Businessman Alleges Torture

Provide Medical Treatment, Ensure Justice for Abuse

Kazakh author­i­ties should pro­vide imme­di­ate med­ical assis­tance to a detained busi­ness­man who has alleged that he was beat­en and ill-treat­ed, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and Human Rights Watch said today. Authorities should also ensure that their inves­ti­ga­tion into the alle­ga­tions of ill-treat­ment and tor­ture of the busi­ness­man, Iskander Erimbetov, is swift, impar­tial, and thor­ough, and capa­ble of bring­ing those respon­si­ble for abuse to account.

“The dis­turb­ing accounts of Mr. Erimbetov’s case cast doubt on Astana’s com­mit­ment to tack­le tor­ture and oth­er ill-treat­ment,” said Bjørn Engesland, sec­re­tary-gen­er­al of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “Astana should imme­di­ate­ly pro­tect Erimbetov from fur­ther abuse and pro­vide him with all nec­es­sary med­ical attention.”

Erimbetov, 46, was arrest­ed on November 13, 2017, as a sus­pect in a mon­ey-laun­der­ing inves­ti­ga­tion tied to an exiled for­mer banker and gov­ern­ment crit­ic, Mukhtar Ablyazov. An Almaty court has autho­rized Erimbetov’s deten­tion until at least March 13, when it will review whether it should be extended.

At news con­fer­ences on December 7 and 21, and January 10, 2018, Erimbetov’s par­ents expressed alarm about the con­di­tions in which Erimbetov is being held and alleged that he was being ill-treat­ed. His moth­er, Gaini Erimbetova, who is also Erimbetov’s lay pub­lic defend­er, filed a com­plaint with the prosecutor’s office on January 11, alleg­ing her son had been beat­en and injured in custody.

On January 12, Kazakhstan’s Anti-Torture Coalition, a body con­sist­ing of 40 human rights groups and inde­pen­dent experts, issued an urgent state­ment call­ing on Kazakh author­i­ties to inves­ti­gate Erimbetov’s claims of ill-treat­ment and torture.

On January 22, the Almaty City Prosecutor’s Office opened a crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion into the allegations.

Erimbetova told the Norwegian Helsinki Committee that when she met with her son on January 11, his face was bruised and swollen, and that he had a wound on his fore­head, with coag­u­lat­ed blood. She said she also saw bruis­es on her son’s arms and legs and that he appeared to be in “con­sid­er­able pain, con­tin­u­ous­ly held one hand to his side and com­plained about headaches and dizziness.”

Erimbetov’s lawyer, Zhanara Balgabaeva, con­firmed to Human Rights Watch that Erimbetov had bruis­es on his face, appeared to have suf­fered a con­cus­sion, and was hold­ing his ribs, com­plain­ing of pain. Balgabaeva told Human Rights Watch that she feared for Erimbetov’s safety.

In a state­ment issued on February 2, inde­pen­dent human rights defend­ers Yevgeniy Zhovtis, head of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, and Zhemis Turmagambetova, head of the Charter for Human Rights, who vis­it­ed Erimbetov in deten­tion at the invi­ta­tion of the Kazakh gov­ern­ment, said they found him to be in “in a state of extreme deject­ed­ness, scared.”

The gov­ern­ment ini­ti­at­ed the mon­i­tor­ing vis­it after offi­cials received an urgent com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the United Nations spe­cial rap­por­teur on tor­ture, Nils Melzner, about the alleged abuse of Erimbetov, accord­ing to the defend­ers’ state­ment. The defend­ers expressed “grave con­cern about the sit­u­a­tion in which Mr. Erimbetov finds him­self” and said that Erimbetov “essen­tial­ly con­firmed the infor­ma­tion opendemocracy con­tained in the spe­cial rapporteur’s inquiry.”

The mon­i­tor­ing team told the author­i­ties that giv­en Mr. Erimbetov’s state of health, “he be pro­vid­ed with emer­gency med­ical assis­tance, includ­ing, pos­si­bly, plac­ing him in a med­ical ward and an exam­i­na­tion by a med­ical professional.”

Balgabaeva told Human Rights Watch on February 15 that Erimbetov had received intra­venous drips and med­ica­tion for four days, but had not been trans­ferred to a med­ical unit, or under­gone a full med­ical exam­i­na­tion. The Kazakh author­i­ties should swift­ly ensure that Erimbetov receives a full med­ical exam­i­na­tion by an inde­pen­dent doc­tor and any treat­ment med­ical­ly rec­om­mend­ed, Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee said.

Over the past two months, Erimbetova has repeat­ed­ly report­ed to the media and on her Facebook page that Erimbetov has been ill-treat­ed in deten­tion and that offi­cials have pres­sured Erimbetov to con­fess. Erimbetova described to the Norwegian Helsinki Committee efforts by the author­i­ties to force Erimbetov to incrim­i­nate him­self. When he refused, she said, offi­cials placed him in a cell with four oth­er detainees who beat Erimbetov, includ­ing with a wood­en stick wrapped in a wet tow­el, and threat­ened to rape him with a broom­stick. At one point the cell­mates appar­ent­ly attempt­ed to force Erimbetov’s head into a buck­et of excre­ment, and on one occa­sion they choked him with a cord.

Balgabaeva said that dur­ing ques­tion­ing on January 13, Erimbetov said he did not feel well and that deten­tion offi­cials called an ambu­lance. The medics who exam­ined Erimbetov con­clud­ed he had suf­fered an injury to his ribs, his lawyer said.

On January 24, two days after the police opened the inves­ti­ga­tion into Erimbetova’s claims, the agency lead­ing the inves­ti­ga­tion, the National Anti-Corruption Agency, issued a state­ment deny­ing that Erimbetov had been “sub­ject to unlaw­ful inter­ro­ga­tion meth­ods and tor­ture.” The agency cit­ed the con­clu­sions of the National Ombudsman’s office, which had vis­it­ed Erimbetov in deten­tion on January 13, and report­ed that “Erimbetov did not state any com­plaints and claims relat­ed to ill-treat­ment or oth­er pres­sure on him” and “a visu­al exam­i­na­tion by did not con­firm the pres­ence of bod­i­ly injuries men­tioned in the above­men­tioned petition.”

A thor­ough and impar­tial inves­ti­ga­tion is essen­tial to estab­lish the facts and to ensure account­abil­i­ty for any abus­es Erimbetov suf­fered in deten­tion, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and Human Rights Watch said.

The pro­hi­bi­tion of tor­ture is one of the most fun­da­men­tal in inter­na­tion­al law. Kazakhstan is par­ty to the Convention against Torture, which defines tor­ture as inten­tion­al­ly inflict­ing severe pain or suf­fer­ing for a pro­hib­it­ed pur­pose, such as to obtain a con­fes­sion. International law requires inves­ti­ga­tion and pros­e­cu­tion of those who car­ried out the abuse, as well as those who ordered it.

“Opening an inves­ti­ga­tion into Erimbetov’s alle­ga­tions of tor­ture is an impor­tant step, but those respon­si­ble for abus­ing him need to be held account­able for jus­tice to be served,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia direc­tor at Human Rights Watch “More imme­di­ate­ly, author­i­ties should see to Erimbetov’s health and ensure that he receives prop­er med­ical attention.”