Inmates of Armenia’s largest prison and other penitentiary institutions rioted for unclear reasons on Thursday evening.
In a late-night Facebook post, Justice Minister Rustam Badasian said that the “manifestations of disobedience” were swiftly put down by prison administrations subordinate to the Armenian Ministry of Justice.
“At the moment the situation is under the Ministry’s control, there is no [further] disobedience,” he wrote. “In case of possible [violent] developments actions commensurate with the situation will be taken within the bounds of my powers.”
Badasian did not say whether any prisoners or prison guards were injured in the violence. Nor did he give any reasons for the violence.
According to media reports, the protesting inmates of Yerevan’s Nubarashen prison and several other jails resisted government efforts to root out underworld rules that have long regulated prison life in Armenia, Russia and other ex-Soviet states. They were particularly angered by a crackdown on so-called “zone overseers” named by crime bosses, said some media outlets.
Last week, the government approved a bill aimed at eliminating what it describes as a “criminal subculture” in Armenia. It would criminalize the creation of and membership in groups “carrying a criminal subculture” and outlaw underworld ranks granted to crime figures.
Holders of the highest of these ranks are known as “thieves-in-law” in the former Soviet Union. The latter lead “overseers” of criminal activity in prisons or various regions of a country.
Under the government bill, anyone receiving or granting such ranks would face between seven and ten years’ imprisonment. Having ties to such individuals would also be deemed a criminal offense.
Artur Sakunts, a human rights activist, on Friday hailed the government’s stated efforts to end the unofficial prison and underworld rules. He expressed confidence that the crackdown will be successful.
“Nobody can expect to be in a privileged position by virtue of being a representative of a criminal subculture or the underworld,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “This is not going to happen.”