(New York) - Kyrgyz authorities' refusal to investigate torture allegations in a case to be reviewed by the Supreme Court on March 29, 2011,  constitutes a serious violation of both Kyrgyz and international law, Human Rights Watch said today.

Farrukh Gapirov, an ethnic Uzbek charged with involvement in the interethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan in the summer of 2010, was acquitted by the Osh Municipal Court, in southern Kyrgyzstan, because the court found that the main evidence against him - his confession - had been extracted under torture. Despite judicial instructions to investigate the use of torture, which were supported by photographic, video, and medical evidence presented at trial, the prosecutorial authorities in Osh refused to open a criminal investigation. Instead they appealed Gapirov's acquittal to the provincial court, which upheld the acquittal, and then to the Supreme Court, which will review the acquittal on March 29. 

"The authorities' blatant dismissal of the court's orders in this case, and their refusal to investigate the use of torture despite overwhelming evidence, is incomprehensible," said Ole Solvang, emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. "It's hard to imagine what more evidence could possibly be needed to get the authorities to investigate a torture case."

Police detained Gapirov, 22, and an acquaintance at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Osh on June 16, 2010, after they found a box of ammunition under the seat of the car the two men were driving. Gapirov told Human Rights Watch that after they arrived at the Osh Municipal Police Department, police officers used helmets, batons, and guns to beat him on various parts of his body, including on the soles of his feet and genitals, and that they gave him electric shocks until he confessed that he had been planning to kill ethnic Kyrgyz people.

The police allowed Gapirov to see a lawyer only after he had signed a confession. His lawyer photographed the bruises on his body and recorded on video a statement about the torture. On his lawyer's request, a doctor examined Gapirov and concluded that he had marks on his body that were consistent with beatings. Gapirov's lawyer tried to lodge a complaint about the torture with officials at the local prosecutor's office, but they refused to accept it.

The authorities charged Gapirov with illegal weapons possession and participation in mass unrest, but the Osh Municipal Court acquitted him on October 26. After reviewing the photographs, video, and medical report, the court concluded that "all statements were obtained illegally" and that they therefore should be excluded from the case. Gapirov's acquaintance partly confessed to the charges and was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment for illegal weapons possession, but was acquitted for participation in mass unrest. 

In a separate decision issued the same day, the court listed a number of violations that had taken place in the case and asked the prosecutor's office and the police to "study the violations," draw the appropriate conclusions, prevent such violations from happening again, and take appropriate measures against the officers responsible. The judge asked the prosecutor's office and the police to file a report with the court within one month. Gapirov and his lawyer have still not received any information that the prosecutor's office or the police have filed a report.

Gapirov and his lawyers told Human Rights Watch that the authorities have not opened a preliminary examination of the allegations or a criminal investigation. Four months after the court issued its instruction, the prosecutor's office has yet to question Gapirov about the allegations that he was tortured. Instead, the prosecutorial authorities twice appealed his acquittal.

After weeks of increasing tensions between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, massive inter-ethnic violence erupted in the southern city of Osh on June 10, 2010. In the ensuing four days of violence, which quickly spread to other cities in the south, more than 400 people were killed and close to 2,000 houses were destroyed.

While horrific crimes were committed against both Uzbeks and Kyrgyz, the majority of casualties and destroyed homes were Uzbek. The Kyrgyz authorities failed to prevent or stop the violence, and there are strong indications that some military and police forces, either knowingly or unwittingly, facilitated attacks on Uzbek neighborhoods. 

Human Rights Watch has documented widespread use of torture by law enforcement agencies investigating the violence. Despite overwhelming evidence of torture in several cases, the only case in which the prosecutorial authorities opened a criminal investigation involved the death of a detainee in custody. In all other cases, the authorities have refused to open criminal investigations, usually after flawed and superficial preliminary inquiries.

On February 24, the General Prosecutor of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan suspended more than 4,000 investigations related to the June violence because of "grave violations" of legal procedure and "violations of the rights and legal interests of citizens," among other explanations. The suspension came after a speech on February 12 by President Roza Otunbayeva harshly criticizing the prosecutor's office for fostering the widespread problems of arbitrary detention and ill-treatment in pre-trial custody.  

"Suspending cases and publicly criticizing flaws in the investigation is a step forward, but it is not enough," Solvang said. "It is high time that the authorities demonstrate that they are serious about human rights by holding those who violate them accountable."   

Excerpt from Human Rights Watch's interview with Gapirov:  

Several officers entered the room where we were held and started beating us without asking any questions. They forced us to hold our hands on our heads while they beat us with helmets, batons, and their weapons. Then they handcuffed our hands behind our backs and pulled them up so it hurt while they used batons to beat our legs. They beat us together for about two hours before they split us up.

Then they placed me on the floor with my back against the wall. One person stood on my legs while another beat the soles of my feet with a baton. Then they forced me to undress completely. They tied a rope to my penis and pulled it while beating it with a baton. I was not able to urinate for 4 or 5 days after that.

They also used electric shocks. First they stood me up and connected the cables to my genitals. When they gave the shock, however, I stepped back. Then they forced me to lie down on the floor while they continued to give the shocks. They also beat us with plastic bottles filled with sand and forced us to put our hands on the table, which they then beat. I could not even hold a pen after that. They had to help me to sign a document.