Torture and other ill-treatment by members of the security forces remained widespread and continued to be committed with virtual impunity, despite stated efforts by the authorities to introduce safeguards. Refugees and asylum-seekers from Uzbekistan and China were at risk of abduction and forcible return. Members of religious minorities came under increasing pressure from the authorities.
In January, Rakhat Aliev, President Nursultan Nazarbaev’s exiled former son-in-law, was sentenced in his absence to 20 years’ imprisonment on charges including kidnapping, money laundering, assault and murder. A military tribunal in March found him guilty of planning to overthrow the President and of disclosing state secrets and sentenced him to a further 20 years in prison. Rakhat Aliev claimed that the charges were politically motivated.
Domestic and international organizations were monitoring the authorities’ preparations to assume the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE in 2010. The OSCE took the decision that Kazakstan should assume the Chair at the end of 2007 after Kazakstan agreed to carry out reforms to meet OSCE commitments on democratization and human rights.
“Law enforcement officials stepped up their harassment of non-traditional groups such as the Hare Krishna community…”
Torture and other ill-treatment
In February, Kazakstan made declarations under the UN Convention against Torture allowing individual complaints to be lodged with the UN Committee against Torture. In June, Kazakstan ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
In November, the Committee against Torture called on the authorities “to apply a zero-tolerance approach to the persistent problem of torture”. The Committee also urged the authorities to “promptly implement effective measures to ensure that a person is not subject in practice to unacknowledged detention and that all detained suspects are afforded, in practice, all fundamental legal safeguards during their detention”.
Police and security forces
Despite the authorities’ declarations, torture and other ill-treatment remained widespread and such acts were committed with impunity. Beatings by law enforcement officers were routine, especially in temporary pre-charge detention centres, in the street or during transfer to detention centres. Few law enforcement officers were brought to trial and held accountable for violations, including torture, despite scores of people alleging that they were tortured in custody in order to extract a confession. Evidence based on such confessions was still routinely admitted in court.
The National Security Service (NSS) was reported to have used counter-terrorism operations to target vulnerable groups and groups perceived as a threat to national and regional security, such as asylum-seekers from Uzbekistan and China and members or suspected members of banned Islamic groups or Islamist parties.
- In February, a court in Shimkent sentenced 14 men to long terms of imprisonment – up to 19 years – for planning a terrorist attack on the local NSS department. Most of the accused had been held in NSS detention facilities with very little access to lawyers, relatives or medical assistance. Claims of torture and other ill-treatment to extract confessions were not investigated. Information extracted as a result of these confessions allegedly extracted under torture was admitted as evidence by the trial judge.
A law introducing judicial review of the decision to detain a person entered into legal force in August. While a positive measure, it still does not allow the detainee or their representative to challenge the lawfulness of their detention as required by international standards.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
The authorities continued to co-operate with Uzbekistan, Russia and China in the name of regional security and the “war on terror” in ways that breached their obligations under international human rights and refugee law.
Kazakstani migration police continued to co-operate with their Uzbekistani counterparts and transmitted information on asylum-seekers and refugees to them. Uzbekistani authorities then exerted pressure on relatives in Uzbekistan to get those seeking protection to return voluntarily, in some cases even paying for relatives to travel to Kazakstan to trace the refugees and convince them to return.
- In May, three Uzbekistani asylum-seekers were detained by Kazakstani police officers after they left the office of UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, in the centre of Almaty. They were interrogated by Kazakstani and Uzbekistani officers and threatened with forcible return to Uzbekistan. They were only released after the joint intervention of representatives of the office of the UNHCR and the Kazakstan International Bureau of Human Rights.
Freedom of religion
In January, President Nazarbaev attacked religious minorities as a threat to national security and values. He alleged that thousands of missionaries and extremists were threatening the fabric of society. Law enforcement officials, especially the NSS, stepped up their harassment of non-traditional groups such as the Hare Krishna community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Evangelist and Protestant churches.
In November, parliament rushed through a controversial draft law on freedom of conscience which would, among other restrictions, ban all unregistered religious activity and require all religious communities to re-register.
Amnesty International visit
Amnesty International delegates visited Kazakstan in February.