London, August 12 (RFE/RL) -- Prison officials in Kazakhstan have little regard for the lives of prisoners they oversee, according to a report by the human rights movement, Amnesty International (AI).
The report paints a grim picture of prison conditions. Information gathered by AI suggests a brutal regime prevails in Kazakh prisons, with the deliberate ill-treatment of prisoners and "appalling conditions of detention which amount to ill-treatment."
The report, "Kazakhstan, Ill-treatment and the Death Penalty," also criticizes authorities for the "exceptionally high rate of executions."
The findings are based on an AI mission to Almaty in February and March this year which involved contacts with Kazakh officials and former prison inmates and prisoner workers.
An AI representative met a Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, Nikolay Vlasov, who said the death penalty was less cruel than being in prison in Kazakhstan, where people were treated "with contempt."
Later, at a news conference in April, he said Kazakhstan's prisons were overcrowded, disease-ridden and chronically under-funded.
The AI report says officials, human rights activists and ex-prisoners have identified problems in the prison system that Amnesty regards "as so severe that they are tantamount to ill-treatment of prisoners."
The report cites evidence of widespread tuberculosis, starvation, serious overcrowding, and the torture of prisoners.
OVERCROWDING, TUBERCULOSIS, STARVATION, EVEN CANNIBALISM PLAGUE PRISONS
At the beginning of 1996, Kazakhstan had a prison population of about 94,000 in its 78 prisons and penitentiaries, over 20,000 of whom were in pre-trial detention.
Faced with shortfalls in the budget for prisons, in June the Senate, the upper house of Kazakhstan's parliament, declared an amnesty for nearly 20,000 prisoners in jail for non-violent crime. AI has grave doubts on whether the releases have solved the serious prison problems.
The report says there are 10,000 prisoners in Kazakhstan with infectious tuberculosis. Interior Minister Kairbek Suleymenov said in June some 1,270 prisoners died of tuberculosis last year, and 450 this year. He blamed overcrowding, malnutrition and shortage of medicines.
By one estimate, the tuberculosis rate in prisons is 40 times higher than is reported among the population at large.
A former imprisoned conscientious objector to military service, named only as "Vladimir", told the AI mission that prisoners suffering from infectious tuberculosis were in every cell of the corrective labor colony where he served a nine-month sentence last year.
He had been kept in a prison cell eight meters by six meters, with 60 other people, sleeping in three or four shifts because there was not enough room for all to lie down at the same time.
AI has received numerous reports that prisoners receive "grossly inadequate food rations," leading to starvation and malnutrition.
One former prisoner at a jail in Almaty (Sizo-One) said there were periods when inmates were fed only once every three days.
In April, 1994, a media report from Kazakhstan cited a cannibalism incident in which five prisoners at an undisclosed jail, reportedly driven by hunger, had killed and eaten a cellmate.
A representative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs was quoted last year as saying there had been four cases of cannibalism provoked by hunger at penitentiaries in the Semipalatinsk Region.
BEATINGS COMMON AND HIGH EXECUTION RATE SHOCKING
According to Nikolay Vlasov, Kazakhstan's prison population has doubled since independence in 1991, a consequence of a crackdown against a rapidly rising crime rate. However, as of early 1996, no program had been started to build new penitentiaries.
The AI report cites evidence of the torture of prisoners in police custody and in pre-trial detention. Beatings are the most commonly reported form of torture, but it cites reports, too, of confessions being forced using torture such as asphyxiation with plastic bags.
The report calls on Kazakh authorities to conduct a full investigation into the deaths of four boys who died at a penitentiary for male juveniles in Almaty, known as LA 155/6. A former employee told AI the regime in the penitentiary was based on the "fist and truncheon".
The AI report also says that the execution rate of convicted prisoners in Kazakhstan is "shocking." The report estimates that 110 death sentences were passed last year, and 101 executions were carried out.
The report says: "Among the countries in the world for which execution figures were known for 1995, only three countries (China, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia) had executed more people than Kazakhstan.
"Considering the size of Kazakhstan's population -- just 17 million people -- the figure of 101 executions is shockingly high," it says.
The report calls on the Kazakhstan Government to implement its commitments to human rights law and standards; to take effective steps to end the problem of poor prison conditions; to end torture and ill-treatment; and to take effective steps to abolish the death penalty.
Other AI reports in the past year have focused on prison conditions in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Turkmenistan.
"Judging by the stories that emerge from behind the prison walls, practically throughout the former Soviet Union, little regard is given to the lives of prisoners by the officials who oversee them," according to its latest report.