Kazakhstan: Police prevent human rights defender meeting Joe Higgins, MEP

Police hold human rights defender, Vadim Kuramshin, for 10 days to prevent him meeting Joe Higgins MEP

– Former Prisoners Describe Horrifying Brutality in Kazakhstan Prisons despite threats

– Political, civil and human rights routinely repressed by Nazarbayev Regime

A press conference was held today (8/9/2010) in the European Parliament in Strasbourg to report on the GUE/NGL delegation led by Joe Higgins MEP (Socialist Party in Ireland) to Kazakhstan from August 30 to September 6 2010. This delegation, composed of Joe Higgins and Tanja Niemeier (Political Advisor for GUE/NGL), met with human rights activists, defenders of prisoners rights, independent trade union activists, journalists and activists from the social movement, Kazakhstan 2012 . They also met with representatives of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the EU Delegation to Kazakhstan and a government representative in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, Ms Madina B Arbussynova.

The meetings took place in the cities of Karaganda, Almaty, Shymkent and the capital, Astana.

The first meeting of the delegation in the city of Karaganda was to hear testimony from prominent Human Rights Defender, Vadim Kuramshim. Mr Kuramshin had been in jail for three years essentially for exposing corruption by local authorities in his home area. In prison, he was subjected to horrific abuse and witnessed widespread brutality against other prisoners. He wanted to give our delegation testimonies on the situation in the prisons which he visited as a lawyer and appeal to us to report to the European Parliament the horrors inflicted on prisoners in Kazakhstan as part of a campaign to end this abuse.

However, the political police disappeared Vadim Kuramshin for the duration of the delegation. He was arrested two days beforehand and framed on a stitched up charge of having insulted somebody. He was sent to jail for ten days, to be released one day after the delegation left Kazakhstan.

The fact that the police in Kazakhstan could act in this blatant fashion to disappear a citizen so that he could not meet a parliamentary delegation speaks volumes about the blatant repression of civil, political and human rights in this country. The Delegation made strong protest at this abuse of civil rights at meetings with the OSCE and with the representative of the Kazakhstan government.

Chilling Brutality in Kazakhstans Prisons

Despite Vadim Kuramshins jailing, individuals who are campaigning with him were able to meet the delegation including a number of recently released prisoners and relatives of current prisoners. Their evidence was compelling and chilling.

Alexander Leonidovich Krivoruchko, aged 23, described arriving at the Granitny Prison (ETs 165-25) in northern Kazakhstan in the autumn of 2009. Guards immediately began to beat the prisoners. Grotesque degradation of prisoners was graphically described such as being ordered to clean up the floor after the prison guards had urinated on it or to lick spittle off the floor. Refusal meant systematic, savage beatings that went on for days or even weeks.

Prisoners were hung from ceilings and left there for hours receiving systematic, brutal beatings.

The Camera

The former prisoners described a weapon used in the beatings, A metre or so long, it was a flat length of rubber used, they said, because it leaves less heavy marks on the body. Prisoners called it the camera because when you were hit with it, your eyes flashed with the intensity of the pain.

Even worse there was sexual abuse of prisoners by some guards including brutal male rape.

Another former prisoner, Azamat Gapsagitovich Dautov, aged 23, gave a vivid account of horrifying brutality, also in Granitny prison. Being beaten severely when he arrived, worse was to follow. Guards urinated and spat on the prison floor and then, using him as a mop, dragged him around to clean up the mess. On one occasion he was hung up by his hands for three days with his legs being severely beaten for refusing to sign a paper saying he agreed with the prison regime. On the third day, only when threatened with being raped, did he sign but had to do so by putting the pen in his mouth because his hands were totally paralysed from being hung up.

The extreme brutality in Kazakhstans prisons resulted in a dramatic, gruesome protest by prisoners on August 10 when dozens of them mutilated themselves indicating their utter desperation. The Delegation was given a short video taken on a mobile phone from inside one of the prisons showing the protest.

Cancel OSCE Summit in Kazakhstan

Joe Higgins comments: "I am horrified by the situation in the Kazakh prisons, particularly, it would seem in the northern regions of Kazakhstan. Outrageously, Kazakhstan is this year, the Chair of the OSCE, which has the monitoring of human rights as one of its mandates. This prestige was conferred on it by the 56 member states of the OSCE.

"Members of the OSCE which claim to be paragons of democracy have handed the Kazakh regime a public relations tool to cover this regimes despicable crushing of human rights. In my opinion, the real reason for this is Kazakhstans geo strategic position including in relation to the Afghanistan war, and its huge reserves of oil and gas which European states are desperate to exploit. Kazakhstan is the EUs biggest trading partner with 75% of EU imports being made up of energy products.

"At the beginning of December, Kazakhstan will host a special OSCE Summit which it lobbied hard for, with the heads of state of the 56 countries invited. I am calling for this summit to be cancelled to show the world the truth about the human rights situation in the country. We will seek a meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Micheal Martin, in relation to this summit and the oppression in Kazakhstan."

Denial of Human, Civil and Political Freedom

The GUE/NGL Delegation heard testimony from the many groups which have encountered the routine denial of human, civil and political rights generally. Workers and activists travelled thousands of kilometres to meet the delegation in order to report the difficulties they face in exercising basic trade union rights. The constitution and the law officially allow for pickets and protests but it is the authorities that decide on whether to allow a picket and its location. Usually activists are "hidden" away to places miles away from where they want to hold their protest. The newspaper, "Respublika", a paper that is known for critical economic analysis has not been able to publish for a year. The reason given for that is a "lack of printing facilities" despite the recent crisis in the economy.

"We are deeply moved and impressed by the courage of those young prisoners to meet with us and speak out", commented Tanja Niemeier. "Alexander and Amazat repeatedly told us that they want the truth to be heard and justice for all those who are still in prison and for their families who are worried about the fate of their loved ones. Representatives of Vadim Kuramshin were able to pass on credible information to the delegation which convince us that the events in Granitny are not isolated cases. Similar brutal regimes are maintained in ETs 166/25 (Derzhabinsk), 166/18 (Stepnogorsk), 166/4 (Atbasar), 166/11 (Stepnogorsk), 161/3 (Zhemikaras), 161/4 (Kushmurun) and 161/2 (Kostanai)."

For more info or comment:

Tanja Niemeier ++32/ 486375 199

Michael O’Brien (Press Officer for Joe Higgins in Ireland) ++353 872400331

Gianfranco Battistini (GUE/NGL press contact) ++32 475646628

Video footage from inside the prison and recorded oral testimonies of ex-prisoners is available.

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