More than three years ago, Tajikistan began reforming the penitentiary system of the republic. In the summer of 2002, by the Decree of President Emomali Rakhmonov, the system for executing criminal sentences was transferred from the Ministry of Internal Affairs to the Ministry of Justice of the country. Moreover, unlike in some other countries, not only prisons and colonies, but also all other components of the system, in particular, pretrial detention facilities and the convoy division, came under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice. The international community then regarded this step of the Tajik government as evidence of a commitment to the observance of human rights and a desire to ensure the humane treatment of convicts. The task of the reform, launched three years ago, is to remove the curtain of secrecy from everything that is happening in the penitentiary system of the country, to make them more open and accessible to the public. However, the events that occurred in the last months in one of the prisons of Tajikistan clearly showed that progress in this process is still insignificant.
On October 12, we, the journalists, were approached by a group of relatives of the Kurgan-Tyube prison of special regime No. 9/8 (Khatlon region) with a request to help them obtain information about the location and state of health of their relatives serving the sentence. They claimed that on October 7, 38 prisoners in the Kurgan-Tyube prison had been transferred to the Ministry of Justice SIZO in Dushanbe, and expressed fear that they would be beaten and tortured there. And this story began on August 3, when there were disturbances in prison among prisoners who demanded an improvement in their conditions of detention. In protest, about a hundred of them opened their veins, and some sewed their mouths. Farhod, a relative of one of the prisoners, said that they were kept in inhuman conditions: “The cells were overcrowded, they were not given proper rations, they were fed with completely obscene dunnies. Each stage, which was brought to a covered prison, was stripped naked at a meeting, beaten with mallets - wooden hammers. The prisoners simply demanded respect for their legal rights. And they were again stripped and thrown into the cellars of the detention center in Dushanbe. ”
According to Farhod, then, in August, due to the intervention of some international organizations, the incident did not turn into a frank clash between prisoners and employees of the SIZO. However, he received his continuation after two months. As it became known to relatives, on October 7, units of internal troops were introduced into the Kurgan-Tyube prison, which began to brutally beat prisoners, who, in general, did not show any aggression. After this, the court trials of the main instigators and activists of the disobedience action organized in August on the same day were taken to Dushanbe. For several days, the relatives of these people could not get the official authorities to know where they were.
At a meeting with journalists, the wife of one of the convicts, Parvina, said that the Correctional Affairs Department (MIA), as well as the pre-trial detention center of the Ministry of Justice, denied that prisoners from Kurgan-Tyube were there. And in the prosecution authorities they refuse to accept the complaints of relatives: “How they were taken away from Kurgan-Tyube - nothing is known about them. I went to the SIZO, they told me that they were not there. I applied to the Correctional Affairs Department, to the prosecutor for supervision, and to the Prosecutor General’s Office. My applications are not accepted anywhere. And in Kurgan-Tyube they say that 38 people were taken out, but they don’t admit to Dushanbe that they are here. ”
Only after a meeting of the relatives of the convicts with journalists in the UID confirmed that 38 convicts were indeed transferred on October 7 from the Kurgan-Tyube prison in the detention center of the Ministry of Justice in Dushanbe. Giving publicity to this whole situation did its job: the very next day, October 13, all their complaints and statements were received by the UID and the Prosecutor General’s Office.
Correctional affairs department views the events in prison no. 9/8 quite differently. The deputy head of the UID, Bahrom Abdulkhakov, says that this prison contains especially dangerous criminals who have committed serious crimes, and many more than once (recidivists) who cannot be “reformed”. They were plotting to raise a riot and seize power in prison into their own hands. According to Abdulkhakov, these people violated the prison’s internal regulations: “They were not satisfied with the internal regulations that apply to all such institutions. For example, they demanded daily family visits. For two months we negotiated with them, persuaded them to submit to the regime, but it turned out to be useless. No one will ever dictate the conditions of the administration, including me. They arranged a brothel there: they walk all over the territory, give birth to women, use drugs, drink vodka! From their cells we have taken three cars of all kinds of food and liquor! Withdrawn several dozen cell phones! ”. Abdulhakov said that after the August incident in prison, a thorough "purge" of personnel was made: the head Olimkhon Bobokhonov and another 5-6 officers were dismissed under the regime, with the connivance of which the prison turned into a "brothel". All of them are under investigation.
As for the convicts, a criminal case was also initiated against them under Article 331, Part 1 “Hindering the activities of the institutions executing punishments and the institutions of preliminary detention” of the Criminal Code of Tajikistan. At a press conference in Dushanbe on October 18, Deputy Justice Minister Azizmat Imomov explained the fact that these people were transferred to Dushanbe by saying that the Prosecutor General’s Office had initiated the case, so prisoners are in possession of republican investigative bodies and must be kept at the place of investigation.
However, relatives of the transferred are still concerned about their condition. They do not take the transfer, and lawyers are not allowed to the defendants. According to the lawyer of one of the prisoners, Nigora Haitova, she was allowed to enter the SIZO and talk with the staff, but was not allowed to meet with her client. Relatives have information that their loved ones were severely beaten, and four died from beatings. The names of the dead are known to them. In this regard, they appealed to the Prosecutor General’s Office with a request to conduct an independent forensic examination of the prisoners in Kurgan-Tyube prison in Dushanbe, and also sent an appeal to President Emomali Rakhmonov, in which they asked the head of state to take control of the rights of convicts.
During the long trips to the authorities and the numerous trips of relatives from Dushanbe to Kurgan-Tyube, it turned out that part of the “rebels”, which is also being investigated, was sent to the Kulyab detention center. And another group was transferred to the detention facility, located in the same prison in Kurgan-Tyube. In addition, it became known that the investigation of this case was entrusted to the investigators of the Khatlon regional prosecutor's office Faridun Mirov and Jomi Afganov.
In a word, there are still more questions than answers around the situation with prisoners in the Kurgan-Tyube prison. Information coming in even from official sources is controversial and does not allow for a reliable picture of the events taking place. All this testifies to the fact that the penitentiary system in Tajikistan is still closed to the public, and the approach to people who have committed a crime remains punitive. Due to the lack of transparency, the desire to classify any information about what is happening outside the prison walls or the SIZO, a large number of people whose relatives are kept there are in constant anxiety and worries about their loved ones. And this anxiety is not unfounded: beatings and humiliation of persons under investigation and convicts, degrading their human dignity is far from uncommon, both at the stages of the preliminary investigation and in the places where the sentence is served.
By adopting many international regulations on the observance of human rights and freedoms, Tajikistan has undertaken to ensure their implementation, including in the institutions of the penitentiary system. Moreover, as world experience shows, the humane attitude has a beneficial effect even on the worst criminals. However, according to experts, until representatives of civil society in the country establish permanent control over penitentiary institutions, the reform of the system will not be accelerated, and it will be very difficult to avoid human rights violations.