Akunov v. Kyrgyzstan
Political Activist Killed in Police Custody
Bektemir Akunov was an outspoken political activist. In April 2007 he returned from protests in 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, Akunov was found dead in his cell. The police claimed that he had hung himself, but medical examinations revealed injuries all over his body. Despite this evidence, authorities have failed to conduct an effective criminal investigation into the death in custody.
In early April 2007, Bektemir Akunov participated in a series of anti-government protests in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek. When he returned to his hometown on April 14, 2007, Akunov requested a meeting with the Mayor to discuss the protests. A few hours later, Akunov was arrested and taken to the Department of Internal Affairs police station, where the police charged him with public intoxication. Residents who lived nearby saw police officers beating Akunov outside the police station, even after he was handcuffed. Akunov cried out that the police were killing him, and that they would not let him leave the station alive. The authorities—who claim that Akunov was attempting to escape—dragged him into the detention facility, where they changed the basis for his detention, and kept him overnight. At no point was his family or a lawyer contacted. Local residents heard Akunov plead for help until five o’clock the next morning.
The next day, Akunov was found dead in his cell. The police claim that he hung himself, for reasons unknown. In contrast, a medical report revealed numerous injuries all over Akunov’s body, from bruises on his torso to hemorrhaging in his brain, chest cavity, and lungs. The police conducted an inadequate investigation: they failed to secure the scene of Akunov’s death, ignored a message written in blood on the wall of his cell, discounted the testimony of the witnesses who saw the police beating, and failed to investigate irregularities in his detention record. Their investigation concluded that Akunov sustained all of his injuries when he attempted to escape from detention or by convulsions when he hung himself. No police officers were held responsible for beating Akunov, or for his death. The only charges brought were for negligence in failing to supervise Akunov in custody. Even on the negligence charges, one officer was acquitted and the other received a suspended sentence.
The arbitrary arrest, torture and resulting death of Akunov was not an isolated incident, but was part of the Kyrgyz authorities’ violent repression of the demonstrations of April 2007. Government security forces forcibly dispersed the protests, detained and interrogated dozens of protesters, and several members of the opposition movement were charged with organizing mass disturbances. Akunov’s case thus represents a larger pattern of violence against civil society and political activists in Kyrgyzstan.
Open Society Justice Initiative Involvement
The Justice Initiative worked with a local lawyer in Kyrgyzstan, Kanat Djailoev, to file a communication with the UN Human Rights Committee.
Substantial assistance in preparing the communication was also provided by the clinical program at the University of Essex Human Rights Centre.
Arbitrary Killing. The Kyrgyz Republic is responsible for Mr. Akunov’s death in custody. As the authorities have failed to offer a plausible explanation for his death, the State is presumed responsible for violating the right to life under Article 6(1) of the ICCPR.
Torture and Ill-treatment. The treatment inflicted upon Mr. Akunov by police officers while in their custody amounts to torture in violation of the Article 7 of the ICCPR.
Lack of Safeguards. The Kyrgyz Republic failed to take measures to protect Mr. Akunov from torture and from the arbitrary deprivation of his life, in violation of Articles 6(1) and 7 of the ICCPR in conjunction with Article 2(3).
Failure to conduct an effective investigation. The Kyrgyz Republic failed to conduct a prompt, impartial, thorough, and effective investigation in violation of Articles 6(1) and 7 of the ICCPR in conjunction with Article 2(3).
Arbitrary Detention and Freedom of Expression. The Kyrgyz authorities detained Mr. Akunov in response to his political activism and expression of views critical of the government. This detention was not for a legitimate purpose, and therefore violated Article 9(1) of the ICCPR; Mr. Akunov’s mistreatment and death violated his freedom of expression under Article 19 of the ICCPR.
In its ruling issued on November 18, 2016, the UN Human Rights Commission found Kyrgyzstan in violation of Article 6.1 (prohibition on the arbitrary deprivation of life), Article 7 (prohibition on torture), and Article 2.3 (failure to carry out a prompt and effective investigation into torture and arbitrary killing) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The Committee called on Kyrgyzstan to carry out a prompt, impartial and effective investigation into the exact circumstances of the death, prosecute those responsible, and provide the family of the victim with adequate compensation and appropriate measures of satisfaction.
Kyrgyzstan was given six months to implement the decision, and report back on the steps taken in this regard.
UN HRC issues ruling.
Communication submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC).
The Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan refuses to reconsider the case.
Lower court finds two police officers guilty of negligence.
The authorities refuse to open criminal proceedings against four police officers.
Akunov is found dead in his cell.
Krygyz police officers arrest, detain, and beat Bektemir Akunov.
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