New Death in Custody Case in Kyrgyzstan Reaches UN

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NEW YORK—The government of Kyrgyzstan’s failure to investigate adequately the death in police custody of a political activist is being brought before the UN Human Rights Committee by the Open Society Justice Initiative and a Bishkek-based lawyer, Kanat Djailoev.

The Justice Initiative is providing legal representation for the family of Bektemir Akunov, an outspoken political activist. In April 2007, he returned from protests in the capital, Bishkek, to his home town of Naryn, and requested a meeting with the mayor.

A few hours later, police officers arrested him, dragged him to a detention facility, and held him overnight, without contacting his family or a lawyer. Nearby residents saw the police beating Akunov and heard him cry out for help throughout the night. The next day, he was found dead in his cell.

The police claimed that Akunov had hung himself, but medical examinations revealed injuries all over his body. The authorities subsequently failed to conduct an effective criminal investigation into the death.

James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative said: “The continued failure to bring the perpetrators to justice in death-in-custody cases undermines the Kyrgyz government’s promises of reform.”

He added: “The government should make good on its promise of zero tolerance for torture and create an independent mechanism to investigate torture allegations. All deaths in custody, whenever they happened, should be promptly investigated.”

Akunov’s complaint is the third case involving deaths linked to police abuse to be brought before the HRC this year by the Justice Initiative, despite a government promise last year to the UN to effectively investigate alleged abuse cases.

Akunov’s death was one of the first in a number of suspicious deaths and disappearances of political rivals and activists in Kyrgyzstan in 2007-2009 under the government of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev.

In September this year, the Kyrgyz government announced that it completed investigation into the case of Medet Sadyrkulov, a former chief of presidential administration, who was found dead in a burned out car with his two associates in March 2009. At the time, a rushed investigation said the deaths were the result of a traffic accident, but a subsequent investigation, launched after the change of government in 2010, established that Sadyrkulov most likely was strangled.

Urmatbek Akunov, son of the deceased, said: “The current government still refuses to tell the truth about my father’s death. I hope that the UN, a neutral arbiter, will confirm that my father was illegally arrested and killed by the police.”

Kyrgyzstan’s efforts to meet its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have lagged in key areas, including developing an independent mechanism for investigating torture complaints, allowing family access to the investigation, establishing adequate criminal penalties for torture, and creating safeguards to stop police abuse in detention, such as immediate access to a doctor and a lawyer.

This release is also available in Russian.