14 july 2020

Central Asia news

The Turkmen authorities cover up the traces of the Serdar's crimes

02.02.2007 17:19 msk

Die Deutsche Welle

Human Rights Turkmenistan

Turkmenbashi's Ovadan-Depe. Photo from Dogryyol

Sources in Turkmenistan claim that the authorities launched some reforms in the penitentiary system (including mental hospitals for political prisoners) and even ordered several buildings of Ovadan-Depe, the worst jail in all of the country, torn down.

Die Deutsche Welle also reports that the Turkmen Security Council (the new leadership) "does not even rule out the possibility of aa revision of political prisoners' sentences in order to weaken the pressure applied by international human rights organizations and the West in general."

What information is available to Ferghana.Ru, however, indicates that drawing conclusions on the coming liberalization will be a mistake. What is happening in this post-Soviet country nowadays may be regarded from the standpoint of and as preparations for the election scheduled for February 11, but it may also be regarded as something altogether different. In any case, substantial proof of the "changes for the better" is needed.

For example, the rumors on liquidation of Ovadan-Depe, the prison all but isolated from the world, began circulating as soon as Saparmurat Niyazov's death was reported. What experts Ferghana.Ru approached for comments say that the rumors were stipulated by the expectations of changes on the one hand, and initiated by the new authorities themselves on the other. These latter were making use of the opportunity and playing on the expectations of the reforms - first and foremost, for the benefit of the West.

When told of the Turkmenbashi's demise (it happened on December 21), Ovadan-Depe inmates staged a riot - incited by recent prisoners who had not yet lost the will to resist and the hope for release upon the Serdar's death.

Insiders say that the prisoners were screaming "God damn you, Turkmenbashi! May you rot in Hell!" but the prison administration called for reinforcements and the riot was brutally crushed. Some prisoners were killed in the process. The authorities immediately orders some prisoners' transfer to other prisons and colonies (at least three have been identified).

Steps were taken to prevent any more leaks on what was actually happening within Ovadan-Depe. First and foremost, the blackout concerned the so called "special blocks" and closed-circuit video systems. Some of the latter were dismantled in case it proved necessary to permit the representatives of the international community to visit the prison. (The authorities would speak of "the myth of Ovadan-Depe" afterwards.)

The Turkmen leadership is facing two problems at this point: witnesses of the riot (prisoners themselves and wardens), and the prisoners who "disappeared" without a trace. Something has to be done about both problems.

That the prison in question is not going to be torn down for good is clear. Closing it, the authorities will encounter the necessity to answer some nasty questions (who built it in the first place, who outfitted it, who designed and carried out the "special treatment" regime, and so on).

Moreover, it is certainly wrong to believe that what is happening in Turkmenistan nowadays is some kind of a "post-Soviet 1953". Times change, but the essence of the regimes like the Turkmen one never changes. Moreover, a stiffening of the security regime was ordered for "ordinary" prisons in Turkmenistan. Their inmates are mercilessly punished for violations of the regime and even for passing down rumors now.

Turkmenbashi's Ovadan-Depe

Ovadan-Depe stands for "Picturesque Hill". This is prison for 150 inmates built on Niyazov's orders for his enemies - opposition activists and even senior state officials whose political influence was making the dictator uneasy. The prison is located 70 kilometers to the north of Ashkhabad, in the Kara-Kum. Niyazov personally designed the prison and monitored its construction. When the prison was built, he took a helicopter ride to Ovadan-Depe to make sure that everything had been done according to his wishes.