WELCOME TO IWPR’S ICTY TRIBUNAL UPDATE No. 636 Part 2, December 13, 2010

CUTTING YOUTH RE-OFFENDING IN KYRGYZSTAN  More needs to be done to help young 
offenders adjust to life after detention.  By Yelena Voronina


to penal reform has yet to feed through to prison management, activists say.  
By Artur Nigmetov

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More needs to be done to help young offenders adjust to life after detention.

By Yelena Voronina

The authorities in Kyrgyzstan should overhaul the juvenile detention system to 
help young offenders reintegrate into society when they are released, experts 

While the country’s main young offenders’ institution provides schooling, 
vocational training and social adaptation programmes are only just getting off 
the ground. And once ex-offenders are on the outside, no provision is made to 
prevent them reoffending or to help them find work and fit into society.

Kyrgyzstan has just one detention facility for young male offenders aged 
between 14 and 18, the period of criminal responsibility for minors. Located 
near the village of Voznesenovka, 70 kilometres from the capital Bishkek, its 
69 inmates are serving sentences for less serious crimes.

The facility is surrounded by a barbed-wire fence with accommodation in 
barrack-style dormitories with bars on the windows, a school and a football 
field. It suffers from the same kind of problems as other penal institutions in 
Kyrgyzstan, such as inadequate heating and a shortage of food and winter boots 
for inmates.

There is no analogous facility for female offenders aged 14-18, and officials 
say there are no plans to build one. They are held inside a women’s prison in 
Stepnoye in the northern Chui region, but separately from the adults. Currently 
there are just four girls in the unit; they do not have schooling but can train 
in practical skills like hairdressing. Female young offenders convicted of 
minor crimes are generally given suspended sentences or alternative penalties.

Young offenders of either sex under the age of 14 are not incarcerated, and are 
the responsibility of local government social service departments wherever they 
live. A special school for this category used to exist, but was closed five 
years ago at the insistence of Kyrgyz NGOs concerned about the treatment of 

Cholpon Omurkanova, who heads Egl, a non-government group focusing on young 
people in trouble with the law, is among those who believe work with young 
offenders has to start while they are locked up. Of the ten boys released from 
the Voznesenovka institution every month, four or five will come back after 

She said special programmes were needed to help them prepare for freedom.

“They need to be prepared for it, so that when they’re released, they find 
their feet and understand how to move on,” she said.

Omurkanova’s NGO is running a project to set up Kyrgyzstan’s first youth 
rehabilitation centre, which will open by the end of this year in the 
Voznesenovka institution. The project, backed by the Danish aid group 
DanChurchAid, is being implemented in collaboration with the prison authorities.

Many child rights activists want to see a network of rehabilitation centres 
outside the penal system, to work with recently-released young offenders by 
finding accommodation and jobs for them.

Among them is Mahabat Temirbek-Kyzy, a senior advisor to the labour ministry’s 
child protection department, who agrees that Kyrgyzstan needs a better system 
for dealing with young offenders.

“It’s very important for Kyrgyzstan to have [state] social services equipped 
with rehabilitation techniques and educational… mechanisms, which would see 
young offenders as the subjects of a process, and their crimes as a symptom of 
an ailment these services would have to treat,” Temirbek-Kyzy said.

She stressed that the ministry would welcome any NGOs that wanted to run 
rehabilitation centres, and reminded them that they could apply for 
government-funded contracts to carry out such work.

“Unfortunately, there aren’t any social [rehabilitation] centres for minors 
with suspended sentences or who’ve been recently released,” Temirbek-Kyzy said.

In the last three years, only a couple of NGOs had applied for funding to work 
with young offenders, and the one that won a contract was focusing on helping 
them get their documents in order, apply for jobs and find accommodation.

“But that isn’t enough to get an adolescent fully back into a normal life,” she 
said. “Nor is it enough for the state alone, or NGOs alone, to be working on 
this. A consolidated approach is needed, also bringing in international 
organisations from countries where this kind of approach has been successfully 
mainstreamed into overall child protection policies.”

Experts on youth offenders agree that helping them catch up on education is a 
key part of the rehabilitation process.

The Vosnesenovka facility has its own school that uses the standard state 
curriculum, plus additional learning programmes to help students fill the often 
massive gaps in their education.

“Sometimes they arrive here without being able to read the alphabet,” Kuraman 
Nazarbekov, who runs the detention facility, said. “They’ve been doing other 
things on the outside.”

He noted that some young men learn enough to go on to higher education after 
their release. “They’ve started families, been in work, and raised children, 
We’re very proud of lads like that,” he said.

The school head, Valentina Geraschenko, said most students were between four 
and six years behind with their education when they arrived that they could not 
catch up. “They have lost any interest in studying and effectively broken all 
contacts with school,” she said. “The amount of time they serve here is also a 
factor. If one of them turns 18, he’ll be transferred to the adult facility, 
and if another is released early, he will have no opportunity to complete his 
education on the outside.”

An IWPR contributor who visited the school said facilities were basic, with old 
desks designed for much smaller children and amateurish attempts at 
refurbishment. Teachers complain of a shortage of textbooks, atlases and 
writing materials.

Russian is the only teaching medium, as there are too few Kyrgyz-language books 
available, and this puts children from the countryside and from neighbouring 
countries like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan at a disadvantage.

Geraschenko and her team of ten teachers appear to be doing their level best 
against the odds.

“To us they’re just children. Each one has ability, some have talent. It’s only 
while they’ve been here that many of them have been able to show their 
ability,” she said. “Our task… is to show every adolescent that there’s light 
at the end of the tunnel even if he’s gone astray and committed an offence.”

She added that having a few more teaching resources would make the classes more 
engaging, although some local teachers and educationalists had helped out by 
passing on used textbooks.

One of the inmates said the school had given him hope of becoming an IT 
specialist when he got out.

“They understand that there’s a lot we don’t know, and help us catch up on what 
we’ve missed,” he said. “In here I’ve realised that I’ve got ability and that I 
can be proud of doing well at studying. Our school is no worse than the ones on 
the outside, but I wish we had new textbooks and maybe computers.”

A 20-year-old former inmate who gave his first name as Kirill is one of the 
success stories. After four years in Voznesenovka, he got out two years ago and 
enrolled on a carpentry course at a college in Bishkek. Since then he has found 
a decent-paying job at a furniture company, where the manager took him on 
despite his past conviction.

“I’m trying to forget the past. Now I’ve got a job and an education. I dream of 
building my own house.”

Kirill’s story is fairly typical of the young people who pass through the youth 
detention centre at Voznesenovka. He left home at the age of 12 to escape 
beatings from his new step-father after his mother remarried, and lived on the 
street, occasionally being picked up by the police.

“I stole things and sold them to feed myself,” he recalled. “I was lucky all 
the time, until I got caught.”

Once in the detention camp, he had to start making up for the year of school he 
had missed. “I’m grateful to the teachers,” he said. “They did a lot for me. If 
I’d had such attentive teachers at my old school maybe I wouldn’t have ended up 
in detention.”

Like many prison staff and current inmates, Kirill would like to see the 
Vosnesenovka facility providing training in practical trades. There was nothing 
like that when he was there, and he got the idea of training as a cabinet-maker 
after coming across a slim book on practical crafts.

Yelena Voronina is a human rights activist in Bishkek who has attended IWPR 

This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central 
Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the 
European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and 
Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no 
way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign 
Ministry of Norway.



Central government’s commitment to penal reform has yet to feed through to 
prison management, activists say.

By Artur Nigmetov

The authorities in Kazakstan need to accelerate penal reforms and improve 
conditions to avoid further protests by inmates, rights activists say.

The latest in a series of protests was a hunger strike at Zone 40, a 
high-security prison near the village of Dolinka in Karaganda region. Prison 
rights activist Vadim Kuramshin reported on November 20 that inmates alleged 
they were subject to brutal treatment and deprived of decent food and clothing, 
and HIV-positive convicts were not being given medical treatment.

Protests have been reported at other prisons in Karaganda, the location of a 
network of prison camps dating from Stalin’s rule and known as “Karlag”. On 
November 8, 12 inmates of the nearby Zone 41 facility mutilated themselves by 
slashing their stomachs.

RFE/RL quoted Natalya Gorina, spokesperson for the prison authorities in 
Karaganda, as saying the injured convicts, who had been taken to hospital, were 
demanding a relaxation in prison rules.

These two cases bring the number of protests reported since June to ten. Most 
have taken place in high-security facilities in northern and central parts of 

Kuramshin said there had been two incidents in Akmola region, one of them a 
riot at a prison near the town of Granitny, two more in Kostanay, one in the 
North Kazakstan region, and one at a detention centre in Almaty in July, in 
which prisoners’ relatives say there were at least 30 cases of self-mutilation, 
although officials have confirmed only two.

Precise figures are hard to come by, according to Ardak Janabilova, who is a 
member of a public commission monitoring penal institutions in Almaty region 
and heads the human rights group Sauygu, which is part of Kazakstan’s NGO 
Coalition Against Torture.

"The total number of inmates who have mutilated themselves by cutting their 
stomachs, necks or arms is being carefully concealed by prison officials, and 
many of the cases are not accessible to rights defenders," she said.

Janabilova described the riot at the prison near Granitny, which happened in 
August and was the largest in recent months. She said about 350 inmates took 
part in the incident over three days, and believes four people died, while the 
authorities say it was only two.

The trouble began when at least 80 inmates cut themselves in an attempt to 
highlight conditions at the jail. When there was no response, prisoners 
barricaded themselves in one of the cell blocks. An interior ministry unit was 
then sent in to regain control. Officials said the troops did not carry 


Janabilova said overcrowding was a serious problem at the Granitny prison, and 
inmates had to take turns sleeping, with beds occupied in three shifts.

She argues that the protests are the result of problems that have built up over 
many years.

"Overcrowding, a shortage of prison staff who’ve been trained about human 
rights, frequent changes of management at the Committee for the Penal 
Correction System, a lack of professionalism among staff, and poor conditions – 
all these problems have reached a critical peak," she said.

Kuramshin said the protesters in different prisons across Kazakstan were 
voicing similar demands – "an end to torture, banning military-style practices 
not required by penal law, such as regular, exhausting marching both in hot 
weather and in temperatures of minus 40".

He said corruption among prison staff meant that inmates were denied 
entitlements like packages and meetings with relatives unless they paid bribes. 
Prisons in northern Kazakstan were the worst in this regard, he said.

"In the north of Kazakstan, they ask for money for everything, be it early 
release, prison visits or anything else," he said.

Kuramshin is a journalist from Petropavlovsk who turned to defending prisoners’ 
rights after doing time in jail, including in Akmola region. He received a 
sentence of nearly four years for libel, which is prosecuted under criminal law 
in Kazakstan.

Officials have responded to riots and other protests by saying prisoners are 
trying to avoid being bound by the basic regulations needed to run any penal 

The deputy head of penal institutions in Almaty region, Irina Yakubova, said 
the incident in July in which inmates mutilated themselves was in protest at 
rules introduced by a new prison governor.

"They want to be able to play cards and visit each other,” she told reporters. 
“They just don't want the introduction of rules that are required by law."

Commenting on a recent riot at the Derzhavinka prison in Akmola region, the 
regional penal affairs chief Kanat Tumanov told journalists, "They don’t want 
to do two hours of work, to be on duty, to wash floors, or to observe the 
requirements and rules. They don’t like having to walk in columns."

Some alleged ringleaders have been prosecuted after incidents of this kind.

IWPR tried unsuccessfully to contact senior officials at the justice ministry’s 
Committee for the Penal Correction System for comment on several occasions. A 
written request sent to the committee’s spokesman, Galymjan Khasenov, was left 
unanswered after the prescribed time in which officials are required to give a 


Yet in general, the government has acknowledged there are problems in the 
prison system and promised to take action.

According to a report by the outgoing United Nations Special Rapporteur on 
Torture, Manfred Nowak, the prison population in Kazakstan – at 60,000 
according to official figures – is three times the average in Europe, and well 
above the numbers in other post-Soviet countries.

In a report following a May 2009 mission to Kazakstan, which was submitted to 
the UN Human Rights Council this March, Nowak said the use of torture and other 
forms of mistreatment went beyond isolated cases.

He recommended that national criminal legislation be amended to bring the 
definition of torture into line with that used in the UN Convention against 
Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and also 
to create an effective preventive mechanism and investigate allegations of 
mistreatment promptly and impartially.

The authorities have tried to respond to such criticisms. In September, the 
government invited Nowak to take part in the meeting to discuss how 
recommendations from his last year report are being implemented.

Moreover, recent official statements show a willingness to implement reforms of 
the judicial, law-enforcement and penal systems.

Speaking at a press briefing on November 11, the head of the Committee for the 
Penal Correction System, Sultan Kusetov, said changes to the law would result 
in the prison population being halved to 30,000. He was referring to a bill 
currently in parliament which will make penalties for certain offences less 
draconian, provide alterative penalties and decriminalise some minor offences.

Janabalina said that although the bill and the thinking behind it had been 
conceived well before the wave of trouble began, it might not be coincidental 
that President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed off on it in August.

"It’s possible the disturbances in penal institutions provided the impetus for 
more decisive action,” she said.

On the overcrowding problem, Kusetov said this would be resolved by the end of 
the year. Even now, he said, there was “virtually no overcrowding in any 
institution". Over the next five years, prisons would be refitted to meet 
international standards so that instead of large barrack-style dormitories 
housing between 20 and 100 inmates, smaller cells would be put in place.

This summer, the prison authorities ran a one-month campaign to reduce the 
incidence of corruption among guards, with seminars at which they were shown a 
new justice ministry-approved code of conduct.


Human rights activists have welcomed the government's reforms, but warn that 
improvements on the ground – most especially in the prisons where riots took 
place – will not happen until those immediately in charge change their ways. A 
desire for change at the top needs to translate into substantive measures to 
prevent prison administrators running institutions as if they were their own 
fiefdoms, and also to make sure they face sanctions if they continue doing so.

Kuramshin said prison administrations often refused to cooperate or be open 
with NGO representatives, and enjoyed a sense of impunity for alleged 

Mahambet Abjan, a former prisoner who worked with Kuramshin to publicise the 
riots and self-harm cases when news of them began leaking out, expressed 
frustration at the authorities’ failure to make changes.

"The response was limited… nothing has changed," he said.

Rights defenders like Abjan and Janabilova are calling for greater public 
scrutiny of Kazakstan’s prisons, in the shape of monitoring groups made up of 
human rights activists, journalists and relatives.

Janabilova noted that one case, following the Derzhavinka jail riot in July, 
did result in the prosecution of the prison governor, a number of his staff, 
and the deputy head of Akmola region’s penal affairs committee for torture and 
abuse of office. The trial is ongoing.

On November 26, a new group called Action Against Arbitrary Treatment, gave a 
press conference in Almaty at which it made recommendations for greater NGO 
involvement in monitoring the prison system, increased NGO participation in the 
National Mechanism to Prevent Torture, regular audits of the use of prison 
funds to be carried out by Kazakstan’s financial police, opportunities for 
prisoners to file complaints without hindrance, and easier access to the 
prisons for the media.

Artur Nigmetov is a journalist in Kazakstan. 

This article was produced jointly under two IWPR projects: Building Central 
Asian Human Rights Protection & Education Through the Media, funded by the 
European Commission; and the Human Rights Reporting, Confidence Building and 
Conflict Information Programme, funded by the Foreign Ministry of Norway.

The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of IWPR and can in no 
way be taken to reflect the views of either the European Union or the Foreign 
Ministry of Norway.

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