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MARCH 1, 2016

Will Victims of Police Brutality in Osh Receive Justice?

For the third time, Kyrgyzstan’s Prosecutor General has directed the Osh City Prosecutor’s Office to consider opening a criminal investigation against ten police officers. The police illegally raided a religious meeting of Jehovah’s Witnesses in August 2015 and severely beat several in attendance. Despite clear evidence of police misconduct, the Osh City Prosecutor’s Office has refused to open a criminal investigation.

Illegal Raid and Heavy-Handed Police Action

On Sunday morning, August 9, 2015, ten officers from Department 10 * of the Osh police raided a religious meeting at a rented café where over 40 people had gathered for a peaceful religious service. One of the police officers shouted at Nurlan Usupbaev, who was conducting the meeting, to stop the religious service immediately because it was “illegal.” The police repeatedly threatened to shoot everyone in attendance. When one attendee, Tynchtyk Olzhobayev, attempted to video record the heavy-handed actions of the police, they took him into a separate room and viciously beat him.

The officers took ten of the Witness men to the police station. There the police brutally beat six of them and strangled three, including Mr. Usupbaev. The men were released that day, and those with severe injuries went to the hospital to be examined.

Two days later, on August 11, police officers Kozhobek Kozubayev and Nurbek Sherikbayev—the same officers who had directed the raid and the beatings—arrested Mr. Usupbaev on the charge of engaging in illegal religious activity. His hearing was set for August 20 and 21 before the Osh City Court.

Courts Uphold Witnesses’ Right to Worship

During the hearing, the representative for Department 10 argued that the August 9 religious meeting was illegal because Jehovah’s Witnesses do not have local registration in Osh. The prosecution also alleged that the presence of children at the meeting with their Witness parents violated Kyrgyzstan’s religion law, which prohibits recruiting children into religious organizations.

On August 21, the presiding judge of the Osh City Court found Mr. Usupbaev innocent of illegal religious activity. The court concluded that the administrative case against him should be dismissed because there was no evidence that he engaged in illegal religious activity or that he “recruited” children.

The Osh City Prosecutor filed an appeal with the Osh Regional Court, objecting to Mr. Usupbaev’s acquittal. The regional court dismissed the prosecutor’s appeal and upheld the trial court’s decision to acquit Mr. Usupbaev. The regional court reiterated that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a religious organization that is duly registered in Kyrgyzstan. The court further observed that the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court had already declared unconstitutional the portion of Kyrgyzstan law requiring local religious registration. * However, the prosecutor has now appealed to the Supreme Court, and the Court will hear the case on March 2, 2016.

Local Prosecutor Ordered to Investigate Police

While his case was in progress, Mr. Usupbaev along with the others who had been viciously beaten in the August 9 raid filed a complaint with the Osh City Prosecutor’s Office. They asked that criminal charges be lodged against the ten police officers involved in the beatings. This began a series of filings and appeals. Three times the Osh City Prosecutor refused to initiate a case, and each time the victims appealed to the Prosecutor General. Twice the Prosecutor General reversed the decision of the Osh City Prosecutor and directed him to reconsider the case. However, after receiving the victims’ third appeal, rather than consider the appeal himself, the Prosecutor General referred it back to the Osh City Prosecutor for a decision. This latest directive from the Prosecutor General, dated January 21, 2016, leaves in question whether the victims will ever receive justice.

Jehovah’s Witnesses in Kyrgyzstan are grateful for national registration and for these recent court rulings in Osh. They appreciate that fair-minded judges courageously pave the way for religious freedom by applying the rule of law and upholding the government’s stated commitment to freedom of worship and belief. However, they are very concerned that State officials have not acted decisively to bring the police who engaged in this brutal attack to justice. Jehovah’s Witnesses plead with the Prosecutor General’s office to take clear and decisive action and prosecute those who perpetrated this violent act.

^ par. 4 Department 10 is a branch of Kyrgyzstan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs.