AQTOBE, Kazakhstan — Dozens of people gathered in front a detention center in Kazakhstan’s northwestern city of Aqtobe on March 9 to demand answers after one of the institution’s inmates was found dead there last month.
The crowd, mainly comprised of relatives of the inmates, were seeking information about the death of Talant Aliev, who was found hanged in a cell of the UK163/1 detention center on February 12.
His death was officially ruled as a suicide, but Aliev’s mother, who was among the protesting relatives, said she believed there was more behind her son’s death after other inmates told her he had left a letter blaming guards.
“The inmates managed to read the letter found in my son’s pocket after his death, but a guard took that letter from them,” the woman said.
The protesters said that after Aliev’s death, other inmates who were close to him have faced pressure from the guards.
Kazakh authorities have been criticized for what human rights organizations called terrible conditions, including torture cases, in the Central Asian nation’s penitentiaries. Often, to protest the conditions and attract public attention to the situation, inmates in the prison system maim themselves or organize riots.
The chief of the Aqtobe regional penitentiary department, Almas Shamshiev, met with the protesters and told them that an investigation into Aliev’s death was under way, stressing though that the official cause of death remained suicide.
Shamshiev, however, agreed that the number of suicides in the detention center has increased in recent years.
“The suicides have been committed under stress, not because of pressure from the guards. We have a cast-iron discipline here,” Shamshiev said.
In December, Kazakh authorities said there were no torture cases in the country’s penitentiaries in 2020.