Tremendous crowding and shortages in Turkmen prisons mean that too many who go in never come out.by EurasiaNet 24 February 2010
In the first report of its kind, rights activists have documented a wide variety of abuses in Turkmenistan’s prison system, which the report portrays as a spawning ground for serious diseases.
Watchdog groups perennially rank Turkmenistan as one of the world’s foremost human rights abusers. But the closed nature of the Turkmen political system hampers outsiders from getting a full picture of the country’s authoritarian system.
The Turkmenistan Prison Report, prepared by Turkmenistan’s Independent Lawyers Association and the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, outlines systematic rights abuses in 22 institutions. It also shines a light on one of the key aspects of Turkmenistan’s state security apparatus. The source of many problems connected with the penal system is overcrowding, the report found.
"Turkmenistan’s prisons and colonies house over three times the number of inmates they are designed to accommodate," according to the report, which was released earlier in February. "This implies that the inmates are deprived not only of freedom, but also of adequate nutrition, rest, and personal hygiene. In fact, penitentiary facilities have been turned into places where people are not able to preserve their human dignity."
The report goes on to note that most prisons receive funding that is commensurate with their officially listed capacities, not the actual number of inmates. Thus, prisons experience persistent shortages of just about everything needed by inmates.
"Imprisoned individuals do not get access to proper nutrition, recreation, bathing, and toilet facilities," the report continues. "Overcrowding results in the fast spread of virulent diseases – from light forms of flu to aggravated forms of tuberculosis."
Turkmenistan, compared with even its Central Asian neighbors, has a high rate of incarceration. For every 100,000 citizens, there are estimated to be 543 prisoners. Crime can be linked to a series of "prevailing social conditions" including unemployment, limited opportunities for young people, and drug use.
"Turkmen authorities do not acknowledge the high unemployment rate and consequently no measures are being undertaken to lower it," the report states.
Not surprisingly, mortality rates among inmates are comparatively high. The report identified a facility known as LBK-12, or the minimum security regime colony in Lebap Province, as having the deadliest reputation in the country. One of every 20 inmates who enters LBK-12 does not leave, the report estimates.
"Due to the harsh climatic conditions, overcrowding, the fact that prisoners diagnosed with TB and skin diseases are kept together with healthy inmates, [along with} scarce supplies of food, medications, and personal hygiene products, the institution reports the highest mortality rate, of 5.2 percent among the country’s penitentiary facilities," the report states.
Corruption is rife throughout the prison system with inmates paying off guards and administrators in order to gain visiting rights and food from outside. "Without paying a bribe via family members, prisoners cannot get access to things envisaged by the law, for instance work or parcels from relatives," the report states. "At the same time, by paying a bribe to a security guard or staff member, an inmate can obtain items that according to the rules are forbidden in penitentiary facilities – for instance, cell phones, alcoholic beverages, drugs, and many other things."
The report also details conditions at the women’s colony DZK/8 in Dashoguz, where more than 2,000 convicts are housed in a building designed for 700. Instead of four inmates per cell, there are 12 to 14. "Cases of beating and rape of the inmates by the colony staff, the use of torture and psychological pressure are rampant. Such treatment of inmates results in frequent suicide attempts among the prison population," the report says.
Although 80 percent of the prison population at DZK/8 are convicts in drug-related cases, the facility also houses female relatives of former high-ranking officials, as well as juvenile offenders.
The authors of the report conclude by urging the Turkmen government to adopt international standards for prisons. To start, authorities should "provide funding to the penitentiary facilities based on the actual number of inmates rather than the estimated capacity," the report recommends.