By Asker Sultanov
Guards stand in a lobby of a remand prison in Bishkek in January 2012. The UN has been teaching penitentiary employees new methods of working with prisoners convicted of extremism-related crimes. [Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP]
BISHKEK -- The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is continuing to train psychologists, social workers and Kyrgyz prison staff as part of an effort to rehabilitate radicalised prisoners.
The most recent five-day training session took place in Bishkek at the end of September, Vasilina Brazhko, spokeswoman for the UNODC Programme Office in Kyrgyzstan, told Caravanserai.
"Local and foreign experts teach employees of the Kyrgyz government's penal service [GSIN] across a wide range of focus areas, from developing a legal foundation [for their work] to carrying out programmes focused on integrating convicted extremists into society," Alexander Fedulov, head of the UNODC Programme Office in Kyrgyzstan, told Caravanserai.
The UNODC also has compiled a handbook titled, "Handbook on the Management of Violent Extremist Prisoners and the Prevention of Radicalizationto Violence in Prisons," that will help employees at Kyrgyz prisons study the experiences accumulated by other countries, he said.
"The main measures taken entail clarifying the causes and motives that led to people being convicted [of] 'extremism'," said Fedulov.
That includes looking at "what prompted them to alter their outlook on life, and then little by little [dragging] them out of the situation that they have landed in, specifically by changing their views," Fedulov said.
Yuliya Denisenko, director of the Astana, Kazakhstan-based Association of Centres for the Study of Religions and a member of the Kazakhstani government's Council for Relations with Religious Associations, explained the new thinking at work.
In Kyrgyzstan, authorities have "outlined short-term and long-term goals ... [they] have recruited and trained three teams of specialists already to achieve them -- psychologists, religious leaders and prison staff," she told Caravanserai. "So far, the system is working successfully."
Psychologists work on the inmates' psychological problems, try to correct their behaviour and help them establish contact with their families and become socialised, according to Denisenko.
Meanwhile, religious clerics help realign the inmates' beliefs using Sharia law and hold lessons on the Koran and other religious teachings, she added.
Prison staff gather information and monitor the situation, she said, adding that they are responsible for preventing crimes both inside and outside prison by rehabilitated inmates or ex-inmates. They also co-operate with other law enforcement agencies.
Kyrgyz prisons hold 185 convicts serving time for terrorism and extremism-related crimes, according to Taalaibek Japarov, chairperson of GSIN, the Kyrgyz penal system.
"Theologians and prison staff constantly do awareness-raising work with this category [of inmates]," he said. "The work is bearing fruit. In some cases, convicted extremists have renounced radical ideas."
It is essential that civil society, clerics and international organisations support law enforcement agencies in this fight, said Zakir Chotayev, deputy director of the Kyrgyz State Commission for Religious Affairs (GKDR).
It is essential as well to promote religious tolerance among the public and prison inmates, he said.
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