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Kazakh Prisoners Maim Themselves Over Alleged Abuse

ALMATY -- Inmates at an maximum-security prison in central Kazakhstan have severely cut themselves to protest alleged beatings and the strict regime in the notorious labor camp, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

Kazakh human rights activist Vadim Kuramshin told journalists in Almaty that prisoners in the labor camp in the town of Dolinka, located in Qaraghandy Province, have been beaten by security forces since September 23 and many of them slashed their wrists and/or cut their abdomens to protest the "lawlessness" of their treatment.

Kuramshin said special security forces and Interior Ministry troops entered the labor camp on September 23 and started systematically beating inmates.

"The inmates were herded together naked in the center of the camp under pouring rain, even though many of them suffer from tuberculosis, and they were beaten [at different times each day]," Kuramshin said.

Dolinka labor camp warden Darkhan Qanatbekov told RFE/RL that the inmates were not beaten. "There was no rain at all, and they all had clothes on. It was just a routine operation to preserve order in the labor camp," he said.

Kuramshin said some of those being beaten slashed their wrists and/or stomachs so that the beatings would stop. He showed journalists pictures of men whom he said had been beaten and were photographed by Dolinka inmates after the beatings. He also made copies of "the farewell letters of some inmates who maimed themselves, in case they died from their injuries."

The letters were addressed to Yury Gusakov, the chairman of the Kazakh Bureau for Human Rights in Qaraghandy, who is currently in Warsaw for a human rights conference organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Kuramshin said the beatings lasted until September 26, by which time some 50 camp inmates had maimed themselves.

Lena Arapova, whose son Denis is a prisoner at Dolinka, told RFE/RL that on September 26 the Dolinka labor camp administration allowed the parents of some inmates who she said "were not so severely beaten" to see them.

She added that her son was beaten for two hours, and she has pictures showing the injuries he sustained.

Lyubov Lastovskaya, whose two sons -- Andrei and Aleksandr -- are Dolinka inmates, told RFE/RL that many inmates with tuberculosis slashed their abdomens on September 23 to protest being stripped and beaten.

"They told me my sons were locked up in solitary confinement as punishment for their misbehavior, and so I cannot see them," she said.

Lastovskaya and 14 other parents of Dolinka prisoners are currently in Astana, demanding a meeting with President Nursultan Nazarbaev. She told RFE/RL that more parents are expected to join them later this week.

In response to questions from RFE/RL about events at the camp, Natalya Gorina, the press secretary of the Kazakh Penitentiary System Monitoring Department's branch in Qaraghandy, sent a press release stating that on September 23 special operations were conducted at the penitentiary to secure order.

"Penitentiary guards, security forces, and Interior Ministry troops took part in the operations," it said. "A group of convicts refused to comply with the lawful demands of penitentiary administration representatives and, because of that, special measures with minimum damage to the inmates' health were undertaken. The objective of the operations was to confiscate banned items from the convicts. On September 26, a group of the most disobedient inmates maimed themselves in order to destabilize the internal order in the penitentiary."

She said the situation at the Dolinka labor camp "has been stabilized and is now normal."

The Dolinka prison network in Qaraghandy was established in the 1930s and was a major component of the harsh Stalin-era, prison-camp system known as the Gulag.

Prisoners at Dolinka have repeatedly staged riots, protests, and have injured themselves in recent months to protest what they call a strict regime at the labor camp and harsh treatment by guards.

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