ISSN 2330-717X

Kazakhstan: 15-Year-Old Boy Sentenced For Allegedly Murdering His Mother After Ill-Treatment In Detention And Flawed Trial – OpEd

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Kazakhstan NGO Coalition against Torture, Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights (KIBHR) and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) are concerned about credible allegations that A. A. was tortured, ill-treated and psychologically threatened in detention including by denying him necessary medical treatment, and sentenced for murdering his mother amid allegations that he might not be the culprit.[1] The organizations are calling on the authorities of Kazakhstan to thoroughly investigate A.A.’s treatment in detention, bring anyone suspected of being responsible to justice, and to conduct a fair retrial into the murder of A.A.’s mother.

Arrest, failure to provide medical treatment and concerns about torture and ill-treatment 

Late at night on 7 January 2021, Y. T., a successful businesswoman, was killed in her home in the city of Almaty. Her son A.A., aged 15 at the time, reportedly witnessed the murder and followed the perpetrator outside on the street, according to A.A.’s lawyer.

At around 3.00 am on 8 January, a police patrol saw the boy, who was wearing neither coat nor shoes, although temperatures were around -18 degrees Celsius. The officers took him to the police station of Almaly District in the city of Almaty. According to A.A.’s father, police called an ambulance but prevented ambulance staff from taking the boy to the hospital urging them instead to simply put a bandage on.

Detention in police station of Almaly District in Almaty

In violation of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (Beijing Rules), which require the immediate notification of family members (Rule 10.1), A.A.’s father was only contacted more than five hours into his detention.

Police reportedly went ahead questioning A.A. during the night without his father and lawyer present. During the questioning police reportedly threatened A.A. with violence unless he replied to their questions. Scared, in shock and in great pain from frostbite on his fingers and toes, he confessed to killing his mother, but later he maintained his innocence.

A.A.’s father arrived at the police station shortly after he was contacted by police at 8:30 am and learnt that his ex-wife, A.A.’s mother, had been killed and that police suspected A.A. was responsible. He describes A.A.’s physical state as follows: “When I arrived my child was unable to walk because of the frostbite, his fingers were swollen and covered in blue blisters. During the day I would carry him several times on my back up and down the stairs from one office to the other.” The father urged police to call an ambulance, but the police investigator refused and started another session of questioning, this time in the presence of his father, three school representatives and three police officers. A.A. was exhausted, his head dropped on his chest several times, but the investigator proceeded with the questioning. In the afternoon, after dozing for a while, the questioning continued, this time a state-appointed lawyer was present too.

In the afternoon police registered A.A. as a suspect in the case. Despite the father’s protests, the officer responsible for taking suspects’ fingerprints took off the bandage and pressed forcefully on the blisters resulting from the frostbite, which burst, causing him severe pain.

Transferred to Almaty’s Temporary Police Detention Facility

In the evening of 8 January 2021, A.A. was taken to Almaty’s Temporary Police Detention Facility, accompanied by his father. The facility’s medical officer said that A.A. should be hospitalized. Police took A.A. to an emergency clinic, but although the doctor there also recommended hospitalization, the officers only allowed the doctor to fix a better bandage and prescribe further treatment.

Upon return to the Temporary Police Detention Facility, the medical officer said that they could not provide the treatment indicated by the emergency doctors in the detention facility and reiterated that the boy had to be hospitalized. But police insisted and eventually A.A. was admitted to the Temporary Detention Facility. It was already past midnight.

In the morning of 9 January staff of the Temporary Detention Facility took A.A. to the hospital. Hospital staff refused his father access to his son, citing covid-related quarantine measures. On 11 January, an independent lawyer, whom A.A.’s father had hired the previous day, was able to visit A.A. in the hospital and saw that A.A. was chained to the bed and two security officers were in his room, armed with guns and truncheons. A.A. was reportedly chained to the bed around the clock for 11 days. The chain was only removed for eating and going to the toilet.

On 10 January, Almaty Specialized Interdistrict Court remanded A.A. in custody, initially for two months. It paid no attention to the fact that police failed to hospitalize him immediately after they found him on the street and that the boy was questioned without a legal guardian and legal counsel in the middle of the night.

Moved to pre-trial detention facility LA-155/18 in Almaty

On 20 January, A.A. was placed in the pre-trial detention facility LA-155/18 in Almaty where he was held in a cold cell with six adults, who smoked heavily. According to Article 10 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “accused juvenile persons shall be separated from adults” and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (The Beijing Rules) stipulate that “juveniles in institutions shall be kept separate from adults and shall be detained in a separate institution or in a separate part of an institution also holding adults.”

When his father visited on 1 February, he noticed that A.A. had a bad cough and his hands and feet had significantly darkened as a result of the frostbite. Although the father petitioned for medical care, A.A. received no treatment and A.A. was called to the Head of the detention facility who forced him to state in writing that he had no complaints.

When corona-related quarantine measures were introduced in the detention facility, A.A.’s father was not allowed to visit A.A. anymore. He was only permitted to make one phone call, on 18 March, for three minutes, with a cracking phone connection. This treatment violates Kazakhstan’s obligations as a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which stipulates that every child “shall have the right to maintain contact with his or her family through correspondence and visits, save in exceptional circumstances” (Article 37, c).

A complex forensic psychiatric examination that was ordered by the police investigator on 15 March, stated that the experts found signs of paranoia and inability to critically assess the situation, but were unable to establish a clear diagnosis. They recommended to send him to a psychiatric hospital for “forced treatment (…) and intensive supervision”. The forensic examination had been conducted shortly after A.A. had been transferred to another cell with five adults, who treated him roughly, forced him to clean the cell and toilet every day and scared him with stories about how he would be mistreated in prison later on.

Failure to thoroughly, independently and promptly investigate allegations of torture: Although A.A.’s lawyers lodged several complaints about the treatment of A.A. in detention and the failure to provide prompt and appropriate medical treatment, on 30 April 2021 the Anti-Corruption service issued a decision to terminate the investigation into allegations of ill-treatment.

According to Ms. Vitkovskaya, the lawyer responsible for complaining that A.A. had been tortured, the initial investigation into the allegations was flawed. A letter confirming that a decision had been taken to close the investigation into allegations that A.A. was subjected to torture and ill-treatment, however A.A.’s father maintains that he did not receive this. The lawyer managed to read the decision at the Prosecutor’s Office but was not given a copy. The deadlines for appeal had by then passed.

On 30 April, a judge of Almaty Specialized Interdistrict Court ruled that A.A. should be transferred to the Republican Psychiatric Hospital in Almaty. Neither A.A., nor his father or his lawyer were invited to present their views. In response to a request by A.A.’s lawyer, the director of the hospital stated that the hospital does not have a paediatric department. In a petition addressed to the Prosecutor’s Office of Almaly district, dated 11 May, A.A.’s father urged to send A.A. into his care or to a medical institution in Almaty with a children’s ward. He received no reply.

Detained in the Republican Psychiatric Hospital in Almaty

Despite repeated complaints, A.A.’s father was only admitted visiting his son in the psychiatric hospital on 27 May for the first time and only for 15 minutes. He was not allowed to speak with his son in private; five hospital staff were present and A.A. was scared. While in hospital A.A. was given psychotropic drugs, one of which is not recommended for persons under 18.

The Coalition against Torture arranged for two independent doctors to visit the psychiatric facility on 7 June 2021, and they concluded that A.A. had suffered psychological torture and cruel treatment during the police investigation.

Tried and sentenced

From 12 July to 13 October 2021, A.A. was tried for murder (Article 99 of the Criminal Code) at Almaty Specialized Interdistrict Criminal Court. He was found guilty, sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment, but the court found him to be legally irresponsible in connection with his state of health and sent him for compulsory psychiatric treatment. There are serious concerns that the trial fell short of international fair trial standards. A.A.’s father attended the trial, but A.A. was not present and no psychologist or teacher attended. The judge was not specialized in juvenile justice. The judge reportedly failed to order an investigation into allegations of ill-treatment and into the failure to provide prompt medical assistance and to implement legal safeguards in detention. According to A.A.’s father and his lawyer, the crime was not thoroughly investigated. Reportedly, police did not investigate the murder weapon for fingerprints and did not try to establish the identity of a man who was visible in the recording of a surveillance camera and whom A.A. was following in the night his mother was killed.

A.A.’s defence lawyer commented:  “In this case the defence asked the judge to drop the criminal case against the child A.A., to acquit and release him. This was based on the fact that the court of first instance issued an unlawful judicial act, recognizing A.A. as having committed the crime in a state of insanity, while no evidence points to A.A.’s guilt – either in the court or the case file. Furthermore, the court ignored evidence presented by the defence of falsification of prosecution evidence by the police investigator, state psychiatric experts and the state forensic biologist. Additionally, an independent forensic biologist told the court that the state forensic biological examination had been falsified.  The court of first instance committed illegal procedural actions and contributed to the falsification of evidence already during the trial – the prosecution and the court falsified evidence on the actions of state psychiatric experts who established A.A.’s “insanity”.

“And on top of this, the court of first instance failed to give due consideration to key video recordings from surveillance cameras installed in the courtyard and above the entrance of the building in which the apartment of the victim – these recordings indicated the time when a person entered the building and later left with a backpack. The investigation initially hid these video recordings but at the request of the defence they were attached to the case during the court trial.  Currently, A.A. is in a psychiatric hospital, a cassation appeal has been filed by the defence.”

After the trial A.A. was transferred to the Republican Psychiatric Hospital where he continues to serve his sentence. The cassation appeal is still pending at the time of the writing (October 2022).

Recommendations to the authorities of Kazakhstan:

  • Promptly reopen the investigation into credible allegations that A.A. was denied the necessary medical treatment in detention, threatened with violence and subjected to torture and other types of ill-treatment, and ensure that the investigation is conducted thoroughly, impartially and independently and that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
  • Promptly investigate credible allegations that A.A. was not given access to legal safeguards in detention and not treated in line with international human standards, e.g. his father was not promptly notified of his detention; he was questioned without legal counsel and his father in the middle of the night; he was detained in one cell together with adults.
  • Conduct a fair retrial of the murder of A.A.’s mother in order to review all available evidence and instigate further investigations necessary to establish the circumstances of her death.
  • While the cassation appeal is still pending A.A. should be urgently transferred to a place suitable for a child and receive all necessary trauma treatment according to international standards.

[1] The name has been changed for data protection reasons.

IPHR

International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) is an independent, non-governmental organization founded in 2008. Based in Brussels, IPHR works closely together with civil society groups from different countries to raise human rights concerns at the international level and promote respect for the rights of vulnerable communities.

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