Crime & Justice

Tajikistan's bid to better manage extremist convicts gets international approval

Caravanserai

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Participants at a six-day meeting in Varzob, Tajikistan, discussed various issues related to the management of violent extremist prisoners. [Human Rights Centre in Dushanbe]

VARZOB, Tajikistan -- The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is backing Tajikistan's efforts to better manage violent extremist convicts, prevent the radicalisation of prisoners and develop alternatives to imprisonment.

A six-day-long conference in Varzob on prison reform, which concluded August 16, was organised by the Main Prison Department of the Justice Ministry. The OSCE and the non-governmental organisation Prison Reform International supported the conference.

At the conference, a working group of 19 members discussed key issues in developing a 2020-2030 penal reform strategy for the country, the OSCE said in a statement on its website.

The group considered improvements to safety and security in prisons and the development of a comprehensive prison rehabilitation programme.

The OSCE supports implementation of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (also known as "the Nelson Mandela Rules"), which comply with international human rights standards.

"This reform strategy, adopted by the government of Tajikistan, is very important, and special attention is given to its implementation. We express our gratitude and thank our partners, including the OSCE Programme Office in Dushanbe, for supporting the meeting of the expert working group to develop the implementation plan," Boibalazoda Rustam, the first deputy head of the Tajik Main Prison Department, said in the statement.

In 2016, the OSCE Programme Office in Dushanbe provided support to enable formation of the expert working group on penal reform. It organised several public discussions.

In 2020, the government approved the penal reform strategy that the working group developed and considered the group's recommendations.

International and national analysts, government officials and civil society representatives, with the support of the OSCE, will continue to work on implementing the reform, the OSCE said.

IS-led Tajik prison riots

Tajikistan has had its fair share of problems with prisons where extremists are held.

A prison riot initiated by jailed "Islamic State" (IS) militants led to the deaths of 32 people, including 24 IS members, in May 2019.

The riot broke out at a prison in Vakhdat, 17kms east of Dushanbe. The rioters stabbed to death three guards and five inmates before taking other prisoners hostage and setting fire to the jail's medical facilities.

Security forces who were trying to restore order killed 24 IS members, according to authorities.

Another prison riot took 26 lives in Khujand in November 2018. A former IS member trying to spark a jailbreak fomented the riot.

At the end of 2019, Tajik authorities announced plans to build a new prison for convicted terrorists.

When completed, the prison will better enable authorities to control such inmates and prevent riots or jailbreaks, according to the Justice Ministry.

Building the facility "ought to solve all issues causing concern, provide security for convicts and prevent cases of mass disorder, murders and propagation of extremist ideas", Mansurjon Umarov, chief of the Justice Ministry's penal system, said last November 20 while addressing the Penitentiary Forum in Dushanbe.

Relevant agencies are working with trained architects, taking into consideration all international standards, he said.

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