His Excellency Yerlan Turgumbayev
Minister of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Tauelsizdik Avenue 1
Nur-Sultan 010000
Republic of Kazakhstan

Dear Minister Turgumbayev,

We, the undersigned international human rights organizations, are writing to express our urgent concern about imprisoned labor activist Erzhan Elshibayev’s health and urge you to immediately release him on humanitarian grounds.

As you may already be aware, Mr. Elshibayev is serving a five-year prison sentence at penal colony NEK-169/5 in Kyzylorda on charges of hooliganism. His arrest and trial were marred by procedural irregularities and violations of his due process rights, including Mr. Elshibayev being hindered from attending his own trial and the alleged victim claiming he had no complaint against Mr. Elshibayev. After examining all the facts of the case, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determined Mr. Elshibayev’s detention is a violation of international law and “resulted from his legitimate exercise of his right to freedom of expression and the right to participate in public life.”[1]

Mr. Elshibayev has experienced inhumane treatment and harassment while incarcerated. His family members reported severe bruising was visible on his body when they visited him in March 2020 at penal colony ICH-167/9 in Lenger. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (KIBHR) staff members, who are also members of the National Preventive Mechanism made a special visit on April 26, 2020. Mr. Elshibayev also met with a lawyer from KIBHR and explained that he had been beaten on March 11, 2020. After the conversation, KIBHR provided a lawyer to Mr. Elshibayev to file a complaint regarding this treatment. Unfortunately, the court dismissed Mr. Elshibayev’s complaint on the grounds that there was no evidence of torture or ill-treatment.

More recently, Mr. Elshibayev has been the target of reprisals from prison authorities at penal colony NEK-169/5. In early June 2021 authorities stopped providing him with newspapers he had been receiving since he was imprisoned, claiming the publications were banned. Shortly thereafter, prison guards allegedly discovered contraband in his cell, which they used as a pretext to place him in a disciplinary punishment cell for nine months.

Additionally, Mr. Elshibayev’s requests for parole have been repeatedly denied. These denials are based on alleged misconduct which occurred while Mr. Elshibayev was detained at penal colony ICH-167/9 in Lenger between March and October 2020. However, according to Kazakhstani law, these alleged violations are expunged from an individual’s record after six months and thus should not be used to deny Mr. Elshibayev’s request for parole.[2]

These circumstances have taken a severe toll on Mr. Elshibayev’s mental health. As a direct result, in the past month he has committed two potentially life-threatening acts of self-harm, including an attempted suicide on July 1 by cutting his wrist followed by cutting open his own stomach on July 15. As soon as it became known about the recent act of Mr. Elshibayev’s self-harm, KIBHR arranged for a lawyer to visit him. After several attempts, the lawyer managed to meet with Mr. Elshibayev in person on July 29, 2021. During this visit, Mr. Elshibayev explained that he had been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment by the employees of the institution. The only medical assistance he received after his most recent act of self-arm was cursory and consisted only of sewing up the wound. Psychological pressure continues to be exerted on him because of the complaints filed against the institution employees’ actions.

Local sources also report that authorities are planning on transferring Mr. Elshibayev to a maximum-security facility, which may give him further cause to inflict self-harm. If such a transfer occurs, we urge you to ensure it is to facility in the Mangystau region, close to Mr. Elshibayev’s home.

Mr. Elshibayev is in a fragile physical and psychological state. We urge you to facilitate his release in accordance with the May 2021 opinion issued by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and ensure he receives the proper care he requires.


Freedom Now
Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law
International Legal Initiative
Kazakhstani NGOs Coalition against Torture

cc: Ambassador Erzhan Ashikbayev, Ambassador of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United States of America

Mr. Marat Beketayev, Minister of Justice of the Republic of Kazakhstan.


[1] Opinion No. 5/2021 concerning Erzhan Elshibayev, UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (May 3, 2021), U.N. Doc. No. A/HRC/WGAD/2021/5

[2] Article 132(10) of the Criminal Executive Code of Kazakhstan.