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Police hunting near OST sites: how one lette can protect hundreads of drug users

In 2020-2021, the REACT system in Kyrgyzstan registered more than 1,300 applications of violations of the rights of people living with HIV, drug users, sex workers, and members of the LGBT community. More than 50% (668 cases) of registered cases reported violations of rights and discrimination carried out by law enforcement agencies’  representatives. 59% out of the total 668 cases, reported violations by injecting drug users and 34% by sex workers. You can get acquainted with detailed statistics on the data page or in statistical reports.

A large percentage of similar stories gathered together from drug users about illegal detentions, systematic police arbitrary action could not go unanswered by the SOROS-Kyrgyzstan organization, which implements the Street Lawyers project and documents cases of rights violations using the REAct tool. Today, in this article, we look at how you can react to police violations and what advocacy actions can be taken by an organization that has evidence of such violations in its location.

“We have been working in the REACT database for three years already. In 43% of our cases, clients are not prepared to solve the case, therefore to receive legal assistance and defend their rights through contacting law enforcement agencies. This is highly evident when the violator in the case is the representatives of law enforcement agencies themselves. We have documented quite a lot of appeals from injecting drug users about harassment, blackmail, and harassment by police officers. Of course, none of the victims agreed to address to the prosecutor’s office with a complaint against the actions of law enforcement officers.” – reports Baktygul Zhumabayeva, national coordinator of the REACT system, Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan

Ilim*, February 2021
The client visitied the OST site (opioid substitution therapy) in the morning, and at the entrance he was stopped by the officers of the *** District Department of Internal Affairs. The client was not given the opportunity to get the methadone, they concealed him in the vehicle, and they began to demand more information about the another client of the PTM site. They threatened to put me in jail for harboring, humiliated me with words, insulted me. They took me to the police station and continued to humiliate and threaten me. They kept me for almost three hours and then let me go without even an apology. However, the client refuses to write a complaint on account of his fear of persecution. Consultations were held: “know your rights” as well “behavior during detention”

*name changed

Ahmed*, March 2021
A client of OST site (opioid substitution therapy) came to get methadone on *** Street. Received the methadone dose for 7 days. Left the site. He was stopped by police officers, then they concealed him in the vehicle, they have taken him to a distant place, threatened, beaten, forced him to cooperate and provide them with the necesary information about the other clients of the site. They kept me in the car for more than three hours and then let me go. the client does not want to make a complaint against the police officers. A street lawyer provided advice on “citizen’s rights”

*name changed

Utkur*, October 2021
**.10.2021, the client left the OST site and was stopped by a district police officer named *** and a police officer ***. They put him in a car, hit him over the head with a plastic bottle of water and told him to either hand over other consumers or pay them 1,000 soms a month for gasoline, otherwise they would put him in jail. The client agreed to pay 1,000 soms per month and was released with the supposition  that the client would bring the money the next day. The next day, fearing police persecution, he left for another city, where he remains to this day.

*name changed

Vladimir*, December 2021
After the client received the methadone dose and was heading home, a car stopped on the road near the client. Two people in civilian clothes got out of the car and introduced themselves as police officers and offered the client to take off. As a consequence of the client’s refusal, they rudely stuffed him into a car and took him to the GOM. On the spot, a personal search was carried out without witnesses and video recording. Without finding anything illegal, they began to recruit him to work, humiliated him, insulted him with foul language, threatened that they would find something to put him in jail in case he would not start collaborating with them. After five hours of detention, he was released.

*name changed

Analyzing the cases, it is obvious that the violations made by the police are systemic. That is why it was decided to respond in the same systematical way. The lawyer of the project, who advises street lawyers (REAKTORS), wrote an official letter of complaint to the leadership of the Ministry of Internal Affairs that the organization has evidence of regular abuses of authority by police officers in the form of illegal detentions near OST sites. The letter went along with video recordings from street surveillance cameras on neighboring buildings, which recorded the regular presence of police cars near OST sites.

“Oddly enough, we received an official response that this information was taken into account and that the leadership will strengthen control over the legality of the actions of policemen. Sure, this document can be considered an excuse and empty promise. But we made copies of this official letter and distributed them to street lawyers. Now they use this document when negotiating with employees in uniform. Let’s hope that such a strategy will help stop the arbitrariness,” says Baktygul.

Read also:

How legal aid helps end TB and HIV

Access to justice through… deprivation of parental rights?


The project “Street Lawyers” is implemented by the Foundation’s “Public Health” program

Soros-Kyrgyzstan with the assistance of the United Nations Development Program. This initiative appeared in response to the current problems of vulnerable groups.

Street lawyers are trained employees of non-governmental organizations in Kyrgyzstan, representing and defending the interests of vulnerable groups, key in the context of deterrence

HIV epidemics.

Read more about the project.