“I repent of my actions, and swear that if I am released I will never break the law again.” All the prisoners in AH-K/6 strict regime camp in the southern city of Tejen have been told to write pretty much carbon copies of this letter.
Observers in the country cannot recall anything similar for at least four years. The reasons for the letters are a matter of speculation. Sources told Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN) that these letters of repentance will be clipped on each prisoner’s personal file and will be considered when prisoners are selected for amnesty. An amnesty is expected to be announced on the eve of the Novruz holiday, March 21.
No similar reports have come in yet from other Turkmen prisons.
“We hope that this time there will be a major amnesty, because the country’s places of detention are overcrowded,” the father of one of the Tejen detainees told ATN. “There are some 1,200 prisoners in Tejen, though the institution has capacity for no more than 700.”
The relatives of prisoners are encouraged by the news of the collection of letters of repentance.
“When Western diplomats visited the camp, we saw their visit as a positive sign,” the source said. “We thought that if they’ve allowed in foreigners, they must realize that the diplomats will keep an eye on the institution in future too.”
The diplomats’ visit on November 6 last year was probably a box-ticking exercise. They were not allowed inside to look at the barracks and other premises in the camp. They just walked around the residential zone, and that was the end of the visit. The diplomats did not even try to speak to the prisoners. Anyway, before the visitors arrived the prisoners had been told to speak amongst themselves only in Turkmen and pretend not to understand Russian.
ATN has often written about the condition of Turkmen prisons in general and the Tejen strict regime camp in particular. Conditions improve after every publication, sources said, although the problems remain. And one of those is corruption, which permeates the entire management hierarchy at the camp, from the warders to the head of the prison.
Meanwhile, two cases of suicide occurred in the colony in the past month: one prisoner hanged himself, and the other cut his veins. The reasons for the suicide have not been reported.