Strasbourg, 26.11.2009 Ė The Council of Europeís Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has published today the report on its ad hoc visit to Azerbaijan in December 2008, together with the response of the Azerbaijani Government. These documents have been made public at the request of the Azerbaijani authorities.
During the visit, the CPTís delegation reviewed the situation at Gobustan Prison (previously visited by the CPT in 2005 and 2006). The delegation received several credible allegations from life-sentenced prisoners of deliberate physical ill-treatment and excessive use of force by prison officers. In their response, the Azerbaijani authorities indicate that staff at Gobustan Prison have been instructed to apply physical force and special means only in exceptional circumstances determined by law.
In the units for lifers, the delegation observed some improvements to material conditions. However, life-sentenced prisoners continued to spend 23 hours a day locked up in their cells, without being offered any form of organised activity. The CPT has called upon the Azerbaijani authorities to take steps to devise and implement a comprehensive regime of out-of-cell activities for life-sentenced prisoners. Further, the Committee has stressed once again that it can see no justification for keeping life-sentenced prisoners apart from other prisoners. The authoritiesí response makes reference to plans to set up workshops and sports facilities at Gobustan Prison, as well as to enable inmates to receive education.
During the 2008 visit, the CPTís delegation also carried out a visit to the Central Penitentiary Hospital in Baku. It found that nursing staff resources were insufficient and that no health-care staff were present in the wards after 4 p.m. Further, the delegation gained the impression that the treatment provided at the hospitalís internal diseases, narcology and psychiatry wards left a lot to be desired. The CPT has recommended that a thorough assessment of the hospitalís health-care services be carried out. The authoritiesí response refers to various training courses for health-care staff of the hospital and the involvement of experts from the Ministry of Health in the treatment of prisoners.
At the Republican Psychiatric Hospital No. 1 in Mashtaga, the CPTís delegation heard a number of allegations from patients of occasional physical ill-treatment, mostly by orderlies and occasionally by nurses. Living conditions in the wards which had already been refurbished were on the whole acceptable, but conditions in the non-refurbished wards were very poor. The worst situation was observed in Ward 12, conditions in the wardís two isolation rooms being particularly bad.. According to the authoritiesí response, a refurbishment of Ward 12 has been launched and the isolation rooms have been abolished.
As regards the Regional Psycho-Neurological Dispensary in Sheki (previously visited by the CPT in 2006), the delegation observed a number of positive changes. That said, the dormitories remained overcrowded, dilapidated and impersonal, and lacked privacy. The response refers to a decision to move the dispensary to a new hospital to be built in Sheki region.
More generally, the CPT has recommended that steps be taken at psychiatric establishments to adopt a policy on the use of means of restraint, and that the recording of information on the use of means of restraint be improved. Other recommendations made by the Committee concern the legal safeguards in the context of involuntary hospitalisation and the setting up of a system for regular visits to psychiatric establishments by independent outside bodies responsible for the inspection of patientsí care.
The CPTís visit report and the response of the Azerbaijani Government are available in English on the CPTís website: http://www.cpt.coe.int