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Ombudsman Askar Shakirov
ASTANA -- Kazakh Ombudsman Askar Shakirov says the situation regarding torture in the country has improved significantly, a statement many human rights activists dispute, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

Shakirov said at an international conference in Astana on March 24 that the number of complaints about torture and abuse of power in prisons fell by some 50 percent in 2010 compared with 2009.

But he admitted that incidents of abuse of power with respect to prisoners did still occur.

Kazakh human rights defender Vadim Kuramshin told RFE/RL that he believed the situation is the opposite. He said that "people in prison are simply afraid to file appeals, as afterward their life becomes impossible."

Kuramshin added that the number of complaints he received from prisoners and their relatives within the last week "surpasses reasonable limits."

The acting director of the Kazakhstan Bureau for Human Rights, Roza Akylbekova, told RFE/RL that the decline in the number of complaints to the ombudsman "does not mean that the overall number of torture cases decreased."

She said her organization had information that proves the opposite of what Shakirov claims.

Ardak Zhanabilova, who chairs the Public Oversight Commission in Almaty, had earlier told RFE/RL about a trial of prison officers in Derzhavinsk who had been accused of torturing convicts.

She said the judge at the trial, which started on March 17 in Astana, did not allow human rights activists to attend the proceedings.

Many prisoners in Kazakhstan have been hospitalized in recent months after using knives and other objects to mutilate themselves to protest the overall poor prison conditions.
Inmates in four jails in Kyrgyzstan have announced that they have launched a hunger strike.

Relatives of the inmates say the protest fast is aimed at calling attention to dire prison conditions.

Jailers said the strike was declared in response to an ongoing campaign by the authorities against organized crime.

Deputy head of the State Service for the Execution of Punishment Kalybek Kachkynaliev said the authorities had enough resources to keep the situation under control.

RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported that negotiations were under way today between jailers and inmates.

It was not immediately clear how many inmates were taking part in the hunger strike.

with agency reports

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