Uzbekistan Eases Prison Conditions for Inmates, on Paper
Prisoners in Uzbekistan may not be able to speak to Red Cross monitors about the conditions of their incarceration, but they may now drink hot chocolate and enjoy live music.The Interior Ministry has adopted new rules regarding living conditions in the country’s notoriously inhospitable and violent prisons, the semi-official Norma.uz website, which covers legislative issues in Uzbekistan, reported on August 8.For starters, the rules list foodstuffs prisoners are allowed to purchase and keep: They can now treat themselves to coffee and hot chocolate. Moreover, previously prisoners were allowed to have belongings whose total weight did not exceed 50 kilograms – this stipulation has now been abolished.The new regulations also allow prisoners to get married or divorced in prison. Though the number of guests at a prison wedding ceremony is limited to two, following the ritual the prisoner will be given a conjugal visit (up to three days, usually inside the prison) with his or her spouse. Perhaps, the most important change is that a prisoner's close relatives now have the right to obtain written and verbal information about their loved one’s health, and learn about what specific punishments are being applied by prison authorities. Requests are, in theory, to be satisfied immediately.According to the new rules, prisoners in low-security prison colonies can now wear civilian clothes and shoes and use mobile phones without photo, audio and video features. They can also play musical instruments in specially designated areas. Of course, all this is only on paper. In practice, Uzbek prisons are notorious for mistreatment of prisoners, overcrowding, corruption, and the brutal rule of prison wardens who are likely to interpret – or ignore – these new rules as they choose. And the new regulations don’t address the horrific torture that is said to be endemic. In April, the International Committee of the Red Cross said it would no longer visit Uzbek prisons as authorities were preventing private access to prisoners.