The Coalition against Torture has repeatedly urged the Government and Parliament to take urgent measures to protect people in closed institutions in light of spreading the coronavirus epidemic in the country.

According to the State Service for Execution Punishments under the Government of the Kyrgyz Republic which runs most of the detention facilities in the country the issues related to coronavirus epidemic are under control and well addressed. On April 9, State Service for Execution Punishment reported that closed institutions have capacity to conduct trials via webcast, which will not require additional financial resources for transfer of convicts to court and suspects who are under investigation.

In addition, from mid-March, the State Service for Execution Punishments introduced some restrictions, in particular, it temporarily restricted family visits, receiving dispatches and parcels by inmates and detainees, and strengthened disinfection measures. A special operational regime of the penetrative system was introduced in Bishkek, Osh and Jalal – Abad cities where lawyers were restricted access to their clients.

The Coalition against Torture is concerned with these circumstances. According to Indira Sautova, the Executive Director of the Coalition, “the State penitentiary service solves its utilitarian tasks, instead of reducing financial costs by reducing the number of detainees. In fact, it is violations of procedure rights of detainees whose cases are under investigation”. According to her currently there no legal frame and defined procedures for conducting court proceedings via videoconference, except for the interrogation of the accused, witness and victim (Article 280 of the Criminal Procedural Code) and at the first stage conducting trials via videoconference or webcast should be regulated by law.

It should be noted that on April 7, Deputy Prime Minister Erkin Asrandiev, who oversees the economic block of the Government, announced that the Ministry of Finance is preparing proposals for budget sequestration by reducing the amount of budget expenditures.  In this regard, the measures suggested earlier by the Coalition to reduce the number of detainees are cost-effective and perfectly matches government plans and justified from economical perspective.  Up to date, many countries which faced COVID19 have already taken urgent measures to reduce the prison population. A number of states including Australia, Canada, Germany, Iran, Ireland, Jordan, Sudan, the United States have already taken steps through jail delivery including declaring or preparing amnesty, upholding temporary release, or increasing the number of decisions on parole.

“ We recognize and welcome certain steps and measures taken by the State penitentiary service regarding prevention of coronavirus” said Indira Sautova. However, some restrictions are excessive and disproportionate. “By banning visits, it is unclear what measures the state penitentiary service has provided to compensate for the lack of contact between prisoners and their relatives and lawyers. Also it is unclear how this can affect health and psychological wellbeing of prisoners” said Sautova.

The introduced restrictions on meetings of detainees with lawyers are a cause for concern. “Detainees or inmates cannot simply complain about detention conditions or facts that medical care is not provided on time,” says Indira Sautova.  Therefore, the Coalition urges the State penitentiary system to introduce other alternative options: phone calls, video calls, provide for lawyers with personal protective equipment.

In addition, the Kyrgyz Parliament should bring forward the process of consideration of the draft Law of the Kyrgyz Republic on amnesty in connection with the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945.

To this regard, the Coalition against Torture in Kyrgyzstan urges legal community to join the efforts of the Coalition to reduce the prison population through promotion the adoption of amnesty and actively initiate a case review of pre-trial restrictions of detainees who are accused for non-violent and minor offenses, and apply measures of criminal-procedural coercion which not related to detention.

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