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Kyrgyzstan: Violence Hits Prisons Again

A guard patrolling the Moldovanovka prison today (AFP) Reports say more than 20 inmates were killed on 1 November in unrest in Kyrgyz prisons near the capital Bishkek and in the country's southern Jalalabad Province. Kyrgyz and Russian news agencies say Interior Ministry troops have surrounded the Moldovanovka prison, the site of a violent uprising last month in which a lawmaker was killed.

Prague, 1 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The riots started early today after authorities sought to reassert control over prisons that were left without guards following violence last month.

The center of action appears to be at Prison No. 31 in the settlement of Moldovanovka, near Bishkek.

Reports say rioting broke out there on the night of 31 October after authorities sought to transfer criminal kingpin Aziz Batukaev and several other convicts to a facility deemed to be more secure.

Convicts protested that Batukaev was their only "godfather" and that he should be returned to prison in Moldovanovka.

Situation Under Control

Speaking to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Kyrgyz Justice Minister Marat Kaiypov said efforts are being made to control the situation.

"The situation in the Jalalabad prison colony, in the Osh colony, and prisons No. 16, 3, and 27 has calmed down," Kaiypov said. "It was Batukaev who ordered [other inmates] to start a mutiny over the telephone. Now, we are trying to normalize the situation."

Kaiypov did not give details on casualties but said that the prisoners were armed and opened fire first and that they also had a sniper.

Busurmankul Tabaldiev, head of the security and defense for the presidential administration, also gave no information about casualties.

However, an unidentified official from the country's national penitentiaries department was quoted as telling ITAR-TASS that two inmates had been killed in a special operation at Moldovanovka. The official also said that the head of the national penitentiaries department was slightly wounded in the arm.

Inmates, however, say the casualty figure is much higher.

Vadim, a convict at Prison No. 1 near Bishkek, told RFE/RL that more than 20 convicts have been killed in Moldovanovka and other prisons.

“In our prison, one [person was killed]. In prison 31 (Moldovanovka), 18 people were killed, and three people in Prison No. 8," he said. "Twenty-two people were killed altogether. This is what we know officially by now. We [and other inmates] saw 18 bodies taken away.”

Better Living Conditions

The current crisis started on 19 October at Moldovanovka and Novo Pokrovka prisons near Bishkek when inmates rioted to demand better living conditions.

A parliamentarian, Tynychbek Akmatbaev, was shot dead while trying to negotiate with the prisoners. Akmatbaev's two assistants and Ikmatullo Polotov, head of the chief administration of the penitentiary service, were also killed after being held hostage.

Akmatbaev was the third lawmaker to be killed since last March's so-called Tulip Revolution.

Following the violence, Kyrgyz authorities ordered guards and staff to leave prisons because of fear for their safety.

Following the prison unrest, antigovernment protesters staged rallies demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Felix Kulov, accusing him of involvement in Akmatbaev's murder. Kulov refused to resign, calling the protests a political provocation.

After six days, the protests ended when President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who backed Kulov, reached an agreement with the demonstrators.

Criminal Gangs

Some observers say the crisis reflects a struggle among criminal gangs.

Most experts agree that the riots also highlight the harsh living conditions in Kyrgyzstan's prisons.

Meilikozu Mamataliev, head of the Jalalabad prison, where inmates also rioted on Tuesday, spoke with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service.

“We have some 28 people infected with tuberculosis but the situation has been improving lately," Mamataliev said. "We also have four or five people who are HIV positive. The main problem is the lack of jobs. We need to create jobs and start production. It should help. This can be done only by the leadership. The government should pay attention. They should open factory sections. We recently started furniture production. But we don't have enough money.”

Kyrgyzstan's ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu has also brought attention to the conditions in prisons and on 1 November, he criticized authorities for the use of force in the Moldovanovka prison.