PRISONS, PRISONERS AND PRISON BREAKS IN KYRGYZSTAN

PRISONS AND DETENTION CENTERS IN KYRGYZSTAN

According to AFP, Kyrgyzstan has a prison population of 15,000 people. Amnesties are regular events as they are in other Central Asian countries. In July 2014, the government released approximately 3,798 individuals under an annual amnesty. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kyrgyzstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, Agence France-Presse, January 25, 2012]

According to the U.S. Department of State: “According to the State Service for the Fulfillment of Punishment (prison service), there were 9,729 individuals in the prison system as of July 25, 2014. This total was substantially less than the country’s total prison capacity of 14,000. Authorities generally held juveniles separately from adults but grouped them together in overcrowded temporary detention centers when other facilities were unavailable. Convicted prisoners occasionally remained in pretrial detention centers while their cases were under appeal. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kyrgyzstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

Recordkeeping on prisoners was adequate, and penal or judicial authorities used alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders. The Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights is empowered to request alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders, improvements to pretrial detention, oversee recordkeeping, and supervise the proper release of prisoners at the end of their sentences. The ombudsman did not maintain statistics on the number of appeals the office received. There was no separate ombudsman for the prison system. \*\

In the Soviet era, at least twelve labor camps and three prisons operated in the republic, including at least one uranium mine-labor camp in which prisoners worked without protective gear. In the 1990s the total prison capacity and population was not known, but it may be presumed that prisons in Kyrgyzstan suffered the same overcrowding as are prisons elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. The 1995 purge of the Ministry of Internal Affairs included appointment of a new head of the prison system, a colonel who had been assistant minister of internal affairs prior to the shakeup. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Prison and Detention Center Conditions in Kyrgyzstan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “Prisons are overcrowded and have serious shortages of food and medical support. In the early 2000s, tuberculosis and human immunodeficiency virus rates in prisons were high, and authorities were accused of having lost control of the prison population when a major prison riot occurred in November 2005. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kyrgyzstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

Prison conditions were harsh and sometimes life threatening due to food and medicine shortages, substandard health care, lack of heat, and mistreatment. Pretrial and temporary detention facilities were particularly overcrowded, and conditions and mistreatment generally were worse than in prisons. Some prisoners indicated the role of guards and administrators was to “keep them from leaving” and asserted that the safety of prisoners was left to them, resulting in instances of violence and intimidation among inmates. \*\

The incidence of disease for the first half of the year increased, with 3,776 incidents of illness reported; in 2013 there were 4,826 cases of illness for the entire year. The prison service reported 44 deaths in custody in the first half of the year, following 60 deaths for all of 2013. There were 11 cases of death from tuberculosis in prisons during the first half of the year. \*\

Convicted prisoners had reasonable access to visitors, and officials allowed religious observances. Persons held in pretrial detention often did not have access to visitors. Prisoners have the right to file complaints with prison officials or with higher authorities. According to the Bir Duino, prison staff inconsistently reported and documented complaints. Many observers believed that the number of official prisoner complaints of mistreatment were only a fraction of the cases that actually occurred. \*\

Monitoring Prisons in Kyrgyzstan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The government permitted international and domestic nongovernmental observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), as well as domestic NGOs who formed the Antitorture Coalition, to visit inmates in prisons as well as detainees in temporary detention centers. While most monitoring groups reported receiving unfettered access, NGO leaders reported challenges in getting access to those in GKNB custody. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Kyrgyzstan,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]

The National Center to Prevent Torture and other Inhumane and Offensive Treatment and Punishment was established in 2012 as an independent and impartial body empowered to monitor detention facilities. The center worked with NGOs to conduct unannounced, unfettered visits to detention facilities. While some observers expressed concern the center was ineffective due to underfunding, many rights defenders were positive about its work. \*\

In late 2012 government ministries signed a memorandum of understanding with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Antitorture Coalition authorizing them to monitor and visit detention facilities. Under the memorandum of understanding, members of the Antitorture Coalition could show up at any detention facility unannounced to conduct monitoring. Signatories to the memorandum have made 432 visits to detention facilities since 2012. \*\

During the year the OSCE consolidated the coordination and prison-monitoring functions of the groups involved with the National Center to Prevent Torture. Under the arrangement, NGOs monitoring torture were able to arrive at any facility with representatives of the center to conduct monitoring. NGOs reported success with this program. \*\

The Law on the Ombudsman establishes an office to receive complaints of human rights abuses, including claims of abuse in detention. During the year former journalist Baktybek Amanbayev headed the office. Amanbayev published statements about legislation that limited certain fundamental rights. In particular, the office released a statement calling on the parliament not to pass the “false accusation law,” which criminalized accusing another of committing a crime in the media. According to observers, the office was underfunded and ineffective. The office did not publish statistics on its investigations or cases received. \*\

NGOs described the National Center to Prevent Torture as a helpful deterrent mechanism against torture. They also reported, however, that the majority of torture occurred in the first hours and days after detention, often while an arrestee was still at a police station. In September and October, Golos Svobodi began a pilot program with the National Center to Prevent Torture to make unannounced visits at night to police precincts throughout Bishkek. Golos Svobodi, members of the National Center to Prevent Torture, and two attorneys made 39 unannounced visits. Members of the Antitorture Coalition reported that the visits, while facing some resistance from police and not receiving full access, were a successful start towards monitoring the most sensitive places where arrestees can initially be tortured--interrogation rooms and offices at police stations. While they received six complaints of torture during the visits, none of the victims wanted to file an official complaint. \*\

Prisoners in Kyrgyzstan Sew Mouths Shut in Protest

In January 2012, more than a thousand convicts in Kyrgyzstan stitched their mouths closed to protest prison conditions there. Reuters reported: “The protest, set off by a raid of a jail in the capital, Bishkek, escalates a two-week hunger strike involving most of the country’s 7,500 inmates. A prison service spokeswoman said that about 6,400 prisoners were on a hunger strike nationwide and 1,175 had sewn their mouths shut. More than 200 later appealed for medical help to remove the stitches, she said. The hunger strikers have demanded the resignation of the head of the national prison service and the manager of the Bishkek jail. [Source: Reuters, January 27, 2012]

Ombudsman Tursunbek Akun said prisoners in the country's largest prison in Bishkek were in a serious condition, he some having to be hospitalised due to not taking food. Kyrgyzstan's prison service however claimed that criminal bosses were forcing convicts to mutilate themselves in protest after their privileges were taken away. "The people initiating this 'sewing' are leaders of the criminal world," the prison service said in a statement.[Source: Agence France-Presse, January 25, 2012 <=>]

AFP reported: “The standoff between prison authorities and convicts began in the Bishkek prison after one crime boss murdered another. Prison staff transferred the murderer to a different jail with less comfortable conditions, and raided the premises, confiscating mobile phones, drugs and money. "That angered the criminal world, which told the regular convicts to riot," the prison service said. The hunger strikes have now spread to other prisons in Kyrgyzstan. <=>

“Rights campaigner Tolekan Ismailova denied that the strikes were sparked by criminal bosses, however. "Those on hunger strike are against inhumane conditions," she said. "They don't have medicine, normal food, linen or soap. Their illnesses are not treated because there are not enough doctors," she said. Ombudsman Akun agreed, saying that prisoners "are complaining of beatings and mistreatment by the prison personnel, and are demanding to receive what is rightfully theirs." Since 2005, prisoners in the former Soviet republic have frequently staged protests and mutilated themselves to denounce jail conditions. Authorities often blame these conflicts on organised crime groups.” <=>

Mysterious Deaths After Kyrgyzstan Prison Break

A prison break in October 2015, resulted in the capture of some of the escapes but the of mysterious deaths and implausible details of others. After an intense manhunt the last escapee at large was gunned down a bloody showdown involving with police and special forces. Eurasia.net reported: “Authorities sought to cast the fugitives as dangerous Islamist militants, but a spate in the official narrative suggest the focus may fall elsewhere. According to the government account, the drama began on the night of October 11, when nine inmates at a detention facility outside the capital, Bishkek, overpowered guards and made their escape. Three guards are said to been killed during the breakout, and another to have died of his injuries some days later. Five of the men were captured almost immediately and again incarcerated. Within ten days, three of them had died in strange circumstances.[Source: Eurasia.net, October 22, 2015 <>]

“But the focus of attention... has been on the four that got away. Progress was slow to begin with, but all but one from that group has now been killed. The first to be tracked down was Daniyar Kadyraliev, who was surrounded by police as he holed up in the Dordoi residential complex in the capital, Bishkek. The Interior Ministry said Kadyraliev was shot dead after tried to attack a police officer with a knife. In a confusing detail, it was initially reported that it was not Kadyraliev that had been killed but another person in the group of escapees, Azamat Masuraliev. In fact, Masuraliev would end up being killed by police four days later in the a village in the Sokoluk district of the northern Chui province. An Interior Ministry source told AKIpress that Masuraliev was killed resisting arrest while hiding in a barn. <>

“One fugitive, Edil Abdrahmanov, was caught alive, only to be subjected to a bizarre immediate post-detention interrogation as lay he groaning in the mud. The entire scene was filmed and released to the media. In the footage, a flag of the Islamic State group was stretched out next to a prostrate Abdrahmanov, who has a crude tourniquet above his knee for a gunshot purportedly sustained during a confrontation with law enforcement authorities. What appears to be a handgun, but what officials later admitted was a toy, can be seen at his side. <>

“Jaysh al-Mahdi has been linked by security services to a series of claimed bombings in Kyrgyzstan in 2010. Officials also say the group is responsible for the murder of three police officers and a special forces operative. Video footage believed to have been filmed in 2010 shows Abdrahmanov holding an automatic rifles and spouting largely incoherent calls to a vaguely Islamic-tinged violent uprising. The clip reveals little about his ideological or sectarian persuasions, however. The last fugitive to be tracked down by security forces was also a purported Jaysh al-Mahdi member. Altynbek Itibayev was reportedly surrounded in an apartment in the Bishkek district Dostuk. News website Kloop.kg reported that in addition to Itibayev, an Interior Ministry special forces officer and a local resident were also killed. <>

“Authorities have resolutely adopted a shoot first-ask-questions later policy toward those still on the run, but there are indications that treatment of those already in detention has been similarly unflinching. Three of the people taken into custody so far have died in unclear circumstances. The first to die in custody was Taalaibek Zhumanov, who prison doctors said suffered from a heart failure early on October 20. Zhumanov was born in 1970 and had been serving a life sentence for murder after being sentenced 2012. The killing for which Zhumanov was convicted appears to have stemmed from a trivial dispute and there is not immediate sign he had any previous association with radical Islamic organizations. <>

“Fellow fugitive Bakyt Kenzhegulov died later the same day, also from alleged heart and respiratory problems, according to prison officials. Before suddenly falling prey to the conditions that killed him, Kenzhegulov was being held in a cell on his own. He was serving his life sentence for attempted murder, terrorism, organization of a criminal conspiracy, and the illegal acquisition and ownership of weapons. Finally, it was revealed on October 21 that 33-year old Muratbek Zhumaliev had died in hospital, more than a week after he was arrested following his escape from hospital. Zhumaliev’s close relatives pleaded at a press conference on October 22 for the authorities to hand over his body for burial. Since he was apparently suspected of terrorism-related crimes, there is a strong likelihood the authorities can duck those demands. <>

“That might be seen as unfortunate since it would impede a clear understanding of how so many people have suddenly come to drop dead in prison. Zhumaliev’s brother said in the press conference that there was no history of health problems that could account for such a sudden death. “My brother never had any trouble with his health. He always was attentive about his health and he ate in a proper fashion,” Urmat Zhumaliev said. The government’s haste to describe all those involved in the alleged prison escape as being linked to Islamic extremism will be more than enough to ensure the flow of information about this episode is limited, so little is likely to leak out beyond what the authorities choose to divulge.” <>

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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