(Berlin) – The Kyrgyz authorities should carry out a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation into the alleged police beatings of people held in a temporary detention facility in southern Kyrgyzstan, Human Rights Watch said today. Any officers found responsible should be held accountable, and the detainees should be ensured an effective remedy and protection from further abuse.
A local human rights group, Spravedlivost (Justice), said eight detainees with whom they spoke at the temporary detention facility in Jalalabad alleged that on November 6, 2012, over a dozen police officers beat them and other inmates. In some cases the police stripped the detainees naked and humiliated them while searching for prohibited items such as mobile phones. During her own visit to the facility following the episode, the regional ombudsman told Human Rights Watch that she spoke with all 42 detainees in the facility at the time and that 37 of them alleged that they had been beaten by police on that day.
“Nothing can justify police stripping detainees naked and beating them,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Searching for mobile phones, other personal effects, or any contraband prohibited in detention may never be a cover for abuse. The prosecutor general’s office should open a criminal investigation immediately.”
Relatives of the detainees had contacted Spravedlivost, a rights group that monitors places of detention in Jalalabad and focuses on detainees’ rights, about the episode, and the group then met with several of the detainees at the detention facility to document their allegations. Eight detainees gave the rights group written statements describing the abuse they experienced.
On November 13 Spravedlivost sent a letter to the prosecutor general asking her to personally oversee an investigation into the allegations, ensure that the eight detainees who came forward are not subject to further abuse, and see that any law enforcement officers named by detainees are suspended pending a full investigation.
The letter states that police “brutally beat prisoners on the head, faces, in the kidneys.… [They] stripped [the detainees] naked and forced them to run. One of the prisoners said that officers strangled him.” The letter also states that police humiliated detainees during the search and highlighted the allegations of one of the detainees who said that an officer put a human waste bucket on his head.
Several of the detainees also alleged that their personal clothes or medicine were confiscated, although there is no legal basis for denying pretrial detainees possession of either.
In response to the beatings, several detainees protested by cutting their arms and abdomens with razor blades, and they had to receive medical care.
Alima Amanova, the Jalalabad regional ombudsman, visited the detention facility on November 8. Amanova told Human Rights Watch that she had spoken with the 42 detainees at the facility at the time and that all but five – two women and three older men – said that police officers had beaten them on November 6. After her visit, she submitted a note on her findings to the regional prosecutor’s office, asking it to investigate the detainees’ claims.
The Internal Affairs Ministry denied in statements to the media that police beat the detainees. It said that in conducting an initial review of the allegations, representatives visited the detention center but “have not found any evidence of [police] beatings of detainees.”
“It is not enough for the Internal Affairs Ministry to rely on its own internal review to determine whether there is any evidence of this crime,” Williamson said. “The authorities should ensure an independent and impartial investigation into the allegations of abuse.”
Torture has been a longstanding problem in Kyrgyzstan. Authorities have recently taken some positive steps toward tackling the problem of torture, including adopting a national torture prevention mechanism and amending the criminal code to bring the definition of torture in line with international norms. But it needs to do more to stop rampant impunity for ill-treatment and torture in detention, Human Rights Watch said.
One of the key recommendations for safeguards to prevent torture issued by the UN special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, following his visit to Kyrgyzstan in December 2011 is for the authorities in Kyrgyzstan to “[e]xpedite a prompt, impartial and thorough investigation into all allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and undertake public prosecutions without delay where the evidence warrants them.”
“These allegations deserve a full and impartial investigation with due oversight so that justice can be served,” Williamson said. “Impunity for torture needs to stop.”