A torture victim’s fight for justice

Twenty-two year old Farrukh Gapirov can no longer work as a painter and decorator; he has difficulty walking, severe headaches and constant nightmares. Instead he tends his family’s garden in their courtyard in Osh South Kyrgyzstan and waits for the outcome of his complaint against the city police department.

Farrukh Gapirov is one of hundreds of people detained in South Kyrgyzstan © OHCHR“The police forced me to confess to something I didn’t do. They beat me for five hours on the soles of my feet, tied me to a table and hit my genitals with a truncheon. They put a gas mask over my face to stimulate suffocation and I lost consciousness at least twice.”

Gapirov was one of hundreds of people detained after a frenzy of violence rocked the southern cities of Osh and Jalal-Abad in June 2010, leaving more than 400 people dead, thousands injured and some 2,000 houses in ruins.

An ethnic Uzbek, he was acquitted due to the tenacity of his lawyer, Tatiana Tomina, who presented photographic and medical evidence to the court that his confession had been extracted under torture. “In the majority of cases the courts refuse to consider such evidence and hand down long sentences to the innocent”, she says.

Tomina works for the Human Rights Advocacy Centre in Osh, an NGO supported by the UN Human Rights office (OHCHR) with financial backing from the European Union, which provides legal aid to the Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities.

According to its director, Zhenishbek Toroev, “Law enforcement agencies have for a long time used ill treatment and torture against detainees but the situation got worse after the June violence.”

The UN Human Rights office encourages victims alleging police brutality to lodge complaints with the public prosecutor. A Kyrgyz man, whose name cannot be revealed for his own protection, is filing his third complaint of torture while in police custody: “I am unhappy with all the law enforcement bodies. I am unhappy with the police and the public prosecutor. They keep on returning my case. I have filed complaints of ill treatment twice and they have been dropped.”

Mazat Orozbaev, head of Osh city police angrily denies that his police officers torture detainees. “This is all lies”, he says. “If this were true we would have investigated and dismissed those responsible.” Asked about the Gapirov case, he replies, “Who is he? This must be something that happened in Jalal-Abad” and brings the interview to a close.

The public prosecutor for Osh province, Aibek Turganbaev, concedes that NGO complaints are not “without justification” and that since he took office in March, four complaints of torture by the police have been sent to the courts. He is signing a memorandum of understanding based on an earlier decree with a group of NGOs and lawyers, which will allow for joint inspections of detention facilities and closer co-operation on reviewing human rights violations. OHCHR is facilitating the dialogue between them, monitoring the implementation of the decree, and providing advice on issues relating to torture.

“It is a welcome first step”, says Chiara Pallanch from OHCHR in Osh, “but  there is still a long way to go to tackle human rights abuses and the fight against impunity has only just begun.”

On 26 May 2011 the public prosecutor opened a criminal case against Osh City police following Farrukh Gapirov’s complaint of ill treatment and torture. His father Ravshan, though, is not confident that the law enforcement bodies will punish each other and vows to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights if need be.
“I am determined to fight impunity and get justice for Farrukh. His physical scars will heal but the psychological scars will be with him for the rest of his life.”

10 June 2011