violating his rights”.

The lawmakers called on Kazakhstan to “immediately release Mr. Yerimbetov and dismiss the charges against him”. The letter concluded with a request to President Tokayev to end impunity in the country and investigate the torture claims properly.

The Open Dialogue Foundation welcomes the letter and calls on the government of the United States to firmly condemn the country’s poor human rights record during bilateral dialogue.

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