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Former Almaty Police Deputy Head Detained in January 2022 Torture Case

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Former Almaty Police Deputy Head Detained in January 2022 Torture Case

Kyrgyz jazz musician Vikram Ruzakhunov was detained, tortured, and forced to make a false confession amid the chaos of the January 2022 events. It’s yet to be seen if justice will be ultimately served.

Former Almaty Police Deputy Head Detained in January 2022 Torture Case
Credit: Depositphotos

In the course of investigating allegations of torture during the January 2022 events – which came come to be called Bloody January or “Qandy Qantar” in Kazakh – Kazakhstan’s General Prosecutor’s Office announced the detention of Berik Abilbekov, the former deputy head of the Almaty Police Department, on May 28

The office provided few details, stating only that Abilbekov had been detained in relation to a criminal case regarding “the use of torture against citizens in January 2022 in a special detention center located in the village of Koshmambet, Karasai district, Almaty region.” reports that Abilbekov has been detained specifically in connection to the case of Kyrgyz jazz musician Vikram Ruzakhunov. 

Ruzakhunov’s ordeal in January 2022 shed dramatic light on the Kazakh authorities’ disregard of human rights, due process, the truth, and common sense in the panicked days after countrywide protests erupted into violence. With President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev railing in televised addresses about “20,000 bandits,” “foreign fighters,” and “terrorists” supposedly wreaking havoc in Kazakhstan, the country’s law enforcement bodies went out and found some. 

As I wrote at the time: 

On January 9, Kazakh television station Khabar 24 showed a video of man, with a puffy, cut, and bruised face, confessing to having taken $200 and a plane ticket to travel to Kazakhstan to protest. The man says he is unemployed in the video.

But those hooked into Bishkek’s small but mighty jazz scene recognized the man as a well-known jazz pianist who frequently traveled to Almaty for concerts. Ruzakhunov’s family told Kyrgyz media that Ruzakhunov had traveled to Almaty on January 2 for a concert. 

Ruzakhunov was released and returned to Kyrgyzstan. In an interview with in September 2023 he recounted that after he returned to Bishkek he was advised to keep his mouth shut. As a result of the torture he experienced, Ruzakhunov had broken ribs, damaged lungs, and a concussion. “But after I went through all this, all this pain, I rethought what had happened and began giving interviews,” he said.

In the Vlast interview, Ruzakhunov explains how the experience transformed him. 

“Before the events that happened in Kazakhstan, I had no idea that this was happening, and that this could happen to me – that they could seize me on the road somewhere, hold me, then take me to an unknown direction and do whatever they want to me.”

In the more than two years since, Ruzakhunov has become increasingly relentless in pressing for justice. Criminal cases related to the torture he, and others, experienced were opened in February 2022 but made little progress at first. In May 2022, one of Ruzakhunov’s lawyers told that her client was afraid to go back to Almaty, even to participate in the investigation. It was temporarily suspended for a lack of suspects. By September 2022, however, Ruzakhunov did go back – and he identified 10 police officers who beat him.

But again, the case moved slowly. In his September 2023 Vlast interview,  Ruzakhunov was clear-eyed about the pace. 

“Although there is plenty of evidence… the system protects its people. The system will not hand over its people, because otherwise it will begin to collapse and mistrust will arise.” He noted at the time that many of those involved retained their official positions. 

In April 2024, Ruzakhunov reported via social media that four police officers had been arrested in a case that had grown to include not just him but 21 other victims. 

“The Prosecutor General’s Office assured us that it would bring the case to its logical conclusion, and the detention of the first 4 criminals in uniform is just the beginning. The rest will also be overtaken by karma,” Ruzakhunov wrote.

Karma, it seems, came for Abilbekov this week. It’s yet to be seen if justice will be ultimately served.

According to official government figures, 238 people were killed during the early January 2022 events, and thousands detained. Activists and journalists have called those figures into question.