“We don’t even cry anymore”. Torture, ill-treatment and impunity in Kazakhstan in connection with the ‘Bloody January’ events

Illustration: Anna Karetnikova.

This joint report by International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (KIBHR), and Kazakhstan’s NGO Coalition against Torture (NGO Coalition), in partnership with the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT), presents concerns about the widespread use of torture and ill-treatment in relation to people involved in the January 2022 protests.

The authors’ research reveals cases where Kazakhstan’s law enforcement authorities used torture and ill-treatment against civilians from all walks of life, including children, persons with disabilities, civil activists and foreign nationals. Torture and ill-treatment took place in detention centres, police stations, gymnasiums and other makeshift detention centres, as well as on the streets. The report also sheds lights on the role of some medical professionals in facilitating the torture and ill-treatment of injured protestors who were taken from their hospital beds to be tortured and ill-treated in detention.

The methods of torture and ill-treatment documented by the organisations issuing this report include severe beatings, burning with hot irons, the use of electric shocks, hooding, being doused with boiling or ice-cold water outside, pulling out teeth, sexual violence, and threats of rape. These methods of torture used by Kazakhstani security officials fit into a broader, long-standing pattern witnessed over decades, and in particular in 2011 in the repression and reprisals for protests in Zhanaosen.

And yet, one year after the events of ‘Bloody January’, the Kazakhstani authorities have failed to conduct impartial and effective investigations into the events, and especially in regards to the allegations of torture and ill-treatment by officials. The majority of investigations into torture and ill-treatment have been prematurely closed, when investigating authorities claim that they have found no evidence of a crime.

By the end of December 2022 only two trials had begun in relation to eight officials accused of torture and ill-treatment. By mid January 2023 one of those trials ended with the conviction of two officials for torture. On 5 January 2023, the Prosecutor General stated that four other trials had begun in relation to 34 officials accused of torture and ill-treatment.

As a result, impunity for torture and ill-treatment in Kazakhstan continues. The report highlights that this is not the first time violent repressions of protests have occurred and that detained protesters have been tortured and ill-treated in the Central Asian country, painting a pattern of violence that remains to be adequately addressed by the authorities if they are seriously intent on fulfilling President Tokayev’s promises to “strengthen accountability for inhumane treatment of detainees and prisoners” and eradicate ‘barbaric’ methods.

The report concludes with recommendations to the authorities of Kazakhstan, to demonstrate their commitment to international standards by undertaking prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment during the January events involving international and civil society experts; ensuring that all alleged perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment are duly prosecuted in a fair trial; providing effective remedy, redress and rehabilitation to the victims of torture and ill-treatment and to their families; investigating the cases of medical professionals’ alleged involvement in torture and ill-treatment;

Read the report in English, Russian, and Kazakh languages.