A mass hunger strike in Kyrgyz prisons is escalating in a radical way, as almost 1,100 inmates have sewn their mouths shut after authorities made attempts to force feed them. An additional five prisoners have slashed their arms in protest.
The prisoner protest traces its origins to a January 16 riot at Bishkek’s Holding Facility Number 1. At least one prisoner died and 30 were injured in the rioting, the cause of which remains unclear. To protest the use of excessive force by authorities in quelling the unrest, inmates at the facility went on a hunger strike. The tactic then spread to other correctional facilities across Kyrgyzstan.
When authorities took steps to force feed inmates, about 370 inmates at Bishkek’s Holding Facility No. 1 sewed their mouths shut on January 23. The protest quickly spread to nine other facilities by the evening of January 24. At last count, 1,090 inmates had joined the sutured-mouth protest, while Kyrgyzstan's Kant.kg website added that the five slashings had taken place at Karakol’s Holding Facility No. 23.
Prison authorities suggest that their efforts to curtail the in-jail privileges enjoyed by reputed crime kingpins, including the availability of widescreen televisions in jail cells and unlimited cellphone use, played a role in the escalating protest.
A report distributed by the official Russian news agency RIA Novosti suggested that the January 16 rioting may have been connected to an effort by Kyrgyz authorities to move a reputed crime boss, identified as Damir Saparbekov, to a correctional facility that did not permit the use of cell phones. Prisoners’ family members, however, insist the protest is related to new restrictions on outside visits, and overall harsh conditions.