July 29, 2019

Cardin, Colleagues Call on Kazakh President to Release Political Prisoner

WASHINGTON –  U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, joined a bipartisan group of colleagues today in addressing a letter to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of the Republic of Kazakhstan to convey their concerns about the detention of businessman Iskander Yerimbetov. Mr. Yerimbetov was arbitrarily detained on politically motivated charges with limited access to his family and lawyers since November 2017. Reports indicate that he has been subjected to physical and psychological torture while in custody.

“Based on information we have received, the charges against Mr. Yerimbetov are fabricated and politically motivated, and appear to be part of a broader campaign by the Kazakh government against Ablyazov,” wrote the Senators, citing widespread calls for Mr. Yerimbetov's release from reputable human rights and multilateral organizations including Human Rights Watch, the Coalition Against Torture in Kazakhstan, the Open Dialog Foundation, the Council of Europe, and the United Nations.

In November 2018 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that “the detention of Mr. Yerimbetov constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of his liberty” because “authorities lack a legal basis for his continued detention” and he was “denied [his] due process rights under international treaties…and under various provisions of domestic law.”

“Mr. Yerimbetov has reportedly been subjected to torture and inhuman treatment while in detention, and we are deeply concerned about his wellbeing,” concluded the Senators, urging President Tokayev to immediately release Mr. Yerimbetov, dismiss the charges against him, and take appropriate measures against anyone involved in torturing him.

Joining Cardin in this effort were Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio),  Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Full text of the letter can be found here and below.

July 29, 2019 

His Excellency Kassym-Jomart Tokayev
President of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Ak Orda Presidential Palace
Left Bank
Nur-Sultan 020000, Kazakhstan

Dear President Tokayev:

We are writing to convey our concerns about the continued detention of businessman Iskander Yerimbetov. We are particularly troubled by the arbitrary nature of his detention and reports that he has been subjected to physical and psychological torture while in custody, and urge the release of Mr. Yerimbetov and dismissal of the charges against him.

Mr. Yerimbetov, a businessman and the founder of three different companies, was arrested without a warrant in November 2017 on charges of money laundering. Neither he nor his lawyer was informed of the charges until his pretrial detention hearing. After several extensions of his pretrial detention, investigators issued new charges in March 2018 accusing him of fraud. In October 2018, Mr. Yerimbetov was convicted of fraud and sentenced to seven years in prison. However, on numerous occasions Mr. Yerimbetov’s interrogators allegedly told him that the charges would “go away” if he persuaded his sister, lawyer Botagoz Jardemalie, who has been granted political asylum in Belgium, to return to Kazakhstan and testify against Mukhtar Ablyazov, a political opponent of the Kazakh government. The November 2017 charges against Mr. Yerimbetov accused him of belonging to an “organized criminal group” directed by Mr. Ablyazov even though Mr. Yerimbetov has stated that he has no connections with Mr. Ablyazov.  Based on information we have received, the charges against Mr. Yerimbetov are fabricated and politically motivated, and appear to be part of a broader campaign by the Kazakh government against Ablyazov.

Reputable human rights and multilateral organizations including Human Rights Watch, the Coalition Against Torture in Kazakhstan, the Open Dialog Foundation, the Council of Europe, and the United Nations have raised serious concerns about the charges against Mr. Yerimbetov and his treatment in detention. The State Department’s 2018 Human Rights Report on Kazakhstan mentions him as one of 24 individuals imprisoned on politically motivated charges. In November 2018 the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that “the detention of Mr. Yerimbetov constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of his liberty” because “authorities lack a legal basis for his continued detention” and he was “denied [his] due process rights under international treaties…and under various provisions of domestic law.” They called for his immediate release and compensation, as well as an investigation of the circumstances around his detention and appropriate measures against those responsible for violating his rights.

Despite widespread calls for his release and the UN Working Group’s unequivocal decision, Mr. Yerimbetov remains in detention with limited access to his family and lawyers. Mr. Yerimbetov has reportedly been subjected to torture and inhuman treatment while in detention, and we are deeply concerned about his wellbeing. We urge you to immediately release Mr. Yerimbetov and dismiss the charges against him. We further call on you to investigate the torture claims and take appropriate measures against anyone involved in torturing him.

Thank you for your attention to these issues. 

Sincerely,

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