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Troops Enter Kazakh Prison, Sparking Concerns About Treatment Of Inmates

Relatives of inmates at Correctional Colony LA-155/14 near Almaty say they saw several military cars carrying armed men into the prison. (file photo)

ALMATY, Kazakhstan -- Relatives of inmates at a prison in Kazakhstan say soldiers with service dogs entered the facility, while concerned activists and familiy members were denied entry.

Relatives of inmates at Correctional Colony LA-155/14 near Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city, told RFE/RL on April 24 that they saw several military cars carrying armed men into the prison the previous day.

Relatives said their requests to visit their loved ones were rejected, sparking uncertainty about what was happening inside. Troops are often brought to prisons in Kazakhstan and other former Soviet republics to put down riots.

The warden, Major Bauyrzhan Qalymov, told RFE/RL that prison guards and National Guard troops were conducting "planned search measures" and that the inmates' rights were "not being violated."

Human rights activist Konstantin Gudauskas told RFE/RL that he tried to enter the prison on April 23 after receiving relatives' complaints, but that administrators refused to let him in.

Prisoners in Kazakh penitentiaries have rioted numerous times in recent years to protest the conditions, sometimes maiming themselves to draw attention to their plight.

Last week, relatives of inmates at Correctional Colony AK-159/6, in the central Qaraghandy region, said that a large number of military personnel were brought into the facility.

The Kazakh Penitentiary Service suggested that it was a drill, saying that that "special tactical drills of the penitentiary service's troops, regional police and the National Guard's personnel" were being held in the prison.

Another human rights defender, Ruslan Ozdoev, said that wide-scale measures in penal colonies across Kazakhstan are usually conducted on the eve of important political events.

Ozdoev alleged that during such measures guards often intimidate or beat inmates who demand that their rights be respected, and their leaders are usually isolated or taken to other penitentiaries.

Kazakhstan is holding a snap presidential election on June 9, in the wake of President Nursultan Nazarbaev's resignation in March after 30 years in power.

Nazarbaev still heads the ruling Nur Otan party, which on April 23 nominated interim President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev as its candidate in a choreographed transition. He is almost certain to win.

Opponents, critics, and rights groups say Nazarbaev, an authoritarian leader who has tolerated little dissent, denied many citizens basic rights and prolonged his power in the energy-rich country of 18.7 million by manipulating the democratic process.

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    RFE/RL's Kazakh Service offers informed and accurate reporting in the Kazakh and Russian languages about issues that matter in Kazakhstan, while providing a dynamic platform for audience engagement and the free exchange of news and ideas.