Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings or beatings that led to deaths.
On July 14, Erik Turekulov of Zhambyl region died after he was allegedly beaten by local police, who detained him for swimming in a no-swimming area near the Karakystak hydropower station. According to the doctors, Turekulov was brought to the hospital already in a coma, from which he failed to recover. The Zhambyl regional police department indicated it was looking into the actions of the police members who detained Turekulov. On December 14, a Zhambyl regional court convicted a police officer for abuse of power and infliction of grave injuries that led to negligent death. He was sentenced to nine years in prison. Two other police officers also involved in the beating remained under investigation.
Military hazing led to deaths, suicides, and serious injuries. On September 28, Private Urazgaliyev of Army Unit 32363 in Kapshagay died in the local hospital after a disagreement with the detachment commander, Sergeant Ramadin, who allegedly hit the conscript in the head. Urazgaliyev lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital, where he later died. Military prosecutors began an investigation of the incident, and Sergeant Ramadin was arrested. Due to the sensitivity of such cases, the Ministry of Defense rarely discloses additional information to the general public.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits torture; nevertheless, police and prison officials allegedly tortured and abused detainees. Human rights activists asserted the domestic legal definition of torture was noncompliant with the definition of torture in the UN Convention against Torture.
The National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) against Torture came into force in 2014 when the prime minister signed rules permitting the monitoring of institutions. Some observers commented that NPM staff lacked sufficient knowledge and training to recognize instances of torture. The NPM is part of the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman and thus is not independent of the government. The human rights ombudsman reported during the year receiving 96 complaints alleging torture, violence, and other cruel and degrading treatment and punishment. In its March report covering activities in 2015, the NPM reported that the risk of human rights violations was high at temporary detention centers, especially in the first few hours. The Public Monitoring Commission (PMC) corroborated that report and elaborated that torture typically occurred during the initial period of detention. Suspects often were beaten during transit or in police stations.
The NGO Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR) recorded 115 complaints of torture in the first six months of the year. The prosecutor general indicated its office registered 600 torture complaints on average per year. Not all cases led to prosecution or conviction. The NGO Penal Reform International (PRI) indicated four of the 350 officially registered criminal investigations of torture went to court trial during the first 10 months of the year.
In June an inmate of prison LA-155/18 in the Almaty region, Natalya Slekishina, submitted a complaint to the Almaty police department that she had been raped by several prison officers. She subsequently gave birth to a child on April 25. DNA tests conducted by the Center of Forensic Examination under the Justice Ministry indicated a DNA match for Ruslan Hakimov, one of the four prison officers mentioned in Slekishina’s complaint, as the child’s biological father. Slekishina’s lawyer, Aiman Umarova, a well-known human rights attorney, insisted the three other officers should be charged with rape as well. Umarova argued that other officers who were aware of the crime should also be held liable and that charges for torture should be added to the case, since they failed to stop the rape. Slekishina, who faced pressure and threats while under continued incarceration, chose not to press charges in the case further. On September 30, Hakimov was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were generally harsh and sometimes life threatening, and facilities did not meet international health standards. Health problems among prisoners went untreated in many cases, or prison conditions exacerbated them.
Physical Conditions: According to PRI, although men and women were held separately and pretrial detainees were held separately from convicted prisoners, during transitions between temporary detention centers, pretrial detention, and prisons, youths often were held with adults of the same sex.
Abuse occurred in police cells, pretrial detention facilities, and prisons. Observers cited the primary cause of mistreatment as the lack of professional training programs for administrators.
The NPM reported infrastructure problems in prisons, such as unsatisfactory sanitary and hygiene conditions, including poor plumbing and sewerage systems and unsanitary bedding. It also reported shortages of medical staff and insufficient medicine, as well as problems of mobility for prisoners with disabilities. In many places NPM noted restricted connectivity with the outside world and limited access to information about prisoners’ rights. PRI reported there was a widespread lack of heating and adequate ventilation in prisons, noting that in some cases extreme temperatures threatened the health of the inmates.
The government did not publish statistics on the number of suicides or attempted suicides in pretrial detention centers or prisons during the year.
According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, 54 cases of civil disobedience by prisoners were registered in 2016.
Administration: The law does not allow unapproved religious services, rites, ceremonies, meetings, or missionary activity in prisons. By law a prisoner in need of “religious rituals” or his relatives may ask to invite a representative of a registered religious organization to carry out religious rites, ceremonies, and/or meetings, provided they do not obstruct prison activity or violate the rights and legal interests of other individuals.
Independent Monitoring: There were no independent international monitors of prisons. The local independent monitoring group PMC visited approximately 340340 facilities during the first six months of the year.
Improvements: The 2015 criminal code introduced alternative sentences, including fines and public service, but human rights activists noted they were not implemented effectively.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the practice occurred. The government did not provide statistics on the number of individuals unlawfully detained during the year; prosecutors released 205 individuals who were unlawfully held in police cells and offices. KIBHR reported 106 incidents of unlawful detention of civil society activists. Authorities released on bail 2,000 suspects who were held in temporary custody while they awaited arrest authorization by the court.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Ministry of Internal Affairs supervises the national police force, which has primary responsibility for internal security, including investigation and prevention of crimes and administrative offenses, and maintenance of public order and security. The Agency of Civil Service Affairs and Anticorruption has administrative and criminal investigative powers. The Committee for National Security (KNB) plays a role in border security, internal and national security, antiterrorism efforts, and the investigation and interdiction of illegal or unregistered groups, such as extremist groups, military groups, political parties, religious groups, and trade unions. The KNB, Syrbar (the foreign intelligence service), and the Agency of Civil Service Affairs and Anticorruption all report directly to the president. Many government ministers maintained personal blogs where citizens could register complaints.
Although the government took some steps to prosecute officials who committed abuses, impunity existed, especially where corruption was involved or personal relationships with government officials were established.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
A person apprehended as a suspect in a crime is taken to a police office for interrogation. Prior to interrogation, the accused should have the opportunity to meet with an attorney. Upon arrest the investigator may do an immediate body search if there is a reason to believe the detainee has a gun or may try to discard or destroy evidence. Within three hours of arrest, the investigator is required to write a statement declaring the reason for the arrest, the place and time of the arrest, the results of the body search, and the time of writing the statement. It is then signed by the investigator and the detained suspect. The investigator should also submit a written report to the prosecutor’s office within 12 hours of the signature of the statement.
The arrest must be approved by the court. It is a three-step procedure: (1) the investigator collects all evidence to justify the arrest and takes all materials of the case to the prosecutor; (2) the prosecutor studies the evidence and takes it to court within 12 hours; and (3) the court proceeding is held with the participation of the criminal suspect, his/her lawyer, and the prosecutor. If within 72 hours of the arrest the administration of the detention facility has not received a court decision approving the arrest, the administration should immediately release him/her and notify the officer who handles the case and the prosecutor. The court may choose other forms of restraint: house arrest, restriction of movement, or a written requirement not to leave the city/place of residence.
According to human rights activists, these procedures were frequently ignored.
Authorized bail procedures exist but were not used in many cases. Instead, prolonged pretrial detentions were commonplace.
Detainees may be held in pretrial detention for up to two months. The term may be extended up to 18 months if the investigation continues. Upon the completion of the investigation, the investigator puts together an official indictment. The materials of the case are shared with the defendant and then sent to the prosecutor, who has five days to check the materials and forward them to the court.
Although the judiciary has the authority to deny or grant arrest warrants, judges authorized prosecutor warrant requests in the vast majority of cases. Prosecutors continued to have the power to authorize investigative actions, such as search and seizure.
Persons detained, arrested, or accused of committing a crime have the right to the assistance of a defense lawyer from the moment of detention, arrest, or accusation. The 2015 criminal procedure code introduced an obligation for police to inform detainees about their rights, including the right to an attorney. Human rights observers alleged that prisoners were constrained in their ability to communicate with their attorneys and that penitentiary staff often remained present during the meetings between defendants and attorneys. During a July 15 public hearing in Astana, the well-known defense attorney Aiman Umarova reported that, in several cases, audio and video recording equipment was present in lawyer-client meeting rooms and case documents were often reviewed, disrupting the right to attorney-client confidentiality.
The human rights ombudsman reported that law enforcement officials dissuaded detainees from seeing an attorney, gathered evidence through preliminary questioning before a detainee’s attorney arrived, and in some cases used defense attorneys to gather evidence. The law states that the government must provide an attorney for an indigent suspect or defendant when the suspect is a minor, has physical or mental disabilities, or faces serious criminal charges, but public defenders often lacked the necessary experience and training to assist defendants. Defendants are barred from freely choosing their defense counsel if the cases against them involve state secrets. The law allows only lawyers who have special clearance to work on such cases.
Arbitrary Arrest: Prosecutors reported continuing problems with arbitrary arrest and detention.
The government frequently arrested and detained political opponents and critics, sometimes for minor infractions, such as unsanctioned assembly, that led to fines or up to 10 days’ administrative arrest. By law detainees may remain in pretrial detention for up to two months. Depending on the complexity and severity of the alleged offense, authorities may extend the term for up to 18 months while the investigation takes place. The pretrial detention term may not be longer than the potential sentence for the offense.
Pretrial Detention: The law allows police to hold a detainee for 72 hours before bringing charges. Human rights observers criticized this period as too lengthy and alleged that authorities often used this phase of detention to torture, beat, and abuse inmates to extract confessions.
The 2015 criminal code introduced the concept of conditional release on bail. The bail system is designed for persons who commit a criminal offense for the first time or for a crime of minor or moderate severity not associated with causing death or grievous bodily harm to the victim, provided that the penalties for committing such a crime contain a fine as an alternative penalty.
The law grants prisoners prompt access to family members, although authorities occasionally sent prisoners to facilities located far from their homes and relatives, thus preventing access for those unable to travel.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The Code of Criminal Procedure spells out a detainee’s right to submit a complaint, challenge the justification for detention, or to seek a pre-trial probation as an alternative to arrest. Detainees have 15 days to submit complaints to the administration of the pre-trial detention facility or to local court. An investigative judge has three to 10 days to overturn or uphold the challenged decision.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law does not provide for an independent judiciary. The executive branch sharply limited judicial independence. Prosecutors enjoyed a quasi-judicial role and had the authority to suspend court decisions.
Corruption was evident at every stage of the judicial process. Although judges were among the most highly paid government employees, lawyers and human rights monitors alleged that judges, prosecutors, and other officials solicited bribes in exchange for favorable rulings in many criminal and civil cases.
Corruption in the judicial system was widespread. Bribes and irregular payments were regularly exchanged in order to obtain favorable court decisions. In many cases the courts were controlled by the interests of the ruling elite, according to Freedom House’s Nations in Transition report for the year. Accordingly, public trust in the impartiality of the judicial system was low, and citizens held little expectation that justice would be dispensed professionally in court proceedings, as noted in the 2014 Nations in Transition Freedom House report. Recruitment of judges was plagued by corruption, and becoming a judge often required bribing various officials, according to the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index report for the year.
Business entities were reluctant to approach courts as foreign businesses have a historically poor record when challenging government regulations and contractual disputes within the local judicial system. Judicial outcomes were perceived as subject to political influence and interference due to a lack of independence. Companies have also expressed reluctance to seek foreign arbitration as anecdotal evidence suggested the government looks unfavorably on cases involving foreign judicial entities.
According to Supreme Court Chairman Kairat Mami, one judge was convicted for corruption during the year. President Nazarbayev indicated at a national conference of judges that two judges were fired and 32 judges were disciplined during the first 10 months of the year.
Military courts have jurisdiction over civilian criminal defendants in cases allegedly connected to military personnel. Military courts use the same criminal code as civilian courts.
All defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and are protected from self-incrimination under the law. Trials are public except in instances that could compromise state secrets or when necessary to protect the private life or personal family concerns of a citizen. At the beginning of the year, the list of crimes that may be handled through jury trials was expanded to include five more categories of particularly grave crimes.
Observers noted that the juror selection process was inconsistent. For example, on some occasions, the court learned after a trial concluded that a juror had a previous criminal conviction, which normally excludes potential members from the juror pool.
Indigent defendants in criminal cases have the right to counsel and a government-provided attorney. By law a defendant must be represented by an attorney when the defendant is a minor, has mental or physical disabilities, does not speak the language of the court, or faces 10 or more years of imprisonment. Defense attorneys, however, reportedly participated in only one-half of criminal cases, in part because the government failed to pay them properly or on time. The law also provides defendants the rights to be present at their trials, to be heard in court, to confront witnesses against them, and to call witnesses for the defense. They have the right to appeal a decision to a higher court. According to observers, prosecutors dominated trials, and defense attorneys played a minor role.
Domestic and international human rights organizations reported numerous problems in the judicial system, including lack of access to court proceedings, lack of access to government-held evidence, frequent procedural violations, denial of defense counsel motions, and failure of judges to investigate allegations that authorities extracted confessions through torture or duress.
Lack of due process was a problem, particularly in a handful of politically motivated trials involving protests by opposition activists and in cases in which there were allegations of improper political or financial influence.
Human rights and international observers noted investigative and prosecutorial practices that emphasized a confession of guilt over collection of other evidence in building a criminal case against a defendant. Courts generally ignored allegations by defendants that officials obtained confessions by torture or duress.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
A group of civil society activists maintained a list of individuals they considered detained or imprisoned based on politically motivated charges.
Land code activists Maks Bokayev and Talgat Ayan were convicted and sentenced to five years in prison on November 28 after a six-week trial on criminal code charges of incitement of social discord (Article 174), intentional dissemination of false information (Article 274), and holding an unsanctioned rally (Article 400). At no point during the peaceful protests did Bokayev or Ayan go beyond advocacy or dissent to commit acts of violence. Human rights observers, in the country and internationally, criticized the charges as a threat to the freedoms of speech, peaceful assembly, and political expression. Amnesty International termed the activists “prisoners of conscience.” Specifically, Maina Kiai, UN special rapporteur for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, emphasized that under international law authorities could not impose authorization requirements on those seeking to hold peaceful assemblies and highlighted the danger of unclear or vague laws being interpreted in ways that could criminalize peaceful dissent.
On August 19, opposition figure Vladimir Kozlov was released on parole from prison, where he had served four and one-half years of his prison sentence of seven and one-half years. Kozlov had been convicted for creating and leading an extremist group, inciting social discord, and calling for the violent overthrow of the government. Observers believed these were politically motivated charges related to Kozlov’s role as leader of the opposition party Alga.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Individuals and organizations may seek civil remedies for human rights violations through domestic courts. Economic and administrative court judges handle civil cases under a court structure that largely mirrors the criminal court structure. Although the law and constitution provide for judicial resolution of civil disputes, observers viewed civil courts as corrupt and unreliable.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit violations of privacy, but the government at times infringed on these rights.
The law provides prosecutors with extensive authority to limit citizens’ constitutional rights. The KNB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and other agencies, with the concurrence of the Prosecutor General’s Office, may infringe on the secrecy of private communications and financial records, as well as on the inviolability of the home. Lawyers and family members indicated the private documents and court evidence for Maks Bokayev were confiscated by police while he was meeting with his lawyer during pre-trial detention.
Courts may hear an appeal of a prosecutor’s decision but may not issue an immediate injunction to cease an infringement. The law allows wiretapping in medium, urgent, and grave cases.
Government opponents, human rights defenders, and their family members continued to report the government occasionally monitored their movements.
In July human rights defender Amangeldy Shormanbayev of the NGO International Legal Initiative (ILI) posted a message on Facebook saying, “Our office is under open surveillance.” In early August the State Revenue Agency began tax inspections of the NGO, and the group’s leaders believed the actions were related to their plans to challenge new amendments to NGO laws.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but the government severely limited exercise of this right.
Although the 2007 constitutional amendments increased legislative authority in some spheres, the constitution continues to concentrate power in the presidency. The president appoints and dismisses most high-level government officials, including the prime minister, cabinet, prosecutor general, KNB chief, Supreme Court and lower-level judges, and regional governors. The Mazhilis must confirm the president’s choice of prime minister, and the Senate must confirm the president’s choices of prosecutor general, KNB chief, Supreme Court judges, and National Bank head. Parliament has never failed to confirm a presidential nomination. Modifying or amending the constitution effectively requires the president’s consent. Constitutional amendments exempt President Nazarbayev from the two-term presidential term limit and protect him from prosecution.
Two laws, termed “Leader-of-the-Nation laws,” establish President Nazarbayev as chair of the Kazakhstan People’s Assembly, grant him lifetime membership on the Constitutional and Security Councils, allow him “to address the people of Kazakhstan at any time,” and stipulate that all “initiatives on the country’s development” must be coordinated through him.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: An early presidential election in April 2015 gave President Nazarbayev 97.5 percent of the vote. According to the New York Times, his two opponents, who supported the Nazarbayev government, were seen as playing a perfunctory role as opposition candidates. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) stated that the election process generally was managed effectively, although the OSCE/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) election observation mission stated that voters were not given a choice of political alternatives and noted both “opposition” candidates had openly praised Nazarbayev’s achievements and some voters reportedly had been pressured to vote for the incumbent.
As a result of early Mazhilis elections on March 20, the ruling Nur Otan Party won 84 seats, Ak Zhol won seven seats, and the Communist People’s Party of Kazakhstan won seven seats. The official statistic for turnout was 77.2 percent, yet ODIHR reported widespread ballot stuffing and inflated vote totals. ODIHR criticized the election for falling short of the country’s democratic commitments. The legal framework imposed substantial restrictions on fundamental civil and political rights. On election day serious procedural errors and irregularities were noted during voting, counting, and tabulation.
Political Parties and Political Participation: Political parties must register members’ personal information, including date and place of birth, address, and place of employment. This requirement discouraged many citizens from joining political parties.
There were seven political parties registered, including Ak Zhol, Birlik, and the People’s Patriotic Party “Auyl” (merged from the Party of Patriots of Kazakhstan and the Kazakhstan Social Democratic Party). A court order in August 2015 closed the Communist Party of Kazakhstan for not having the minimum number of members. One party remained registered although it was defunct, leaving six functioning parties. The parties generally did not oppose President Nazarbayev’s policies.
In order to register, a political party must hold a founding congress with a minimum attendance of 1,000 delegates, including representatives from two-thirds of the oblasts and the cities of Astana and Almaty. Parties must obtain at least 600 signatures from each oblast and the cities of Astana and Almaty, registration from the Central Election Commission (CEC), and registration from each oblast-level election commission.
Participation of Women and Minorities: Traditional attitudes sometimes hindered women from holding high office or playing active roles in political life, although there were no legal restrictions on the participation of women or minorities in politics.