The UN Human Rights Committee has found the government of Kyrgyzstan responsible for the 2004 death of a detainee in police custody, in a case that reinforces continued concerns about the use of torture and violence by police in Kyrgyzstan.
In response to a complaint filed by the Open Society Justice Initiative and Kyrgyz lawyer Tair Asanov, the committee found that Tashkenbai Moidunov was killed in police custody in the local police station in the village of Bazar-Korgon in October 2004.
The committee further found that Kyrgyzstan had violated the right to life, protection from torture and the right to effective remedies. It has called for a proper investigation, prosecution and reparations.
“This decision of the authoritative UN body should ring a bell for the Kyrgyz authorities on the systemic failings of the justice system,” said James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative. “In addition to providing reparations to Moidunov’s family for their suffering and prosecuting those responsible for his torture and death, the authorities must ensure effective control over all places of detention, and create an effective independent mechanism that will promptly investigate allegations of police abuse.”
On October 24, 2004, Tashkenbai Moidunov, 46, was taken to a police station in Bazar-Korgon, Kyrgyzstan. An hour later he was dead. An ambulance doctor who examined him found finger marks around his neck, and asked if he had been strangled. The police said that he had had a heart attack, and then changed their story to say he hung himself.
Despite the evidence, there has never been a proper investigation into his death. The authorities failed to get a detailed description of the crime scene, did not carry out a reconstruction, did not establish the exact sequence of events, and did not request medical records.
The first activist to draw attention to the case was Azimjan Askarov, human rights defender currently in prison with a life sentence delivered after a manifestly unfair trial.
The same police station in Bazar-Korgon was also the site in August of another death in custody. Usmanjan Khalmyrzaev, a 40 year old man, died in the intensive care department of the local hospital the day after having been sent there after being held at the station for four hours. Before his death, he told his wife that he had been subjected to torture and extortion at the police station.
Nobody went to jail for Moidunov’s arbitrary killing. One police officer, Abdukaimov, fled. Another, Mantybaev, was convicted of negligence but then exempted from criminal liability due to an alleged reconciliation with the family. Contributing to the climate of impunity, the Supreme Court decided that a small payment to assist with the funeral was sufficient to let Mantybaev escape any sanctions.
“We could not find justice in our country and appealed to the UN,” says Kaydakhan Dzhumabaeva, sister of the deceased. “We always knew that our brother was killed by the police. But the investigative bodies and the courts did not properly fulfill their responsibilities and as a result, the police did not get adequate punishment.”
The committee concluded that Kyrgyzstan should conduct an impartial, effective, and thorough investigation into the circumstances of the Moidunov’s death, prosecute those responsible, and provide full reparation including appropriate compensation. Kyrgyzstan was given six months to implement the decision and inform the UN about actions taken.
The Justice Initiative has filed two other death-in-custody complaints against the Kyrgyz authorities at the Human Rights Committee.