Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN) has recently got word of closed prisons in Turkmenistan. The message was sent by a recently freed person, whose real name is known to ATN, but for the sake of his safety, ATN shall refer to him as Batyr. Batyr spent almost 6 years behind bars in total, the last of them in a maximum security labor camp LB-K/11 near the village of Seydi in Lebap province.
ATN chose to split Batyr’s story into three parts based on topics, as each of these topics is important and deserves special attention.
Part I. The Ministry of National Security Orders to Jam Mobile Signal in Prison Camps
Former convict Batyr told ANT that in autumn of 2014, all correctional facilities in the country received an order from the Ministry of National Security to install mobile signal jamming equipment. According to him, the order is directly related to the high-profile campaign in defense of the Baloch ethnic minority rights activist Mansur Mingelov, who was sentenced to 22 years on false allegations, and the ATN documentary “Turkmenistan: Life Behind Bars” based on the interview with another ex-inmate, Stanislav Romashschenko.
The purpose of the order is to prevent any information leakage from prisons. In some of the labor camps, the order was executed immediately. This was the case, for example, at his camp LB-K/11, while at MR-K/16 in the city of Bayramali, they only enforced the order in March of 2015. The inmates of that camp enjoyed their mobile phone privileges the longest, paying for it in cash to the camp’s management.
«In the end, all of the camps were left without communication with the outside world,» Batyr said.
According to the ex-prisoner, in an effort to prevent information leakage, camp administrations, at the request of the Ministry of National Security, also began listening in on inmate conversations with their visiting relatives. All conversations are recorded during visits to the inmates, who are designated as “unreliable” in the camp records. This applies primarily to inmates of foreign nationality, as well as local Balochis, Uzbeks and other ethnic minorities, who, unlike the Turkmen, are likely to demand respectful treatment, and try to defend their rights as far as possible in prison conditions.
Conversations during family visits are listened to and recorded using bugs and miniature voice recorders. They even eavesdrop on conjugal visits.
«It goes like this: in advance, that is, before the couple enters the conjugal visitation room, «cops» [prison guards] hide eavesdropping devices under the nightstand or the bed, and take the bugs out in the morning. They are black transmitters the size of a matchbox, with iron casing. On the sides, they have USB slots, LEDs, and an audio output,” Batyr said.
ATN reminds that international human rights and humanitarian organizations still cannot get permission to visit the prisons in Turkmenistan. In some cases, like in 2014, the government of Turkmenistan showed a local prison to foreign diplomats, representatives of the OSCE and the International Red Cross. However, foreigners’ access is limited only to the new female prison camp DZ-K/8. Correctional facilities that are of particular interest – the prison AH-T/2 («Ovadan-Depe»), for example, are still out of reach for international observers.
Cellmate Tells on Camera about Fate of Activist Nepeskuliev in Turkmen Prison
A man who shared a prison cell with Turkmen journalist and civic activist Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, sentenced to three years in July 2015 on false charges of illicit trafficking of drugs, has spoken on camera to Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN)
Thus, nowadays, all information about what is happening behind the barbed wire comes from the released inmates. It is thanks to people like Stanislav Romashchenko, Yerik Supushev, and now Batyr, that the international community is able to get news from the prisons. And as hard as the authorities try to keep everything under wraps, there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.
The situation in Turkmenistan prisons is a major concern among international human rights organizations, in particular, the way the prison staff treats the inmates, and the inability of relatives to get information about the fate of their incarcerated family members. This was one of the issues discussed at a meeting of human rights activists with the European Parliament deputies on May 3.
In subsequent articles about prisons, Alternative Turkmenistan News will talk about abuses by the prison camp management, including the beatings of inmates, total corruption, and the cases of inmate deaths from tuberculosis and cardiovascular diseases.