Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Unlike in the previous year, there were no prominent reports of alleged torture by security force personnel; nonetheless, police abuse remained a problem. Physical abuse, including inhuman and degrading treatment, reportedly continued in prisons. The ombudsman said that for the first half of the year, his office received 37 alleged torture complaint cases.
As in 2015 defense attorneys, journalists, and human rights monitoring organizations, including Golos Svobody, Bir Duino, and the international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), reported incidents of serious abuse or torture by police and other law enforcement agencies. NGOs stated that the government established strong torture-monitoring bodies, but the independence of these bodies was under threat.
Golos Svobody played a central role monitoring allegations of torture and was the central organizer of the Anti-Torture Coalition, a consortium of 18 NGOs that continued to work with the Prosecutor General’s Office to track complaints of torture. The Prosecutor General’s Office indicated it received 231 torture complaints in the first half of the year.
The Anti-Torture Coalition also accepted complaints of torture and passed them to the Prosecutor General’s Office to facilitate investigations. The coalition reported that, for the first eight months of the year, it received 86 complaints of torture. According to members of the Anti-torture Coalition, the cases it submitted against alleged torturers did not lead to convictions. In historical cases where police were put on trial for torture, prosecutors, judges, and defendants routinely raised procedural and substantive objections, delaying the cases, often resulting in stale evidence, and ultimately leading to case dismissal. NGOs reported that courts regularly included into evidence confessions allegedly induced through torture.
Defense lawyers stated that, once prosecutors took a case to trial, a conviction was almost certain. According to Golos Svobody, investigators often took two weeks or longer to review torture claims, at which point the physical evidence of torture was no longer visible. Defense attorneys presented most allegations of torture during trial proceedings, and the courts typically rejected them. In some cases detainees who filed torture complaints later recanted, reportedly in the face of intimidation by law enforcement officers.
As of year’s end, the Osh regional court had not scheduled a hearing on the appeal of the dismissal of torture charges against police. In January 2015 police were accused of torturing three suspects in the theft of 339 million som ($4.9 million) from the Osh airport because the suspects allegedly refused to pay a bribe to secure their own release.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to food and medicine shortages, substandard health care, lack of heat, and mistreatment.
There were no significant reports regarding private detention facilities for migrants and asylum seekers or detention center conditions for disabled persons that raised human rights concerns.
Physical Conditions: Pretrial and temporary detention facilities were particularly overcrowded, and conditions and mistreatment generally were worse than in prisons. Authorities generally held juveniles separately from adults but grouped them in overcrowded temporary detention centers when other facilities were unavailable. Convicted prisoners occasionally remained in pretrial detention centers while their cases were under appeal.
An NGO representative reported that in some cases prison gangs controlled prison management and discipline, since prison officials lacked the capacity and expertise in running a facility. In some instances the gangs controlled items that could be brought into the prison, such as food and clothing, while prison officials looked the other way. According to NGOs, authorities did not try to dismantle these groups because they were too powerful and believed that removing them could lead to chaos. Some prisoners indicated that prison order and safety was left to the prison gangs or prisoners themselves, resulting in instances of violence and intimidation among inmates.
Administration: Persons held in pretrial detention often did not have access to visitors. Prisoners have the right to file complaints with prison officials or with higher authorities. According to the NGO Bir Duino, prison staff inconsistently reported and documented complaints. Many observers believed that the official number of prisoner complaints of mistreatment represented only a small fraction of the actual cases.
Independent Monitoring: NGO leaders reported prison officials increased openness to allowing monitors into prison and detention facilities, and most monitoring groups reported receiving unfettered access, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Some NGOs, including Bir Duino and Spravedlivost, had the right to visit prisons independently as part of their provision of technical assistance, such as medical and psychological care.
The Red Cross faced no restrictions on whom they could visit. Their visits were unannounced, and they could meet privately with detainees, who reportedly were candid about their conditions. While the ICRC operated under a memorandum of understanding with authorities, and there is no domestic legislation explicitly permitting their activities, they reported good government support.
The National Center to Prevent Torture and other Inhuman and Offensive Treatment and Punishment, an independent and impartial body, is empowered to monitor detention facilities. The center consists of 11 government employees spread across seven offices and empowered to make unannounced, unfettered visits to detention facilities. NGO representatives stated that center officials made progress monitoring and documenting some violations in detention facilities, but they stressed that a standardized approach to identifying torture cases, along with additional resources and staff members, were necessary to conduct its work.
The Prosecutor General’s Office created an independent office in July 2015 to investigate and prosecute torture. The independent office is centrally located, facilitating the use of prosecutors not involved directly with the region where the alleged torture may have taken place. Observers believed the investigators would be less subject to local pressures that might prevent proper investigation of a case.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Numerous domestic and international human rights organizations operated actively in the country. Nevertheless, governmental actions at times impeded their ability to operate freely.
During a national address in May, the president alleged that two prominent human rights activists belonged to a group working to overthrow the government with the support of foreign secret services. In June the activists filed suit seeking damages and a public apology from the president for “insulting their honor and dignity.” In June the court dismissed the suit, and in September the Bishkek City Court rejected the activists’ appeal.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government permitted visits by representatives of the United Nations and other organizations in connection with the investigation of abuses or monitoring of human rights problems in the country, including those of the OSCE, ICRC, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, and International Organization for Migration (IOM). The government restricted visits to Azimjon Askarov but otherwise provided international bodies largely unfettered access to civil society activists, detention facilities and detainees, and government officials.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman acted as an independent advocate for human rights on behalf of private citizens and NGOs and had the authority to recommend cases for court review. During the first half of the year, the office received 37 torture complaints. The atmosphere of impunity surrounding the security forces and their observed ability to act independently against citizens limited the number and type of complaints submitted to the Ombudsman’s Office. In 2016, the Ombudsman’s Office did not make available statistics regarding the number of complaints it received. The government established the Office of the Ombudsman and National Center to Prevent Torture. The human rights community cooperated with the National Center and effectively conducted routine and unannounced visits to prisons.
Although the Ombudsman’s Office exists in part to receive complaints of human rights abuses and pass the complaints to relevant agencies for investigation, both domestic and international observers questioned the office’s efficiency. Parliament took steps to restrict the ombudsman’s independence, voting in June 2015 to remove ombudsman Baktybek Amanbaev–an action Amanbaev called politically motivated. In December 2015 parliament elected Kubat Otorbaev, a former general director of the state-owned television and broadcasting corporation, as ombudsman.