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Kyrgyzstan: Political prisoner and critic of authorities Arstanbek Abdyldaev (Arstanbek Alai) died in prison

Circumstances of his death must be transparantly investigated

On  January 5, 2024, Kyrgyz Penitentiary Service reported the death of political prisoner, Arstanbek Abdyldaev (Arstanbek Alai), who had been detained in correctional colony No. 31. He had been charged by the authorities of the Kyrgyz Republic under Part 1 of Article 330 of the Criminal Code (incitement of religious hatred).  In light of yet another death of a political prisoner in Kyrgyzstan, Freedom for Eurasia expresses its great concern and considers it necessary to draw the attention of the international community to the death of Arstanbek Abdyldaev, a successful businessman and philanthropist and a public figure. We call for the government of Kyrgyzstan to conduct a full and transparent investigation into Abdyldaev’s death.

The detention and imprisonment of Arstanbek Abdyldaev was rife with flagrant violations of both Kyrgyzstan law and international human rights. Moreover the government has failed to provide an open and thorough explanation of the events surrounding Abdyldaev’s death.

On December 13, 2023, Kyrgyz State Committee for National Security (“GKNB”) raided his home and office while Abdyldaev was not present, leaving summons for questioning to his family. Following the raid, Abdyldaev was disappeared by authorities. After the family filed a missing persons report with the police, Abdyldaev was found to be in GKNB custody on December 15, 2023. The GKNB detained Abdyldaev on suspicion of committing a crime under Article 330 of the Criminal Code of the Kyrgyz Republic (incitement to religious hatred (discord)).

The government’s allegations were based solely on Abdyldaev’s publications on social networks and on his books. Abdyldaev was charged under Part 1 of Article 330 of the Criminal Code, which carries a fine or imprisonment of up to 5 years. Article 114 of the Code of Criminal Procedure stipulates that remand in custody as a preventive measure shall be applied by a court decision if it is not possible to apply another, more lenient, preventive measure to persons accused of committing offences for which criminal law provides for punishment in the form of deprivation of liberty for a term of more than 5 years. Despite the requirements of Article 114, Abdyldaev was held in pre-trial detention from December 16, 2023 to January 15, 2024. Although the investigation into Abdyldaev’s case was conducted by GKNB officers, he was detained in pre-trial detention center No. 1 (SIZO-1) in Bishkek, rather than in the GKNB pre-trial detention center. According to sources, Abdyldaev was placed in a cell with persons charged with religious extremism, who are believed to have subjected Abdyldaev to psychological and physical violence, due to Arstanbek’s unorthodox beliefs. In interviews Abdyldaev said that he uses word ‘Tenir’ instead of ‘Allah’. This mistreatment of Abdyldaev began after a smear campaign on social media and state-television targeted him for allegedly blaspheming Islam. However, despite the allegations, Abdyldaev consistently maintained his belief in Islam. Prior to his arrest, he was directly involved in building 2 mosques in Kyrgyzstan. Reports of Abdylaev’s treatment while in detention require further investigation and attention from Kyrgyz and international authorities.

On December 28, 2023, Abdyldaev was not brought to court for a scheduled hearing for which he was required to attend. In his absence, the hearing was carried out without his participation—in  absentia. On or around December 28, 2023, he was transferred from pre-trial detention center No. 1 to Correctional Facility No. 31, allegedly for for medical treatment. However, Correctional Facility No. 31 is a prison for individuals whose sentence has entered into force. As Abdyldaev has yet to be tried, it was a violation of his human rights to hold him there. Moreover, Abdyldaev’s lawyers and relatives were not notified about the transfer at the time, and they were only notified days later.

While in custody, Abdyldaev was allegedly diagnosed with a mental illness by a prison doctor. However, the medical service of the penitentiary system of the Kyrgyz Republic, including Correctional Facility No. 31, does not have the capacity to treat mental illness. As a result, Abdyldaev was unable to receive effective medical care in a timely manner.

The Kyrgyz authorities have yet to release evidence supporting their allegation that Abdyldaev died as the result of suicide. Despite releasing several videos from the day of the incident, none of the videos show the events that allegedly resulted in Abdyldaev’s suicide. The videos that the authorities presented show the presence of CCTV cameras in hallways and in cells, including in Abdyldaev’s cell. However, the authorities claim that there are no CCTV cameras in the mess hall, where authorities claim the suicide occurred. Moreover, the government has yet to explain how the around-the-clock surveillance failed to prevent this suicide. In addition to the absence of video evidence, witnesses that observed Abdyldaev’s body at his funeral have reported that Abdyldaev had scraped knees, puncture wounds, bruises and other injuries consistent with physical abuse.

Furthermore, Abdyldaev showed no evidence of contemplating suicide prior to his death. On December 29, 2023—only days before his death—Abdyldaev met with his attorney to prepare his defense strategy. Abdyldaev gave his attorney a letter for his wife and children, which suggested no indications of suicidal thoughts. For these reasons, Abdyldaev’s relatives demand that the authorities disclose the full circumstances surrounding his death.

Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that the right to life is an inalienable right of every human being. In its General Comment No. 36 (art. 6: Right to life), the Human Rights Committee emphasized that the right to life is crucial both for individuals and for society as a whole. It is in itself the most precious right inherent in every human being, but it is also a fundamental right, the effective protection of which is a prerequisite for the enjoyment of all other human rights. The Committee also pointed out that the right to life is not subject to narrow interpretation. This includes the right of individuals not to be subjected to acts or omissions that are intended or likely to cause their unnatural or premature death, as well as the right to a life of dignity. Article 6 of the Covenant guarantees this right to all persons without distinction of any kind, including persons suspected or convicted of even the most serious crimes.

It should be noted  that prisoners die every year in Kyrgyz prisons due to lack of proper medical care. Relatives, lawyers of the accused, and human rights activists have reported the lack of proper medical care, denial of hospitalization and examinations by specialists. For example, Bektur Asanov, a Kempir-Abad case prisoner was denied hospitalization in a specialized medical institution for surgery and treatment for more than one month, despite the recommendations of doctors. Open disregard by Kyrgyz authorities for human health and life is especially evident in relation to political prisoners, i.e. the failure to provide medical care has become a method of political pressure.

In this regard, recall that the Human Rights Committee, in its Comment No. 36, states that  States parties also have a heightened duty of care to take any necessary measures to protect the lives of individuals deprived of their liberty by the State, since by arresting, detaining, imprisoning or otherwise depriving individuals of their liberty, States parties assume the responsibility to care for their lives83 and bodily integrity, and they may not rely on lack of financial resources or other logistical problems to reduce this responsibility.

Freedom Eurasia draws attention to the fact that Kyrgyzstan has failed to comply with its obligations under the ICCPR, the right to life is not adequately protected in places of detention and is not ensured in practice, as evidenced by the facts of deaths from various causes, including murder and suicide.

Today, more than 50 individuals are being held in prisons in Kyrgyzstan on the grounds of political motivation and free thought. Arstanbek Abdyldayev was imprisoned and died for his dissent, for the right to be “different”. His opinions in the field of religion and public life differed from those generally accepted in society, but never contained radicalism and violence. He bravely and openly expressed his views on the policies of the State and governance. Freedom in Eurasia recognizes Arstanbek Abdyldaev as a “prisoner of conscience” and a victim of political repression.

We call on democratic states to actively apply international legal instruments and sanctions against those involved in human rights abuses, including investigators and prosecutors who fabricate false accusations, judges who illegally detain people who are undesirable to the regime, prison guards who participate in torture or silently observe their suffering and deaths, representatives of prison administrations who do not provide them with security, and the authorities who initiate persecution and who created a criminal repressive and punitive regime.

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