conditions haven’t improved despite recent convictions of warders
found guilty of torture.  By Artur Nigmetov- Central Asia

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Rights activists say conditions haven’t improved despite recent
convictions of warders found guilty of torture.

By Artur Nigmetov- Central Asia

Prisons in Kazakstan have been rocked by a second wave of protests by
prisoners in a matter of months. While rights activists say the unrest
reflect the brutality of prison conditions, the authorities accuse
convicts of creating trouble to extract more privileges.

After riots in several prisons last year, the authorities prosecuted
seven warders for torture. But prison rights activists say the country
still has a long way to go to root out endemic abuses in its penal

The latest series of protests began on June 11 at a facility near
Dolinka in the Karaganda region, where two inmates climbed onto the
roof of the punishment block and threatened to set fire to themselves.

Prisoners’ rights activist Vadim Kuramshin said the men had been
repeatedly beaten by prison staff, and officials and doctors had
refused to do anything about it.

They were eventually persuaded to give up when officials from
Kazakstan’s central penal system department, known as KUIS, arrived at
the jail and talked to them.

A spokesman for the department, Galymjan Khasenov, said the men
“admitted they were at fault and came down; they were not punished”.

This incident coincided with a failed jailbreak at another Karaganda
region prison, near Balkhash. According to the justice ministry, which
runs the prison system, 16 inmates died when they detonated an oxygen
canister as a riot squad arrived to prevent the escape.

On June 20, an inmate at a high-security prison in Zarechnyi in the
eastern Almaty region tried to commit suicide, and 20 others staged a
protest, two of them inflicting cuts on themselves.

“The convicts were angry about the inhuman conditions in which they
were held,” Kuramshin said. “A group of prisoners with AIDS had tried
to complain about the poor food rations and also about the lack of the
required medical treatment.”

The deputy head of KUIS for Almaty region, Irina Yakubova, accused
those involved of trying to bully the authorities into making

“The convicts are trying to dictate terms,” she said. “They’re unhappy
with the prison conditions – they want a softer regime and for
restrictions on receiving parcels to be lifted. They use obscene
language against prosecution service and KUIS staff. These are mundane
things that take place in every prison.”

Four days later, the wives of inmates at a prison near the town of
Granitny in the central Akmola region told journalists that their
husbands had been badly beaten by guards.

KUIS responded to the claims by saying all that happened was that
prison officers handcuffed a number of convicts who were about to
riot. The statement said the confrontation began when guards conducted
a routine search and seized sharp objects, blades and mobile phones.

Spokesman Khasenov protests were commonly associated with raids on
cells. “When our staff start confiscating banned items, the inmates
don’t like it and they try to stage provocations. It’s at these times
that they create a furore, drawing in their relatives, NGOs and

However, the trial of prison officers that followed six months of
protests at the Zarechny, Dolinka and other facilities last year
suggest the latest allegations of brutality may have some substance.
(For more on the 2010 protests, see Kazak Prison Riots Highlight Poor

On June 29, seven prison warders were convicted of using torture and
other abuses against 24 inmates at the Zarechny prison. The sentences
ranged between three and five years.

Despite these watershed convictions, human rights groups say the
authorities have failed to implement systemic changes to end the
mistreatment of prisoners.

Kuramshin believes the trials have not had the salutary effect that
might have been expected, and insists he has evidence that torture in
the prison system is as widespread now as it was before.

“It won’t go away until NGOs and the public are given access to
prisons,” he added.

The father of an inmate at the Derzhavinka prison said he feared that
guards there would seek “revenge” for the convictions, and that his
son would suffer.

Rights groups say the government has been slow to move on a key
anti-torture reform, the “National Preventive Mechanism” under which
independent experts would be able to visit any place of detention at
any time, without advance notice or limitations on their movements.

All countries that sign the optional protocol to the United Nations
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment are required to introduce such a mechanism no
more than a year after ratification, which in Kazakstan’s case
happened in 2008.

Amnesty International’s latest annual report for Kazakstan notes that
in February 2010, the government postponed the creation of the
National Preventive Mechanism for up to three years, but that it was
working to develop the legal framework for it, and had reiterated its
position of “zero tolerance on torture”.

Rights activist and blogger Dmitry Schelokov accuses the government of
dragging its feet on a system of unrestricted inspections.

“This regime, like any other authoritarian and repressive regime, has
no need of it [preventive mechanism], because it would undermine its
capacity to intimidate the population and break opposition members in
prison,” he said.

Zauresh Battalova, head of the Foundation for the Development of
Parliamentarianism, said that while the government has long promised
to make the penal system more humane, this has yet to translate into
substantive reforms on the ground.

One positive change was that the public was much more aware of
problems in the prison system, Battalova said, adding that now that
prisoners were allowed to make prepaid phone calls, “they feed
information to the outside, where it is disseminated via social
networking websites”.

Artur Nigmetov is a reporter for the Kazak service of RFE/RL.

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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a
unique insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local
journalists, the service publishes news and analysis from across
Central Asia on a weekly basis.

The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty,
Bishkek, Tashkent and London, which supports media development and
encourages better local and international understanding of the region.

IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Community Fund.
The service is published online in English and Russian.

The opinions expressed in Reporting Central Asia are those of the
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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA: Editor-in-Chief: Anthony Borden; Managing
Editor: Yigal Chazan; Senior Editor and Acting Central Asia Director:
John MacLeod; Central Asia Editor: Saule Mukhametrakhimova.

Borden; Head of Programmes: Sam Compton.

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