Kazakhstan: jailed HRD tortured by prison authoritiesEvent
- Initial Date
- Aug 24, 2023
- Event Description
In a video shot in a prison in northern Kazakhstan, a man sporting a shaved head and prison overalls tries to respond as a penitentiary officer accuses him of violating protocols.
“You have been warned twice! Why are you refusing? Why do you refuse to clean?" the officer demands in the footage before ordering a group of subordinates to “use the special equipment.”
The men then proceed to grab the prisoner and pin him to the floor, face down.
“I’m not refusing!” the prisoner can be heard saying, before a man begins striking his lower body with a baton.
The prisoner’s protestations are replaced by screams.
That widely shared footage was initially published by an opposition social media channel that indicated it was shot on August 24.
Around a dozen staff at the No. 1 jail in Atbasar, some 200 kilometers from Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, are believed to have been suspended amid the uproar.
Some of those men have recorded a video defending their actions, arguing that the measures taken against this prisoner and others captured in the footage were necessary to prevent a riot.
President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev’s position on such practices would appear to be clear cut.
Speaking two months after regime-shaking political unrest last year that left at least 228 people dead and evidence of systematic torture of detainees, Toqaev condemned “barbaric medieval happenings…that contradict the principles of any progressive society.”
But since then there have been proportionally few officers convicted or even dismissed over their roles in those manifold abuses.
The identity of the prisoner in the video, moreover, is awkward for Toqaev.
Timur Danebaev, 38, is best known as the activist who attempted to sue the president over comments he made during that crisis, which began with peaceful protests over a spike in fuel prices before spiraling out of control.
That fact, combined with the mystery about how and by whom the video was leaked, has fueled pernicious theories that the leak was no accident at all.
“It seems to me that the video…is not at all an oversight by prison staff,” wrote Lukpan Akhmedyarov, a well-known journalist, in a September 5 Facebook post.
“The video was made public by order of the authorities. None of the prison employees will be held accountable. Because this video is actually a DEMONSTRATION of power,” he claimed.
Whether Akhmedyarov’s prediction will hold, only time will tell.
It is not easy to track the career trajectories of low-ranking officers involved in torture scandals, especially when their identities are not made public.
A September 6 press release by the Committee of the Criminal Executive System of the Kazakh Internal Affairs Ministry stated that Akmola Province’s top penal officer, his deputy, and the head of the Atbasar jail had all been recommended for dismissal from their posts as part of an ongoing investigation.
Eleven penitentiary guards were likewise recommended for dismissal from the Interior Ministry after the investigation found “signs of employees exceeding their official mandate,” the statement said, without naming names.
That is presumably the same 11 who released the video this week denying wrongdoing. The video was filmed in the darkness of night, and all of the men were wearing face coverings.
“There was no torture of defendants, but enforcement of compliance with the regime of confinement by legal physical means,” said the group’s speaker.
The speaker went on to claim that more than 40 prisoners had arrived at the prison in late August “with aggressive intent…. They wanted to start a riot.”
“All of our actions were agreed with the supervisory organs,” the speaker noted.
Many will find that last part all too easy to believe.
Vadim Kuramashin, a journalist who some 15 years ago spent a stint in the same jail where Danebaev was shown being beaten, told RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service that the process of “breaking” new residents of the jail is more or less a routine.
Having been imprisoned in early 2007 over a newspaper article, Kuramashin was isolated in a room where he was forced to clean toilets with a toothbrush, he said.
“When I asked them to show me the norm or law [that mandates cleaning], they began to beat me severely,” Kuramushin recalled.
Elena Semyonova, a longtime antitorture activist, was permitted to visit Danebaev this week.
Semyonova said that his health was “more or less [OK]” despite his body showing evidence of beatings.
“But he is psychologically depressed,” Semyonova told RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service, known locally as Azattyq. “A person who has never been in this system, who has completely different ideas.... He didn't expect this to happen. It came as a shock to him.”
‘Men With Epaulets And Uniforms’
In addition to criticizing Kazakhstan’s government, Danebaev has regularly criticized its ally Russia over the Kremlin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
He was also critical of Moscow’s intervention during the January 2022 crisis in Kazakhstan, when Toqaev invited a detachment of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to bolster his government’s control.
In December of last year, the activist was charged with inciting hatred and “insulting the national honor and dignity of citizens” in online videos and posts published on October 10 and November 12, 2022.
But he had already attracted the attention of authorities in February of that year after he tried to initiate a false information lawsuit against Toqaev over the president’s claim that “20,000 terrorists” had descended on Kazakhstan’s largest city, Almaty, during the unrest.
“I have the right to file a complaint against the president or any other citizen,” an impassioned Danebaev told Azattyq in an interview last year.
“Because my rights are absolutely the same as the president’s.”
Well, maybe in theory.
In reality, Danebaev’s filing was ignored, and the police soon showed up on his doorstep, marking the beginning of a campaign of pressure that would culminate in his arrest.
In June of this year, he was sentenced to three years in prison on the charges.
In his Facebook post on the case, the journalist Akhmedyarov argued that Danebaev’s case was one of several that indicated Kazakhstan’s police state is once more baring its fangs, having been somewhat chastened by public criticism during last year’s violence.
Back then, Toqaev was promising a New Kazakhstan after effectively sidelining former President Nursultan Nazarbaev -- the architect of Kazakh authoritarianism and a man who had continued to overshadow his successor Toqaev’s presidency prior to the crisis.
But the political reforms promoted by Toqaev since then have been widely criticized as cosmetic, while a reshuffle of the cabinet and other positions this month mainly saw old politicians recycled into new roles.
One of them, noted Akhmedyarov, was Marat Akhmetzhanov, who swapped the post of interior minister for that of governor of Akmola Province, which surrounds Astana and includes the town of Atbasar in its territory.
Such an appointment echoes trends in Kazakhstan’s northern neighbor, Russia, Akhmedyarov argued.
It also indicates “that positions that were previously occupied exclusively by civilian 'suits' will now gradually be given to men with epaulets and uniforms,” the journalist forecasted.
Notwithstanding Toqaev’s affirmations, the government is doing little to convince the public that it takes torture seriously.
In the aftermath of the January 2022 events, dozens of former detainees complained of mistreatment and many still had the broken ribs to back it up.
But most cases have either been thrown out or have otherwise not made it to court.
Cases that involved deaths in detention during the unrest have been harder to ignore.
One recent conviction concerned the case of Eldos Kaliev, who died in a jail in the city of Semey.
The officer accused in that case was sentenced to six years imprisonment by a city court at the beginning of August.
But two other officers found guilty on August 23 of torturing another young Semey resident to death fared better.
They were handed suspended sentences and ordered to pay compensation -- just under $10,000 each – to the family of the deceased.
- Impact of Event
- Gender of HRD
- Violence (physical)
- Rights Concerned
- Right to healthy and safe environment
- Blogger/ Social Media Activist
- Monitoring Status
- Event Location
- Event Location
- Summary for Publications
On 24 August 2023, detained social media activist Timur Danebaev, was tortured by prison authorities for allegedly violating prison protocols in Atbasar, Kazakhstan.