Record number of prisoners start hunger strike in Estonia

  • 2000-12-07
TALLINN (BNS) - Nearly 2,000 inmates in five Estonian prisons went on a hunger strike Dec. 1 to protest the new detention law, the largest such action by prisoners since Estonia's regained independence.

The prisoners are protesting against the new detention law which bans parcels to inmates and establishes a 50 percent deduction from inmates' personal funds, including money sent from outside, toward victim compensation.

Previously only the money earned by the inmates was subject to such deductions. Officials also say the ban on parcels was imposed to prevent drugs and other illegal items from entering prison.

The number of inmates on hunger strike was biggest in the country's largest prison, Murru, where most inmates refused food in the morning. In Tallinn and Central prisons in the capital, where mostly people under pre-trial investigation but also those serving a life sentence are incarcerated, the number of those joining the action was 389 and 54 respectively, while in the prisons of Rummu and Amari the numbers were 318 and 231, a spokesperson for the Justice Ministry said.

Food made for the inmates has meanwhile been offered at soup kitchens and orphanages.

"Since it isn't known when the inmates turned weight watchers will condescend to take food again, meals have still to be made for everyone," the spokesman said. However, in Murru prison on Saturday, the second day of the strike, meals were prepared only for those who had not joined the strike.

The prisons of Murru, Rummu and Amari are all located in the small town of Rummu some 35 kilometers to the southwest of Tallinn.

The director of the Murru prison, Viktor Yeliseikin, said that while inmates Dec. 1 otherwise abided by regulations and went to the canteen in formation as required, they refused to take food.

At Murru an emergency has been declared by the prison director's order, involving a ban on visits to the sports hall and library and escorts to places of work and study.

"I predict that the strike will continue for four or five more days," Yeliseikin said on Dec.2.

Gunnar Bergvald, warden of Amari Prison promised to punish the 231 prisoners on the hunger strike unless they began to eat Dec. 4.

Bergvald has already told the prisoners, who went on the hunger strike, that if the situation does not change he will first cut out meetings for those serving long terms, the daily Postimees reported.

"Besides, we have a lot of other methods," Bervald said. "The prison directors have long been patient, but we too will gradually begin to tighten the screws."

Justice Minister Mart Rask has commented that no one is compelled to eat and there's nothing wrong in people having a pre-Christmas fast on their own accord.