Kyrgyz officials say almost all prisoners have ended a hunger strike against jail conditions that saw 1,200 inmates across the country's penitentiary service sew their lips together in protest.
Kyrgyzstan's rights ombudsman, Tursunbek Akun, told reporters that the prisoners ended their hunger strike "after being convinced that there would be no more excesses on the part of their guards."
He said that prisoners who had sewn their lips together in protest against force-feeding to break their hunger strike have now helped each other to reverse the procedure and are getting medical treatment to ensure their mouths do not become infected.
Kyrgyz ombudsman Tursunbek Akun (right) speaks with prisoners during a visit to a prison in Osh on January 20.
Akun added that the government did not satisfy the prisoners' political demands but agreed to look at their living standards.
"Тhe prisoners were demanding that the head of the prison authority, [Sheishenbek] Baizakov, resign and that the doors of cells be open, although the prisoners [I talked to] say they these were not their own demands," Akun said. "The government officials decided that Baizakov will not resign; the doors will remain locked. The conditions should be the same for all and there should be no political demands.
"But what they will take care of," Akun continued, "is changing the mattresses, bed covers, allow more frequent visits of relatives, shorten the pretrial detention time, and hurry up with court dealings. Also, since mobile phones were confiscated, there should be telephone booths installed so that the prisoners are able to talk to their relatives twice or three times a week. It is not good to completely isolate them from the outer world. They are also human beings."
The ombudsman said that prisoners in one facility -- the country's only women's prison -- remain on strike. The prison is located in Stepnoe, in northern Kyrgyzstan. There, 250 women continue to refuse food as they demand improved conditions.
Akun said two representatives from his office have gone to the Stepnoe prison to help with negotiations.
A total of almost 7,000 prisoners had been on hunger strike since January 17.
Inmates have been demanding more freedoms in jail in protests some say are being coordinated by criminal groups outside the prisons.
The hunger strike began after prison authorities tightened the regime in Kyrgyz jails following riots that broke out in a Bishkek prison on January 16, apparently over the transfer of a criminal boss to a different jail.
Newly installed Kyrgyz prison officials earlier this month took away special privileges for jailed criminal bosses who were living in large rooms often equipped with, among other things, big-screen televisions and modern furniture.
With agency reports