Many Christians Suffer in Central Asian Prisons Void of Human Rights

A Special Report by ICC

4/20/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)-With restricted legal counsel, unhygienic conditions, hostile authorities and no active state protection Central Asian prisons – where Christians are often sent because of their faith – are the darkest corners of some of the most restrictive countries in the world.

Christian Persecution in Central Asia

As a result of severely restrictive laws on religious freedom, Christians in Central Asia are often subject to bureaucratic harassment, confiscation of Christian literature, unauthorized raids, inflated fines, prolonged detainments, arrests without trial, threats against conversion, social excommunication and attacks against those who convert to Christianity, as well as severe restrictions on training, learning and equipping oneself with theological education.

The situation takes on frightening dimensions if a Christian ends up in one of Central Asia’s prisons, where detainees are not treated as human beings, but rather as dissidents who have disqualified themselves from the legal protection of the state.

Uzbekistan

Jaslyk prion in Uzbekistan – one of the top Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom – is known as the “House of Torture” or the “Place of No Return.” It is one of the worst prisons in one of the worst countries for religious freedom, whose penal system is notorious for harsh conditions and mistreatment of prisoners.

Jaslyk is home to many “religious prisoners,” who are tortured even after being imprisoned. For the last decade, Jaslyk has continued to be the source of numerous, credible and consistent reports of the torture of religious prisoners, according to Human Rights Watch.

Turkmenistan

According to information secured by Reporters without Borders, inmates at Turkmenbashi prison, situated in a remote desert near the Caspian Sea, spend much of their time in filthy, overcrowded cells with no access to drinking water. They do not get enough to eat and the quality of the food is poor. Temperatures can reach 104 Fahrenheit in summer and -58 in winter. The detainees are forced to do agricultural work in these unbearable climatic conditions. The range of supplies that relatives may send them is very limited. Newspapers, including foreign publications, are banned.

A Police officer told Refworld, a UN agency, “Lack of space means our penal institutions hold 250 percent more convicts than they should. This causes disease to spread. So the country needs to modernize its prison camp buildings as a priority.” Its prisons are home to Christians arrested for their faith, conscience offenders, political dissidents, journalists and relatives of disgraced government officials.

Tajikistan and Kazakhstan

Police brutality is not uncommon, along with the use of torture to extract confessions out of suspects, who are often denied access to legal counsel and family members during initial detention. Prisoners have been known to have died after sustaining injuries during beatings while in prison, says the Human Rights Watch’s World Report 2012.

Until recently, there was no legal ban on torture in Tajik law, so there was no record of allegations of torture and officials convicted of committing torture, even though Tajikistan had signed international conventions on human rights and torture, Sergei Romanov, of the Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, told Central Asia Online.

Only in 2012, for the first time in its history, Tajikistan introduced legislation against the use of torture that even led to the conviction of some officials. But torture remains a pervasive problem in Tajik prisons, unchecked by authorities and ignored by the state.

In Kazakhstan, Vadim Kuramshin, a human rights lawyer, told The Telegraph, “Torture, harassment and extortion among inmates has grown astronomically and frequent riots confirm their frustration.” According to Amnesty International, worsening conditions have led to overcrowding, tuberculosis, starvation and even cannibalism.

Humanitarian Crisis in Central Asian Prisons

Even though some countries in the region have taken steps forward to improve conditions for prisoners – Tajikistan now has legislation that bans torture and Kyrgyzstan improved sanitary conditions for nearly 6,000 prisoners in 2012 – they are often only small beginnings or simply a reactionary move to pacify protesters.

There remains a need for greater state resolve to regard prisoners, particularly “religious prisoners,” with due respect and regard. As of now, the plight of detainees in Central Asia is a humanitarian crisis, in and of itself, with “religious prisoners” and convicted criminals fighting for their basic rights to live and breathe in good health, even if it be in prison.

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