Turkmenistan is building a new women’s prison which it may be able to use to showcase improvements in penal conditions that will not be evident elsewhere.
The facility is being put up by a Turkish contractor close to an existing women’s prison located 100 kilometres from Dashoguz in northeastern Turkmenistan.
The new prison will contain a cellblock, a clothing factory where inmates will work, a kindergarten and school for their children, and even a shop.
If this is accurate, the new facility will be an improvement on the current women’s prison camp at Dashoguz, built by the Soviet authorities in 1967.
The Independent Bar Association of Turkmenistan based in the Netherlands says the camp was designed to house 700 inmates but now holds more than 2,000, with 12 or 14 to rooms meant for four.
Eight out of ten of the female inmates are there for drugs convictions, although others were locked up simply for being relatives of disgraced government officials.
Rights groups report that inmates are abused and tuberculosis is rife in the facility.
Vyacheslav Mamedov, leader of the Netherlands-based Civil Democratic Union, says the replacement prison looks like an attempt to repair Turkmenistan’s appalling reputation for prison conditions.
"It seems the prison will become a showcase for the Turkmen penal system – somewhere international inspections could be allowed to take place," Mamedov said. "The international community has long criticised the authorities for the disorder in the prison system, which remains closed to the outside world and is characterised by torture and brutality."
Turkmenistan has a high prison population by any standards – 550 people per 100,000 of the population, twice as many as Kyrgyzstan, for example.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a police officer in Turkmenistan said
"Lack of space means our penal institutions hold 250 per cent more convicts than they should,” he said. “This causes disease to spread. So the country needs to modernise its prison camp buildings as a priority».
This article was produced as part of News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.