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Waves of Suffering

The tragic impact on the family of torture victims in Kazakhstan.

UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture — June 26, 2023 DRAFT 1

June 26, 1987 marks the moment when the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into effect. The Convention commonly known as UNCAT is an international human rights treaty under the review of the United Nations that aims to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment around the world.

“Torturers must never be allowed to get away with their crimes, and systems that enable torture should be dismantled or transformed.” UN Secretary —General António Guterres

The Committee Against Torture (CAT) is a body of human rights experts that monitors implementation of the convention by State parties. They hold States accountable for human rights violations, systematically investigating reports of torture in order to stop and prevent this crime. The Convention has been ratified by 162 countries.

The Republic of Kazakhstan jointed the list in 1998, 25 years ago.

Despite the fact that customary international law and key agreements call for a comprehensive ban on torture, many States Parties fail to uphold their obligations to prevent torture and protect their citizens from cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. Torture is a crime under international law and a State is responsible for acts committed by individuals if the State fails to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish such acts.

All state parties are obliged under the convention to submit regular reports to the CAT on how rights are being implemented. Upon ratifying the convention, states must submit a report within one year, after which they are obliged to report every four years. The Committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of “concluding observations”.

While the 76th session of the Committee against Torture (CAT) is taking place at the Wilson Palace in Geneva, Switzerland (April 17  - May 12, 2023) I am reminded of a father and a spouse of victims of torture I met in Kazakhstan in 2019 while on assignment for Photographers Without Borders to document the work of Қадір-қасиет — Kadir-Kasiet which translates to “Dignity”. Kadir-Kasiet is a non-governmental organisation that advocates for the rights of those who defend others’ human rights. Four years later, I am reconnecting with Director Anara Ibrayeva... How is everyone doing in 2023?

How is Mr. Yeloyev Issa doing?

Meeting Mr. Yeloyev Issa left an everlasting, impactful impression on me. ‘Being vulnerable is strength’, he is the living prove of this statement. Mr. Yeloyev Issa is the father of victim of torture — Oleg Evloev who is in prison for life. One of the cases the NGO Kadir-Kasiet ‘Dignity’ is fighting for justice. In spite of all he has been through and still goes through every hour of every day, his spirit touched my soul in ways I can’t describe.

Mr. Yeloyev Issa, father of victim of torture , Oleg Evloev.

Monday Aug. 5th, 2019. Mr. Yeloyev Issa is waiting for us at the gate of his house. Together with my translator, the daughter of the NGO Director, (name) we are welcomed into his home.

His house is well organised and the colourful kitchen table, filled with bowls of fresh fruit, reflects his efforts to make us feel welcome. We are here to listen. To witness, and to report the impact torture has outside the prison walls.

Mr. Yeloyev Issa lives alone. There is no one left of his family to wander the halls or fill the rooms of his house. We learn later that there are rooms he never enters because there are to many memories that make the hurt worse.

It wasn’t always like this... In his kitchen Mr. Yeloyev Issa shows us a photo of better times. Playing pool with his two sons Oleg and (name other son).

Together with his wife (Mrs. name ?) Mr. Yeloyev Issa built a family of four. In (what year?) tragedy hit the family as they lose their 28 year old son (name) in a car accident. (x years later) In 1998 their son, Oleg is tortured to confess to a crime he didn’t commit and sentenced to prison for life. Two years later, his wife passed away in 2000. (Mrs. name) was no longer able to cope with the grief and the ongoing injustice and pain inflicted on her (oldest?) son Oleg.

Simon the cat. Mr. Yeloyev Issa's sole companion for the past 13 years.

From the very first moment we met, I noticed that Mr. Yeloyev Issa carried a little flip cell-phone in his hand. I did not have to ask. While we are invited to walk into the living space, Mr. Yeloyev Issa tells us that he sleeps here in this wall carpets decorated room. He prefers to sleep here instead of the bedroom nightmares haunt him. He sleeps on the couch where his wife passed away. With love in his heart he shows us a photo of her on his little flip cell phone. He showed it to us several times.

We sit down. What questions do you ask a man who lost his family members one by one? Through accident, through injustice and through grief. How much pain can a person endure? Mr. Yeloyev Issa is a strong man, but his pain is deep.

Moments between humans that connect us at a deeper level because at the core, we are all the same.

It shows in his eyes when he talks about his sons and his wife. He is heartbroken. Oleg’s mother would write her son letters. When these letters stopped coming, Oleg started wondering what was going on. Mr. Yeloyev Issa lets us in and tells us with a sense of guilt in his voice that he didn’t had the courage to tell Oleg that his mother had passed away. He regrets that Oleg had to hear about her passing from the prison guards.

The emotional and mental stress also affects Mr. Yeloyev Issa’s body. He told us he lost 14 teeth at once. A consequence of chronic, overwhelming amounts of stress and anxiety.

It shows on his hands. Hands that aren’t allowed to hug his son for years, not even during his 15 min prison-visitor time. Mr. Yeloyev Issa is only permitted to visit his son once a year for 15 minutes. During the 15-minute visit, he has to sit five metres away from his son, in the presence of six police officers who can listen to their conversation, and with video cameras filming their meeting.

Mr. Yeloyev Issa said, he has everything, a house, furniture, beautiful china tableware, everything... besides a life.

Expressions of gratitude are being exchanged both ways as we have a common goal; sharing his story — once more, with the world. Because in spite of the horror he is living, the hope to have his son with him again is unbreakable. His body tired, but his spirit burning strong, driven to keep fighting for the justice of his son.

We listened. We hold space. I hope, for a moment, he didn’t feel alone. After our visit, we see Mr. Yeloyev Issa walking back to the emptiness of his home. The scene leaves me feeling powerless in that moment, but I also know that in the meantime he is supported by fellow Kazakhstan people who are navigating the juridical and political labyrinth of injustice; people of integrity as the NGO Kadir-Kasiet ‘Dignity’ who sent us here today to support their mission. Because unfortunately there are many more heartbreaking stories.

How is Mrs. Irina Khan doing?

Together with Mr. Yeloyev Issa’s son Oleg Evloev, another victim of torture, Mrs. Irina Khan’s husband, Dmitri Tian was sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment. She’s the mother of two boys; 8 and 18 years old. (check facts) At the time of the interview, her husband was 10 years in prison (now 14 years). “I will not be quiet” she tells us with tears in her eyes and a tremble in her voice. Mrs. Irina Khan is a brave woman who knows she has to take good care of herself so she can be strong and be the mother her two boys need.

Mrs. Irina Khan, spouse of victim of torture , Dmitri Tian.

In October 2008, Dmitri Tian was summoned to a police station in Astana to be questioned as a witness in a murder case. He said that rather than being questioned as a witness he was stripped to his underwear, made to stand with his legs wide apart, and beaten with plastic bottles filled with water and truncheons to make him confess to the murders of a mother and her three children. He said that his detention was not recorded and that the police officers did not inform him of his rights. When he tried to complain he was allegedly beaten again.

Both men claimed that they had been tortured in order to force them to confess. The judge instructed the jury not to consider these allegations. A video tape recorded by the police following Oleg Evloev’s arrest, which reportedly showed him covered in bruises, was lost by the prosecution. In November 2009, the Supreme Court turned down appeals by both defendants. No investigations into their allegations of torture were ever conducted. The men were transferred to two different prisons in Kostanai province some 800km from Astana in November 2010.

Dmitri Tian’s wife, Irina Khan, did not know his whereabouts for two months after Dmitri had been transferred to the prison in Kostanai in November 2010, where he currently remains. She is allowed to visit him every four months. She makes the 14-hour train journey to Kostanai, and has to wait outside the prison until she is permitted to enter. Every visit to see her husband in Kostanai costs her a month’s salary. (Source: Amnesty International)

Question: Irina Khan ended up without any (financial) support, what happened to her job?


Office of the NGO Kadir-Kasiet ‘Dignity’. Astana, Kazakhstan

Torture is a crime against humanity. Torture can never be justified. It is barbaric and inhumane, and replaces the rule of law with terror. No one is safe when governments allow its use. Torture victims face a range of devastating long-term consequences. The physical and psychological pain inflicted on them can lead to chronic pain and disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. (source: Amnesty International)

The stories of Mr. Yeloyev Issa and Mrs. Irina Khan show us how the tragic impact of torture goes beyond prison walls. While the machine of bureaucracy runs in circles, waves of suffering keep crashing onto the family members, year after year.


I question what support Mr. Yeloyev Issa and Mrs. Irina Khan are receiving on this day?

Legal assistance -> The NGO Kadir-Kasiet ‘Dignity’ offers (legal support/link to donations... + please add) Medical assistance?

Psychological assistance?

Social assistance?

Are they receiving support from the The UN Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture ?

Do we want to add additional information about the recent CAT meeting or would these details make things to complicated for this article? The article for December 10, 2023 for the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) (this year’s slogan for Human Rights Day is “Dignity, Freedom, and Justice for All.”) will go deeper into the legal structure over the years. I think with this article we aim on revisiting these cases and bring new attention to it as they focus on support of the family members of torture victims. Please share your thoughts. Thank you!


Headlines of the April-May 2023 CAT meeting in Geneva, Switzerland reads:


INPUT Anara: .... What are your thoughts and reaction to this years’ observations and conclusions made by the CAT?

Which of these topics see positive change? *torture *prison conditions *unfair trials *misuse power of Nat. Security Services *focus on minority groups.

From what my research shows me there is still an ongoing and considerable gap between law & reality. (based on documents sent by Anara and research (UN and Amnesty Intern. sources). Looks like the authorities agree to implement rules but not follow through in applying them...

What needs to happen so the cases of Mr. Yeloyev Issa and Mrs. Irina Khan can be reviewed?

Both cases show indications of violations on the topics discussed: *torture *prison conditions *unfair trials

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