TARAZ, Kazakhstan — Dozens of relatives of inmates at a labor camp in southern Kazakhstan have been charged with “illegally gathering” at the jail where they feared the inmates were being mistreated, RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service reports.
The relatives were detained outside the camp in the town of Taraz on August 27.
Nurlan Sarshaev and Elmira Qurmanova — who were not among those detained — told RFE/RL that they and dozens of others gathered outside the camp after learning from human rights activists about disturbances there.
Sarshaev, whose two brothers are serving prison terms in the camp, said he saw thick smoke and heard noise reminiscent of beating and inmates’ cries for help.
Qurmanova, whose son is a camp inmate, told RFE/RL she saw several ambulances nearby. She said medical personnel told the relatives that several inmates had slashed their veins and jumped from upper floors to protest camp conditions.
Qurmanova also said she was allowed to see her son, whose face was bruised. “However, I was instructed by the prison officials to tell the other relatives outside that everything is fine and nothing bad is going on,” Qurmanova said.
Qurmanova added that she and her grandmother were beaten by security forces when they refused to disperse. “One of the officers took out his pistol and told me he would shoot me if I did not leave,” Qurmanova said.
But officials have denied the reports, saying authorities had merely confiscated large amounts of contraband items from the inmates before being forced to deploy troops to control a rowdy group of relatives.
Sultan Kusetov, who heads the Justice Ministry’s Committee to Monitor Penitentiaries (KUIS), told journalists on August 27 that prison guards set about confiscating illegal objects such as mobile phones, drugs, and knives from the inmates the previous day. He said four truckloads of such objects were removed from the camp premises.
“Somebody organized the gathering of the relatives, many of whom were drunk, and when they refused to leave, we had to deploy Interior Ministry troops and representatives of the local prosecutor’s office. Thirty-eight of those who called themselves inmates’ relatives were detained. All of them were later charged with organizing and participating in an illegal mass gathering in front of the jail,” Kusetov said.
KUIS spokesperson Samal Ghadylbekova, who was also at the press conference with Kusetov, told journalists that local prosecutor’s office staff and some of the relatives were allowed to enter the camp and meet with the inmates in order to see for themselves that nothing untoward was happening.