21 prisoners slash arms at Russian prison camp

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Twenty-one prisoners deliberately cut themselves overnight on Monday in a protest at a prison camp in Russia's Chelyabinsk region in the Ural mountains, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

"On December 6 and 7, 21 detainees slashed their arms in Camp No. 2 in the Chelyabinsk region. All of them received medical help," the regional prosecutors said in a statement.

The spokesman for the regional prison service, Alexander Bushuyev, told AFP that the prisoners' lives were not in danger.

He dismissed the protest as an anarchic rebellion against prison rules.

"The prisoners did not want to follow regulations," he said. "They did not put forward any demands."

The Foundation for the Defence of the Rights of Prisoners confirmed the incident to AFP, saying that it was apparently sparked by ill-treatment of prisoners.

"It's a protest against the behaviour of the prison administration," said Nadezhda Radnayeva of the foundation.

One prisoner died in May after being severely beaten in the camp and in the region as a whole, "at least three prisoners have been killed since the beginning of the year," Radnayeva said.

Despite penal reforms getting underway in Russia several months ago, "the complaints of mistreatment are growing more and more numerous," Radnayeva said.

To attract attention to their problems, prisoners have self-harmed, slashing their veins, sewing up their mouths, or even swallowing nails, she said.

Four prisoners were clubbed to death in camps in 2008 and NGOs at the time accused the prison authorities of blocking an independent inquiry into the causes.

Russian prisons are overcrowded and known for the brutality of their staff. In June 2005. several hundred prisoners self-harmed in a camp in the south-west town of Lgov to protest against abuses by guards.

© 2010 AFP

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