Hundreds of Kyrgyz prisoners sew lips shut in hunger strike

Hundreds of Kyrgyz prisoners sew lips shut in hunger strike

BISHKEK - Agence France-Presse
Hundreds of Kyrgyz prisoners sew lips shut in hunger strike

A picture taken inside a prison in the Kyrgyzstan's city of Osh, on January 20, 2012, shows a prisoner looking through a hatch in a door of his prison cell. More than 1,000 detainees in prisons around Kyrgyzstan sewed yesterday their lips together in protest at their conditions, authorities in the Central Asian country said. AFP photo

Three thousand prisoners were on a hunger strike Wednesday in Kyrgyzstan with several hundred sewing shut their lips with staples and thread to protest jail conditions, officials said.

"Over three thousand convicts are refusing food in Kyrgyzstan, about 640 have sewn their lips shut," the Central Asian country's ombudsman Tursunbek Akun told journalists.

Prisoners in the country's largest prison in Bishkek are in a serious condition, he said, with some having to be hospitalised due to not taking food.

Kyrgyzstan's prison service however claimed that criminal bosses were forcing convicts to mutilate themselves in protest after their privileges were taken away.

"The people initiating this 'sewing' are leaders of the criminal world," the prison service said in a statement.

The standoff between prison authorities and convicts began in the Bishkek prison after one crime boss murdered another.

Prison staff transferred the murderer to a different jail with less comfortable conditions, and raided the premises, confiscating mobile phones, drugs and money.

"That angered the criminal world, which told the regular convicts to riot," the prison service said. The hunger strikes have now spread to other prisons in Kyrgyzstan, which has a prison population of 15,000 people.

Rights campaigner Tolekan Ismailova denied that the strikes were sparked by criminal bosses, however.

"Those on hunger strike are against inhumane conditions," she said. "They don't have medicine, normal food, linen or soap. Their illnesses are not treated because there are not enough doctors," she said.

Ombudsman Akun agreed, saying that prisoners "are complaining of beatings and mistreatment by the prison personnel, and are demanding to receive what is rightfully theirs." Since 2005, prisoners in the former Soviet republic have frequently staged protests and mutilated themselves to denounce jail conditions. Authorities often blame these conflicts on organised crime groups.