The state’s abusive tactics in the case of an exiled oligarch can also be used against politicians, activists, and journalists.

When prominent Kazakhstani human rights defenders Yevgeniy Zhovtis and Zhemis Turmagambetova visited businessman Iskander Yerimbetov in prison, he looked dejected and sick. It took the government almost a month to allow the expert monitoring group to see him after his relatives held a press conference in January alleging that Yerimbetov had been subjected to torture aimed at extracting a confession. Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee publicly urged the government to investigate the allegations, but shortly after the civic monitors reaffirmed concerns about Yerimbetov’s well-being, the authorities halted their investigation, citing an absence of corpus delicti—simply put, they claimed to have found no evidence of torture.

Yerimbetov is the brother of Botagoz Dzhardemaly, who in turn is the former lawyer of exiled oligarch and regime critic Mukhtar Ablyazov. Although he was arrested under formal charges of laundering Ablyazov’s money and embezzling public funds, Yerimbetov’s relatives are convinced that he is being used as a hostage to compel his sister Botagoz, who has received political asylum in Belgium, to return to Kazakhstan and testify against Ablyazov.

This is not the first case in which the Kazakh government has harassed Ablyazov’s former associates and friends to put pressure on him. In their almost decade-long quest to get Ablyazov back to Kazakhstan, the authorities have prosecuted a number of people, usually on unsubstantiated…