Just a year ago 6,000 inmates in several Czech prisons, were involved in hunger strikes and other protests over prison conditions. Their complaints focused on serious overcrowding, some facilities were holding almost twice as many prisoners as they should. Detainees' demands for staffing changes were officially rejected by the Prison Service and the Ministry of Justice, yet improvements have taken place following those protests - or did they. Just last Monday prison officials were faced with yet another hunger strike protest. Nicole Klement has more....
Despite last years changes to the prison system, Monday saw 200 prisoners, from the former Soviet Union who are presently serving their sentences in the Czech Republic, start yet another hunger strike. They are protesting alleged repeated violation of their rights and the strict Czech prison regulations. Since Monday the number of prisoners participating in the protest has dropped to half with 140 prisoners still fasting.
The protests were sparked by an altercation between a prisoner and a guard on Monday in the Valdice Prison. Apparently a Ukranian prisoner who was supposed to sweep the floor refused this duty and when reprimanded, retaliated by attacking a prison guard with a broom.
I spoke briefly with first deputy director of the Czech Prison Service, Mr Burkevic, about the situation in Czech Prisons.....
"Yes we are having problems with foreign prisoners from countries of the former Soviet Union. We have about 183 Russian speaking prisoners in Czech facilities and actually 140 of them are in a hunger strike. We have this problem in only three of the 34 prisons, they are protesting about conditions in Czech Facilities. In spite of the protests there is quiet and order in all Czech prisons and facilities."
In view of the previous protests, Mr. Burkevic's announcement that all is well in Czech Prisons at the moment comes as a relief. There are 21,000 prisoners in custody in the 34 Czech prisons, around 200 of them are from the former Soviet Union. Czech law permits foreign convicts to choose whether they would like to serve their sentence in the Czech Republic or in their country of citizenship. According to media reports Soviet prisons are horrendously overcrowded. Cells built to house 30 people in some cases have up to 90 people living in them and prisoners often have to take turns sleeping in the available beds. In some cases space is so limited that each prisoner is allocated a mere 0.2 square meters of floor space. Though Czech prisons are also overcrowded, the severity is nowhere near that of Soviet prisons. This year their capacity was exceeded by only 7 percent as compared to last years 18 percent. And so, it is no wonder that so many Russian speaking prisoners choose to serve their time in Czech prisons.