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July 29, 2015

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Prisoners Protest by Self-Mutilation

KAZAKHSTAN: Prisoners Protest by Self-Mutilation
By Pavol Stracansky
Source: IPS

ASTANA, Oct 10, 2010 (IPS) - Horrific protests that have seen hundreds of inmates slice their stomachs open over conditions in jails in Kazakhstan are set to continue as the UN accuses the Central Asian country of trying to mask the real state of its prison system.

Convicts have said that torture, beatings and rapes are common in prisons and that the only option left to them to highlight their plight to the outside world is brutal self-mutilation.

Tanja Niemeier, political advisor who was part of a delegation led by European MP Joe Higgins to Kazakhstan last month which met with former prisoners, told IPS: "Protests are still going on and it looks like they will, unfortunately, continue and more people will self-mutilate. It is the only way they have of protesting at the desperate conditions they face.

"Officials have tried to say that the situation is improving. But it is not. Things are very grim."

Kazakhstan, a resource-rich former Soviet state in Central Asia ruled since 1991 by autocratic President Nursultan Nazarbayev, has faced international criticism for its human rights record for years. Abuses of fundamental freedoms have been documented at all levels of society.

But some of the most severe criticism has been levelled at the penal system, and particularly over torture in jails.

Former convicts have spoken of horrific brutality in prisons. They have recounted instances of inmates being hung from the ceiling and beaten, guards urinating on cell floors and then dragging prisoners around using them as human mops to wipe the floor, while others have been forced to lick spit off floors.

Complaints over brutality in jails only lead to more beatings and a transfer, often to a more violent prison, they claim.

Living conditions in the jails -- which were built as Soviet gulags -- is also a problem. Convicts are often kept in converted barracks that house up to 100 people and sometimes cells meant for ten hold up to 20 inmates at any one time. Prisoners say they are only allowed to use a shower once every two weeks and that they are underfed.

Convicts' desperation at the situation has led to the current wave of self- mutilation. More than 100 prisoners have self-mutilated in the past two months, with pictures taken on mobile phones of inmates with stomachs sliced open given to media as evidence. Some inmates have managed to talk to local media from their cells to speak of their ordeal.

The Kazakh government has claimed that the prisoners are not actually protesting against conditions and have been forced into cutting their stomachs open by gangs inside the prison.

Niemeier said: "That is the story the government has put forward. We have information from the prisoners themselves and we have no reason to doubt their claims."

Read more here at IPS.