South Ossetian prisoners who were on hunger strike in Tskhinvali last Friday were severely beaten, local media report.
Ekho Kavkaza reported that the strike, which began on 27 September, was triggered by the introduction of Russian regulations in South Ossetian prisons. The prisoners’ other concerns include poor sanitary conditions, insufficient time outside their cells, and a limited number of parcels that they can receive from relatives.
Two prisoners required hospitalisation after they were allegedly beaten, a day after the prison was visited by parliamentary officials who were investigating the hunger strike.
South Ossetian Justice Minister Zalina Laliyeva questioned the legitimacy of the hunger strike on 1 October, as she said that the prisoners had not submitted a written notice of the strike to the prison administration. She said that without the notice, she would not recognise the protest as a hunger strike, but rather as a violation of internal prison regulations.
She added that they were conducting an internal investigation into the matter.
On Tuesday, Laliyeva said that they had carried out ‘successful reforms’ in order to meet the requirements of Russian legislation. She said that this included dividing the prison into maximum security and a general prison regime, receiving more equipment for the dining room, and improved medical assistance.
‘Good conditions have been created for [the prisoners], Laliyeva said.
After the reports of violence against the hunger strikers, the state-owned Res news agency reported that the South Ossetian parliament had instructed the Prosecutor’s Office to look into the allegations.
In a parliamentary session, the Speaker of the South Ossetian Parliament, Alan Tadtaev, said that he and other members of parliament had visited the prison twice last week after the initial reports of prisoners going on hunger strike.
He added that MPs visited the dining room and that ‘nobody can say that it was dirty’.
‘The prisoners were dissatisfied with the work of the cook, but during our visit, she had already been suspended. In two days we solved the reported problems’, Tadtaev said. ‘We didn’t have to go there at all, just write a letter to the Prosecutor General’s Office asking him to check and take measures.’
He also said that despite the ‘improvements’ the prisoners continued their hunger strike.
‘Their conditions improved, their complaints were heard, measures were taken, but they themselves do not want to meet them and continue to starve’, he said. ‘They must understand that this is not a resort, but a prison.’
As for the reported abuse of prisoners, Deputy Chairman of the Parliament Alik Pliev said that if the allegations could be proven, the perpetrators should be held accountable.
‘If this information is confirmed, then whoever gave such an order should be punished by the law. You cannot beat people. We do not use torture. If a prisoner has violated something, you can put him into solitary confinement’, Pliev said.
MP Ivan Slanov suggested that independent medical examinations be carried out on the prisoners, to ascertain whether they were beaten or not.
For ease of reading, we choose not to use qualifiers such as ‘de facto’, ‘unrecognised’, or ‘partially recognised’ when discussing institutions or political positions within Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and South Ossetia. This does not imply a position on their status.