QOSTANAY, Kazakhstan -- Officials in Kazakhstan say seven inmates in a northern prison have maimed themselves against a backdrop of earlier reports that convicts were mutilating themselves to protest against prison conditions, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.
But the Justice Ministry said the inmates in the UK 161/2 maximum security prison in Qostanay Oblast were forced to maim themselves by five criminals serving their terms in the prison.
The prison was in the news on March 16 when its warden, Sergei Gromchenko, was sacked after reports that military troops were sent to the prison several days earlier to quell unrest. The Kazakh Committee for the Control of Penitentiaries (KIUS) said only that Gromchenko had been sacked following an inquiry by committee officials.
The media reports quoted Kazakh human rights activists as saying the prisoners at the penitentiary had been gathered in the jail's central square on March 12 and made to lie face-down. Some prisoners' relatives who came to the prison that day to visit were not allowed to see the prisoners but also were not permitted to leave the institution.
Two days before Gromchenko's dismissal, a KIUS spokeswoman told RFE/RL that "no troops at all were sent to the UK 161/2 jail" and that "everything is calm and quiet there."
Domestic and international human rights organizations have been closely monitoring the situation in Kazakh prisons because of reports of abuse and acts of maiming by prisoners to protest conditions.
Kazakh activists say human rights are routinely abused in the country's prisons and have urged authorities to improve conditions at correctional facilities.Read more in Kazakh here