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Hunger Strike in Kyrgyzstan, Castration in the Czech Republic

Plus, Prokhorov floats his "economic amnesty" scheme, and Hungary walks back central bank changes.

by S. Adam Cardais and Joshua Boissevain 20 January 2012

1. Following prison violence, Kyrgyz prisoners begin nationwide hunger strike

Inmates at 13 prisons across Kyrgyzstan have gone on hunger strike in solidarity with prisoners at the so-called No. 1 detention center in Bishkek, where a violent disturbance 16 January left dozens injured and one dead. The strikers demand respect for the civil rights of the No. 1 inmates, "and that some of the doors within the center be left unlocked so that prisoners can move around," Radio Free Europe reports.

Inside a Kyrgyz prison. Screen grab from a video by

Top penal official Sheishenbek Baizakov dismissed the demands.

"This is a jail, not a hotel," he told parliament 18 January, the day the strike began, RFE reports. "We will not unlock any doors. If they want to have a hunger strike, let it be so, but we cannot leave cells unlocked."

According to previous reports, Baizakov said the unrest at the No. 1 penitentiary began when prisoners attacked prison guards who were conducting a search of the facility. He initially denied that any prisoners were killed in the brawl, but an inmate was pronounced dead 17 January.

2. Czechs to continue surgical castration of sex offenders, concessions possible

Despite mounting pressure from human rights groups, the Czech Republic will not ban the surgical castration of sex offenders, Czech Position reports. A Health Ministry report discussed by the cabinet this week calls for testicular pulpectomy (removal of tissue inside the testicular capsule) to remain a treatment option.

Nevertheless, authorities say they will evaluate both the effectiveness of the procedure and that of other treatments. That concession follows strong pressure from the Council of Europe, a prominent European human rights watchdog, which in 2009 called on Czech authorities to end what it calls a "degrading treatment," according to Czech Position.

In Europe, the Czech Republic is one of the few countries to practice surgical castration. Czech Position reports that 85 Czech sex offenders have undergone the procedure in the last 12 years, though officials say it is not administered without the written request of the prisoner.

3. Russian presidential candidate Prokhorov announces anti-corruption plan

Mikhail Prokhorov
If elected, Russian presidential hopeful and billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov will introduce what he calls "economic amnesty" to combat corruption, he said in a recent television debate, according to RIA Novosti. Under the scheme, capital obtained under questionable circumstances during the wild privatization days of the 1990s would be legalized – no questions asked – but taxed.

"You need to give a chance to those who have stolen," said Prokhorov, whose fortune Forbes magazine puts at an estimated $18 billion. "You need to say honestly, 'Pay taxes on that has been stolen so everybody can see.’ "

Without elaborating on the scheme, Prokhorov added that he is one of Russia's largest taxpayers and is “meticulous” about filing his returns. Neither is likely to help him in March, when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is widely expected to win the presidency for a third term.

4. Hungary axes plans for central bank merger

After strong criticism and the start of legal action by the EU, Hungary will cancel plans to merge the nation’s central bank with its financial markets regulator, PSZAF, according to Reuters.  The announcement was made on 20 January by Prime Minister Viktor Orban and is expected to be the first of many concessions made to the EU over controversial moves that would increase governmental control over Hungarian institutions.

The European Commission opened legal proceedings against the country on 17 January over several laws passed by Hungary’s coalition government concerning the central bank, data protection, and judiciary. Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso gave the Hungarian government a month to address the concerns, but Orban responded the following day at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, promising that he was willing to work with the EU and repeal or change most of the contested laws. Orban said in a public radio interview that he expects to come to a “political agreement” next week when he meets with Barroso, according to Bloomberg.

In a related development, Neelie Kroes, the vice president of the European Commission in charge of formulating the bloc’s strategy for digital commerce and regulation, has asked Budapest to explain its move to revoke the frequency of a critical radio station. The country’s newly formulated media regulator gave Klubradio’s frequency to a competitor last month in a dispute over whether it held a valid contract to broadcast on that frequency.

5. Pledging pragmatism, new Bulgarian president sworn in

Rosen Plevneliev, the new president of Bulgaria, took the oath of office 19 January. In his remarks at the Bulgarian parliament to national political and cultural leaders and foreign diplomats, Plevneliev detailed his priorities, emphasizing that "his cause is for Bulgaria to become a developed European country," Balkan Insight reports.

Bulgaria's fourth democratically elected head of state, Plevneliev was nominated by the ruling GERB party and won the presidency in a runoff in October. He succeeds Georgi Parvanov.

Plevneliev has promised to be a pragmatic, nonpartisan leader, according to Balkan Insight. He will address the nation at an inaugural ceremony in Sofia on 22 January.

S. Adam Cardais is a TOL contributing editor. Joshua Boissevain is a TOL editorial intern.
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