New prison for life-sentences being built in town outside Baku
New prison outside Baku
In the town of Umbaki, 80 kilometers from the capital of Azerbaijan, a new prison is being built for prisoners sentenced to life. It was supposed to be put into operation about fifteen years ago, but for unknown reasons, construction has been delayed year after year. According to human rights activists, conditions in the old prison are terrible.
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Courtyard under open but barred sky
An inmate serving a life sentence in a prison in Gobustan, a suburb of Baku, told reporters that he would soon be moving to the new prison. According to the man there will be “good conditions,” Turan news agency reports.
Gobustan prison is popularly known as “the roof”. About 300 life-sentence prisoners are held here, as well as occasional transfers from other prisons.
According to a prisoner with whom journalists managed to speak, in the new prison each cell will have its own courtyard under an open but barred sky. In this courtyard the convicts will be able to stay as long as they like. In Gobustan prison, the convict is entitled to one hour of walking in a small courtyard with bars overhead.
As for the conditions in Gobustan prison, Akif Nagy, head of a human rights organization dealing with the problems of life-sentence prisoners, called them “terrible.” Nagy says that reports come in from prisoners’ families.
A village famous for its leper colony
A new prison for life-sentence prisoners is being built in the village of Umbaki, which is located about 80 kilometers from the center of Baku.
It is a rather isolated town with a population of only 1,300 people. There is no high school, no supermarket, no park, not even an ATM. According to local residents, at least 2,000 people must live in a town for there to be an ATM.
But the village is better known for the even more isolated hospital which treats lepers. It is not far from Umbaki itself, but healthy people are strictly forbidden to enter.
Residents of Umbaki also complain about the lack of proper public transport. Buses run every two hours from 7 am to 4 pm. In the evening, you can only get there by taxi or private transport.
“Conditions in line with international standards”
The land plot for the construction of the new prison was allocated in 2007.
In a written response to the UN Committee against Torture, the government of Azerbaijan reported back in 2009 that “the construction of a new prison near the city of Baku continues, where people sentenced to life imprisonment will be kept.”
In the same letter, the Azerbaijani authorities noted that “conditions in accordance with international standards. The modern infrastructure of these institutions, along with the keeping of convicts in cell-type rooms, favors the employment of these persons in studies, useful work and sports, with outside access.”
The head of the public relations department of the penitentiary service, Mehman Sadikhov, in an interview with journalists refused to give an exact date for the commissioning of the new prison. Construction continues, he said. “Now nothing definite can be said. Next year there will be a message from the Ministry of Justice about the new prison.” Sadikhov did not deny rumors of commissioning in 2023, the agency writes.
Opinion of a human rights activist
According to human rights activist Eldar Zeynalov, a lot could change with the commissioning of a new prison in Umbaki, where they promise to create more “European” conditions, but it has been perpetually postponed.
Zeynalov explains that the reason for the new prison is to preserve petrogylphs at the Gobustan reserve, located near the Gobustan prison and which is on the UNESCO cultural heritage list.
“Baku feels that the proximity of the prison to the UNESCO site is inappropriate, that tourists will not like it. So a clause on the transfer of the Gobustan prison was included in the decree on the creation of the Open-Air Museum in Gobustan.
“However, the reasons for not repairing or expanding the old prison, but building a new one, are much deeper. The current prison in Gobustan does not meet international standards for life imprisonment. This is noted by all visitors to the prison from reputable international organizations such as the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture. They are concerned about overcrowding of the cells, the quality of medical care and nutrition, the death rate from diseases and suicides, among other problems.
The rather liberal Code for the Execution of Sentences (CIN) on a number of points relating to life prisoners is not being carried out. For example, CIN defines six main methods of correcting convicts. Four of these – socially useful work, general education, vocational education and training, social influence – do not apply to life prisoners due to their strict isolation. All that remains is the regime and educational work, which is done out by ‘specialists’ in uniform,” Zeynalov said.
“In order to build new prisons, they need more more, but the expenses are taken from prisoner amenities rather than from official salaries. The feeling is that they have food to eat and somewhere to sleep, and don’t need ‘luxuries’,” he added.
New prison outside Baku