Prison conditions remained harsh, and some prison conditions were life threatening, despite continuing prison infrastructure improvements. Overcrowding, inadequate nutrition, deficient heating and ventilation, lack of water, and poor medical care combined to make the spread of infectious diseases a problem.
The prison population numbered approximately 20,000 persons. Of these, 13.5 percent were in pretrial detention; 2.1 percent were women. Reports of rape in the prison system were rare.
According to the ICRC, the government undertook significant efforts to improve detention conditions by building new facilities and modernizing existing detention centers. During the year the Ministry of Justice assumed responsibility for an ICRC-initiated campaign to fight tuberculosis in detention facilities, a program that experts considered a model in the region.
Despite continuing infrastructure improvements, most prisons were Soviet-era facilities that did not meet international standards. Authorities limited physical exercise for prisoners as well as visits by attorneys and family members. There were few opportunities for prisoners to work or receive training. Former prisoners reported guards punished prisoners with beatings or holding them in isolation cells. Local and international monitors continued to report poor conditions at the maximum security Qobustan Prison.
The Ministry of Justice reported that 113 persons died in detention during the year, an increase from 106 deaths reported in 2010. The ministry reported treating 746 prisoners for tuberculosis, up from 497 in 2010. Tuberculosis remained the leading cause of death in prison facilities, but according to the Ministry of Justice, deaths from it decreased to 24. The government reported that the other major causes of death among prisoners and detainees were cancer (13), HIV/AIDS (six), and suicide (10).
The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported two cases of suicide in pretrial detention facilities. Authorities dismissed three officers, including the chief of one detention facility, and reprimanded another detention facility chief for negligence in connection with these deaths.
Men and women were held together in pretrial detention facilities; however, all women were housed in a separate prison facility after being sentenced. Local NGO observers reported that female prisoners lived in better conditions than male prisoners, were monitored more frequently, and had more access to training and other activities. Although minors were also supposed to be held in separate facilities, international monitors observed some children being held with adults. Prisoners had access to family visitors and were permitted religious observance. While most reported that they could submit complaints to judicial authorities and the ombudsman’s office without censorship, domestic NGOs reported that some prisoners in high security facilities had difficulty submitting complaints to judicial authorities. Prison authorities regularly read prisoners’ correspondence. Prison record keeping appeared sufficient. The national human rights ombudsman and the ombudsman for the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic received a variety of human rights complaints, including from prisoners.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that on January 26, it allocated 236,000 manat ($295,000) for the renovation of detention facilities. The ministry stated that during the year it constructed new pretrial detention facilities for the Antitrafficking Department and for the police departments of the Nasimi District and Sabunchu districts of Baku, as well as those of Absheron, Samukh, Hajugabul, Tovuz, and Guba districts. It renovated the pretrial detention facilities at the Bilajari Main Transportation Police Department and the Khatai, Binagadi, and Yasamal districts of Baku, as well as in Aghdash, Aghsu, Goranboy, Khojaly, Ujar, Bilasuvar, Barda, Gakh, Gazakh, Gobustan, Zagatala, Imishli, Yevlakh, Khyzy, Jalilabad, Shirvan, Saatly, Gabala, and Beylagan. At year’s end construction continued at the Nizami District of Baku, as well as in Sumgayit and Lankaran.
The Ministry of Justice reported that during the year it renovated prisons Nos. 4, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 16, and 17. It further reported that, at prisons Nos. 2, 5, and 16, it installed treatment facilities, fostering facilities, and heating systems. It reported the completion of five out of nine blocks at the Baku pretrial (investigation) detention facility. It started construction at the Shaki mixed regime penitentiary.
The government permitted some prison visits by international and local humanitarian and human rights groups, including the ICRC, Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), OSCE, EU (accompanied by some of its members’ missions), and Azerbaijan Committee against Torture. Since 2009 the Ministry of Justice has required the Azerbaijan Committee against Torture to obtain prior notification before visiting its facilities, but the Ministry of Internal Affairs continued to allow the committee immediate access to its pretrial detention centers. The ICRC had unobstructed access to the POWs/CIs who were held in connection with the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh as well as to detainees held in facilities under the authority of the Ministries of Justice, Internal Affairs, and National Security.
A joint government-human rights community prison monitoring group, known as the Public Committee, was able to gain access to prisons, but only with prior notification to the Penitentiary Service. On some occasions during the year, however, the group reportedly experienced difficulty obtaining access even with prior notification. Nevertheless the committee was able to conduct 22 monitoring visits, consulting with 369 prisoners.