02/25/2010, 00.00
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In Turkmen prisons, inmates die from TB, survive on bribes

A report on Turkmenistan’s prison system by local lawyers and rights activists describes an appalling situation. Space, food and medicines are in scarce supply, but anyone with money can get alcohol, drugs, or mobile phones. In women’s facilities, inmates are often victims of sexual abuse; many seek a way out in suicide.
Ashgabat (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Turkmen prisons lack food and medicine, and inmates die of TB. However, inmates with money can get alcohol, drugs or mobile phones. In the Turkmenistan Prison Report, the Turkmenistan's Independent Lawyers Association and the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights outline a situation of widespread lawlessness and systematic abuse of prisoners’ rights in 22 institutions.

Turkmenistan has a high rate of incarceration compared to other Central Asian nations, with an estimated 543 prisoners per 100,000 citizens against 348 for Kazakhstan, 285 for Kyrgyzstan and 80-90 for the European Union.

Many crimes are caused by social problems like 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 stated. One result is that "Turkmenistan's prisons and colonies house over three times the number of inmates they are designed to accommodate”.

Most prisons receive funding that is commensurate with their officially listed capacities, not the actual number of inmates. Thus, "inmates are not only deprived 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."

Not surprisingly, "Overcrowding results in the fast spread of virulent diseases, from light forms of flu to aggravated forms of tuberculosis."

Mortality rates among inmates are comparatively high. A facility known as LBK-12, the mortality rate is 5.2 per cent, one inmate out of 20.

Due to the harsh climatic conditions, overcrowding, the fact that prisoners diagnosed with TB [. . .] are kept together with healthy inmates, [along with] scarce supplies of food, medications and personal hygiene products,” a facility known as LBK-12 has “the highest mortality rate of 5.2 per cent among the country' penitentiary facilities," the report said.

Another problem is corruption. Inmates must pay 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,” the study indicated. By paying bribes, “an inmate can obtain items which according to the rules are forbidden in penitentiary facilities—for instance, cell phones, alcoholic beverages, drugs and many other things.”

In the women's colony DZK/8 in Dashoguz, more than 2,000 prisoners are housed in a building designed for 700. Instead of four inmates per cell, there are 12-14.

“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 said.

Whilst 80 per cent of the prison population at DZK/8 is made of women convicted in drug-related cases, the facility also houses juvenile offenders.

For the authors of the report, a solution to the problem would require adequate funding and checks by independent international authorities.

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