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Kazakh Rights Defenders Slam Presidential Decree On Prisons

Roza Akylbekova, acting director of the Kazakh Bureau for Human Rights
ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Kazakh human rights defenders have criticized a presidential decree that returns control of Kazakhstan's Committee to Control the Penitentiary System to the Interior Ministry, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

Roza Akylbekova, acting director of the Kazakh Bureau for Human Rights, said in Almaty that President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed the decree on July 28, but the public was not informed and she only found out about the decree on August 9.

In 2002, Kazakhstan was the first country in Central Asia to transfer control of its penitentiaries from the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry.

Saule Mektepbaeva, regional director of the International Penitentiary Reform in Central Asia organization, said at a press conference on August 9 that the decree violates the government's commitment to bring the Kazakh penitentiary system closer to international standards.

She said control of the prison system should be completely separate from the police and its management should be entrusted to psychologists and social workers.

Akylbekova said the jailed ex-director of the Kazakh Bureau for Human Rights, Yevgeny Zhovtis, was upset when he heard about the decree.

Zhovtis, whose jail sentence is believed by rights activists and his supporters to be politically motivated, firmly believes that the government should focus on helping ex-convicts reintegrate into society after their prison terms.

Prominent Kazakh rights activist Vadim Kuramshin, who defends the rights of inmates, told RFE/RL that the return of control of the penitentiaries to the Interior Ministry means "Kazakhstan has become a total police state."

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