South Ossetia’s prisoner hunger strike debacle – who, what, why
A scandal is in full swing in South Ossetia: 20 out of 34 parliamentarians have demanded a vote of no confidence in and the resignation of the Ministers of Justice and the Interior after footage of the brutal beating of prisoners was released.
Among those who signed the appeal addressed to the speaker Alan Tadtaev are deputies from the Unity of the People, the People’s Party and Nykhas parties, as well as majoritarian MPs.
However, the presidium of the parliament did not support the MPs who signed the appeal. On October 24, the speaker refused the appeal and suggested that the MPs “go through all stages of the legal execution of their request.”
“After that, the issue can be included in the agenda of the parliamentary session,” Alan Tadtaev said.
What happened in the prison?
It all started back in the summer of 2019.
The prisoners in the penal colony signed an appeal to parliament, in which they spoke about serious violations.
They complained about disgusting food, poor sanitation, and the fact that the cells were damp, and in some places there were not even small windows.
These complaints have been coming from the prison and from relatives of prisoners for years. In 2017, their desperate statement appeared on Instagram.
In an appeal to parliament, prisoners asked MPs to visit them in the prison and help solve a number of problems. However, no one came to them.
Then, on September 28, convicts and those awaiting trial went on hunger strike.
An answer came from the Minister of Justice – but not what they and their families expected.
The Minister sharply tightened the regime for the transfer of packages with food products from relatives.
Under the new rules, it became possible to transfer products to the isolation ward only once a month, and to the prison itself only once every two months.
At the same time, they decided to punish the prisoners. Several of those on hunger strike were beaten.
Then they were transferred to a temporary detention center. This was of particular importance.
The colony and the pre-trial detention center are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice in South Ossetia.
The pre-trial detention center is the area of responsibility of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
South Ossetian journalists reported hte hunger strike and beatings only a few days after the uproar on social networks and speaker Tadtaev confirmed that prisoners complained about the conditions of detention.
At the same time, the speaker said that the parliament’s committee on defense and security was dealing with this issue and the head of the committee had visited the prisoners.
Atamaz Bibilov, the head of the committee, did indeed visit the prisoners and promised them to improve the conditions.
It was promised that parcels will be accepted without restrictions.
The time for walks was to increase, as well as the number of visits: up to 12 times a year for prisoners in a penal colony, and up to nine times a year in high-security prisoners.
Some of the promises were even fulfilled – but the situation soon began to slide downhill.
33-year-old prisoner Vyacheslav Kaziev died; he had been convicted of the murder of the famous criminal authority Marek Dudaev.
According to doctors, the cause of death of Kaziev was a blood clot. The prison administration also argued that the hunger strike was not the cause of death and showed footage of how Kaziev was eating in the dining hall the day before.
However, a protest began to build up in the colony and the prisoners refused to end the hunger strike. Then it was decided to suppress the strike by force.
On October 2, special forces entered the colony and the pre-trial detention center — it had no right to go there, since these institutions were subordinate to the Ministry of Justice, and special forces belong to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
On the personal order of the Minister of Justice Zalina Lalieva, they tried to force the protesters to eat porridge. Those who refused were beaten so badly that some were crippled and sent to the hospital.
Several prisoners cut themselves in protest.
The Minister of Justice Zalina Lalieva personally oversaw the debacle.
The conflict between ministers and MPs
South Ossetian MPs decided they could not stand idly by and demanded the resignation of the Ministers of Justice Zalina Lalieva and the Minister of Internal Affairs Igor Naniev.
“The demand of 20 MPs on a vote of no confidence in the ministers was rejected due to the incorrect procedure,” Alan Gabatta, chairman of the committee on legislation, legality and local self-government, told reporters.
He explained that the ministers must first report to the Parliament on the work done over the year – and only then it will be possible to decide whether to recognize their work as unsatisfactory or not.
But the authors of the appeal insist that none of this is required, and, according to the law, the initiative can be submitted directly to the parliament, without approval by the presidium.
The MPs who signed the appeal believe that the ministers of internal affairs and justice exceeded their authority and violated the law, so they should leave their posts and an investigation should be conducted.
President Anatoly Bibilov came out on the side of the ministers,
He categorically denies their guilt.
In particular, he claims that the Minister of Justice Laliyeva was not present during the reprisals against the prisoners.
Laliyeva herself continues to insist that the demands of prisoners are unfounded. She considers her decisions and the actions of special forces legal. Most deputies continue to insist on unlawful and illegal actions by Justice Ministers Zalina Lalieva and Interior Minister Igor Naniev.
Social media reaction
In one of the most numerous Ossetian Facebook groups, ALANTAE, users mainly support the demand for the resignation of ministers. Typical comments include:
“What’s this? Fascism? How can you mock your fellow countrymen? You must be judged by everyone!”
“Has a civil war has begun?! Are these Ossetians? These are tricksters of the nation! And alas, there are many of them!”
“[The prisoners] the court has already condemned for their misconduct, and they are now serving their sentence. But nobody is allowed to beat them and act like that with them!”
However, there is support for the actions of special forces.
“Do you know everything from the inside? Each action has its own costs, violence is bad – but we have problems much more important than pity for criminals”