January 15, 2024

KYRGYZSTAN: Eccentric Businessman, Critic Of Authorities And Political Prisoner Arstanbek Abdyldaev Died In Prison. Found Hanged In A Jail Cell. Human Rights Groups Demand Investigation.

Radio Free Europe
written by Chris Rickleton
Monday January 08, 2024

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Before the interview, there was the head massage.

Arstan Abdyldaev, aka Arstan Alai, then a candidate in the 2017 presidential election, insisted on it.

Already famous for predicting the disappearance of winter and for hailing Russian President Vladimir Putin's abilities as a "complex biorobot," the businessman-turned-clairvoyant wanted to know if I could feel the energy of the universe flowing through him.

I couldn't, but he wasn't offended.

Some people could feel the connection immediately, he explained to me, smiling sympathetically. For others, it might take "years."

After the massage, he sat down with me and a colleague to discuss his and Kyrgyzstan's respective roles in saving humanity as he rolled out a second presidential bid.

The election would end with him receiving just over 0.1 percent of the vote, less than the 0.5 percent that he scooped in 2011. It was in that year that he went viral with the phrase "zima ne budet" (there will be no winter) during a press conference in which he claimed to be in possession of "the code to the future."

There was a third unsuccessful presidential bid, in the 2021 election won by current President Sadyr Japarov. But there won't be a fourth.

On December 15, after relatives raised the alarm when he failed to come home, Kyrgyzstan's State Committee for National Security (UKMK) confirmed that Abdyldaev had been arrested on charges of inciting religious enmity.

Then, on January 5, according to the state prison service, he was found hanged in the canteen of a special medical and correctional institution outside Bishkek that he had been transferred to without consultation with his lawyer after experiencing what the prison service called "an unspecified personality disorder and hallucinations."

Abdyldaev is one of several public figures who have died under investigation during Japarov's three years in power -- a period that has seen the country join its authoritarian regional neighbors in the "unfree" category of international democracy indexes.

But his tragic end has a symbolic feel.

Once the only country in Central Asia where an independent candidate as mercurial and quirky as Abdyldaev could throw his or her hat into the presidential ring, Kyrgyzstan is now a country where the people who go to prison cannot be sure if they will leave it alive.

'Who Strung You Up?'

Officially, the circumstances of Abdyldaev's death are being raked over by the prosecutor-general and a commission set up by the Justice Ministry.

In comments that might foreshadow the outcome of those probes, Justice Minister Ayaz Baetov wrote in a January 5 Facebook post that surveillance footage given to the ministry by the state prison service showed "clear signs of suicidal behavior" on the prisoner's part. He did not provide any details.

Neither of Abdyldaev's children believe it was possible that he could have taken his life, however.

At his 55-year-old father's funeral on January 7, Toro Abdyldaev spoke through tears as he listed his father's long history of supporting charitable causes and offering interest-free loans to young entrepreneurs.

"If I could have one wish, I would ask [him]: 'Father, how are you? Who strung you up?'" he said during the ceremony in the village of Orok, near Bishkek, where Islamic rites were observed.

His sister, Aksana Arstanbekova, said Abdyldaev had been in "good spirits" when they last spoke and confident that he would not be spending too much more time in jail.

Both have alleged that his corpse showed bruising not concurrent with a hanging.

Another lingering question is why the authorities felt the need to arrest him in the first place.

Abdyldaev had faced prosecution before the Japarov era, in 2019, when he referred to himself as a god, having previously only portrayed himself as a prophet-type figure with visions of the world's Kyrgyz-led future.

Then, as now, the authorities opened a case into incitement of religious enmity.

Abdyldaev's supporters sprang to his defense, holding a press conference at which they called for the charges to be dropped.

"All Kyrgyz are gods," one was quoted by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service as saying at the time. "Our ancestors were gods. And we are also gods. So let them bring a criminal case against all of us, too!"

The charges were subsequently dropped.

But this time around, they stuck.

"He considers himself a 'new god,' a 'savior,' and considers other religions, beliefs, and views to be inferior, weak, and invalid delusions, and assesses them negatively," the UKMK said in a December 15 statement justifying the detention as well as raids on his property.

Speaking anonymously to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service later that week, a supporter of Abdyldaev denied these claims, as well as the UKMK's suggestions that Abdyldaev may have been intimate with some of his female adherents.

"We meet three times a week, older and younger people, both women and men. Some come specially from remote regions to listen to Arstan Alai. During his lectures he talks about a new era, a new scientific civilization. There were no conversations [against] religion. On the contrary, he says that in the new century, all religions will unite."

Abdyldaev did occasionally allow himself to venture into more political matters, however. In at least two interviews last year he called Japarov's arrival to power a "tragedy for the Kyrgyz people," foreseeing the president's eventual downfall in what would be the country's fourth revolution.

No Country For Watchdogs

Abdyldaev was one of the last people that I interviewed while living in Kyrgyzstan.

One of the first people that I interviewed there was Marat Kazakpaev, then a lecturer at the Kyrgyz-Russian Slavic University.

His phone number had been given to me by a civil society leader. "You can phone him any time of day. He loves to talk," she promised.

Sure enough, Kazakpaev was generous with his time, and a dead certain for a fast quote on election nights. So, there was naturally a lot of shock when the analyst was suddenly jailed on high-treason charges in April 2021.

UKMK chief and Japarov friend and political ally Kamchybek Tashiev told local media that the investigation into Kazakpaev's alleged espionage had predated the duo's arrival to power, which may well have been the case.

But it was under the Japarov/Tashiev watch that Kazakpaev died on June 10, 2022, in a hospital, after first falling into a coma while in jail.

The year before, Kazakpaev had complained of being intimidated by UKMK operatives -- claims Tashiev personally refuted. By April 2022, Kazakpaev's wife, Anar Kazakpaeva, told the National Center for the Prevention of Torture that her husband's health was at grave risk.

After a medical examination that confirmed a severe case of hypertension, the center recommended Kazakpaev's release from jail for planned treatment in line with Kyrgyz law -- but the UKMK ignored the advice.

Just over a week after Kazakpaev's death, the UKMK was in the spotlight again after a noted banker accused of corruption died in his jail cell. The UKMK said that Bakyt Asanbaev had committed suicide.

But Kyrgyzstan's then-ombudswoman, Atyr Abdrakhmatova, still had plenty of questions, noting that Asanbaev had been interrogated by an investigator without his lawyer present on the eve of his death. "Then there is the question of why he was moved to a different cell…why were there extension cords and other things that would allow for something like this to happen to a person?" Abdrakhmatova told journalists.

Subsequent government investigations into the deaths failed to find any fault with the authorities.

But pro-government lawmakers were soon finding plenty of faults with Abdrakhmatova's rigorous approach to her job. In May 2023, she was handed her marching orders by parliament, which endorsed a career prosecutor as her replacement.

January 10 will mark the anniversary of the election victory that confirmed Japarov's remarkable rise to power -- from a prison cell, no less -- following postelection unrest in 2020.

Since then, the former opposition politician has overseen constitutional changes that have greatly strengthened his office and weakened parliament. He has also cracked down on online critics and trained his sights on reshaping the country in his own image -- even changing the national flag.

Of his 16 opponents in the 2021 presidential contest, at least nine have spent time in jail during his presidency, while one has now died there.
Freedom for Eurasia
written by Staff
Wednesday January 10, 2024

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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