A man in northern Kazakhstan who was the victim of police torture has won a seven-year legal battle for damages, after a court upheld a ruling that he is entitled to financial compensation for his injuries.
The ruling was handed down by an appeals court in Kostanay on January 23, local newspaper Nasha Gazeta reported. Police must now pay some $13,000 in compensation to 44-year-old Aleksandr Gerasimov for injuries they inflicted by beating him up and suffocating him with a plastic bag in police detention to extract a confession in 2007. Gerasimov was arrested after going to a police precinct looking for his stepson, who had been rounded up during a murder investigation.
The court upheld a lower court ruling issued in November which came after Gerasimov, supported by the Open Society Justice Initiative and the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, won his case at the UN Committee Against Torture in 2012, the first ever brought from Central Asia. [Editor’s note: The Open Society Justice Initiative and EurasiaNet.org are separate entities operating under the auspices of the Open Society Foundations.]
“This ruling is an important step in redressing unjust actions from which victims of the most terrible violations of human rights such as torture continue to suffer,” Roza Akylbekova, director of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, said in remarks quoted by Nasha Gazeta.
The case had been closely watched in Kazakhstan, where, according to Human Rights Watch’s annual report released this week, torture is rife and “perpetrators of torture often go unpunished.” One civil society alliance received 201 complaints of torture in the first half of 2013 alone, the report said.
Allegations of police abuse have regularly surfaced in recent years. In 2012, the trial of those accused of involvement in fatal unrest in western Kazakhstan the previous year heard that security forces used beatings, sexual assault, and water torture to extract confessions.
“[The interrogator] suffocated me with a trash bag, he strangled [me] – when the bag’s taken away your eyes pop out and you can’t breathe and you start breathing deeply, and when you breathe deeply your head spins,” Roza Tuletayeva, who is now serving a five-year prison sentence for allegedly participating in the unrest, told the court. Prosecutors dismissed the allegations as groundless.
Nevertheless, there are signs that Kazakhstan is beginning to tackle torture. Five prison officers were jailed last year over that crucifixion (though several escaped with suspended sentences), and in another case last year two police officers were imprisoned over the death of a farmer whom they tortured to confess to cattle rustling.