Improving prisons and reintegrating ex-prisoners in Tajikistan

Improving prisons and reintegrating ex-prisoners in Tajikistan

After I was released I had no friends. But now I have a lawyer and a psychologist, and I see them as my friends.

Ismoil

CONTEXT

The Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law (BHR) in Dushanbe is an EU-funded initiative implemented by the German adult education association (DVV International). The project operates in four Tajik cities, providing free legal and psychological counselling for former convicts. It also refers clients to centres providing treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, a common problem among ex-prisoners. It works to improve the capacities of prisons, targeting both prison staff and convicts in Nurek Women’s Prison, with the aim to improve conditions in prison and to prepare them for life on the outside.

OBJECTIVES

  • To contribute to the realisation of social, economic and cultural rights for one of the most disadvantaged group of the population: female prisoners and ex-prisoners.
  • To expand access to and availability of education through vocational skills development trainings, civic education and personal development programmes for the female prisoners in Nurek and ex-prisoners of both genders in Dushanbe, Khorog, Khujand and Kurgantube cities.

RESULTS

  • With EU funding, the German NGO DVV International has delivered legal and psychological counselling for 600 ex-prisoners.
  • Services are provided in the cities of Dushanbe, Khorog, Khujand and Kurgantube.

FACTS AND FIGURES

  • The project provides vocational skills, civic education and personal development programmes in Nurek Women's Prison.
  • The project also works to improve the capacities and sensitization of prison staff.

TESTIMONY

Chance for a new life outside of the prison

Ismoil*, a 41-year-old man, sits in a hot, sunlit room in the busy city of Dushanbe at the service desk for ex-prisoners. When Ismoil graduated from school in 1992, he got his driver’s licence, hoping to find work as a driver. However, that same year, the civil war started and he was forced to take up arms and fight. In 1998, when the war was over, Tajikistan was devastated and Ismoil was imprisoned for having participated in the war.

During his time in prison, conditions were dismal; prisoners were tortured and those who managed to survive did so only because of the food they received from their families. Ismoil had to work in prison and spent his days blowing glass, which eventually gave him lung problems. During his 9 years in prison, Ismoil worked for 7 years and earned a total of 37 Somoni (approximately €6).

While in prison, Ismoil was visited by a group of Iranian human rights observers looking to interview former soldiers from the civil war. During each interview, prison guards were present, so no one dared speak about the conditions they were enduring in prison.

 Ismoil was released after 9 years. While leaving prison meant freedom, it also meant being unemployed. He had to deal with his lack of professional experience, education or social network to rely on. On top of that, as an ex-convict, he was an easy target for police harassment.

Through a friend still in prison, he heard of the services provided by the Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law (BHR) at the service desk for ex-prisoners in Dushanbe.

At the service desk, a lawyer and a psychologist are at hand to provide their services for ex-prisoners. Zarrina Alimshoeva, the centre’s psychologist, says that clients who come to her are often traumatised, afraid and lack self-esteem. The centre combines psychological support with legal advice, if requested.

For Ismoil, the services of Zarrina and her colleague changed his life. "When I came to Zarrina, I felt like I could stretch my wings. Whenever I face any challenges, I pass by or call them", says Ismoil.

The lawyer at the centre has managed to help Ismoil deal with groundless indemnity claims from authorities and Zarrina has helped him restore his self-confidence.