Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN) has received a letter from relatives of inmates who serve their terms in the maximum-security prison in the city of Tejen, Ahal Province. They complain about uncontrolled violence and mayhem taking place behind the prison walls.
Specifically, the prison’s head Meretgeldy Atabaev and his subordinates regularly beat inmates who are not able to pay the so-called “tranquility tax” – a fee that they have to pay just to be left alone.
“Atabaev treats inmates who do not have money like dirt, knowing he cannot make money from them,” –relatives informed ATN.
According to the sources, the prison chief takes special interest in inmates who live in separate rooms called “keldims”, milking them for all they’re worth.
“Atabaev and his employees, supported by the “observer” — inmate who enjoys privileges in return for maintaining order on behalf of the prison administration — Husain Hasanov, relocate inmates from ‘keldims’ and sell these places back to them,” – ATN has learned. If they cannot pay, they sell these places to those inmates who can.
Relatives report that it costs $5000 to buy back the spot in a “keldim”. The money goes directly to prison head, the “observer” and his associates Rovshen “Gok” and Hydyr Garaev. Rovshen “Gok” is originally from Boldumsaz district of Dashoguz region. He was imprisoned more than 10 years ago for various crimes, including premeditated murder.
Currently the camp hosts about 1000 inmates, although its original capacity is not more than 400 people. Due to the inflow of prisoners, new barracks were built in the camp in the last two years. Satellite pictures from 2014 and 2016, reviewed by ATN, show that the new living quarters were added to the old premises.
“A bed in one of the new barracks costs 400 manats [about $80 at the market rate or $114 at the official rate], and those who cannot pay have to live in the open air,” – sources said. Prison chief Atabaev said that in winter nothing would change.
In the new barracks new shower rooms are available, but inmates cannot use them – only the guards. The prisoners have to use the old, open-air showers, with only four taps for 1000 people.
Food is not free-of-charge, either. Inmates who cannot pay for it have to eat gruel made from “water and a couple of potatoes.”
Forced labor is also practiced in the colony, encouraged by chief Atabaev. Previously inmates who worked at local factories received salaries and could buy food or personal care products in the local prison shop. Today, all the income goes straight into the pockets of prison authorities.
The relatives also reported increased incidence of infectious diseases among inmates, mostly tuberculosis. According to the source, almost half of the inmates have TB, although only very few of them are listed in the official registry.
“We, mothers and fathers of the inmates, appeal to the honorable President to end this outrageous situation in the Tejen prison made possible through the knowledge and complicity of its head Meretgeldy Atabaev!” relatives said.