Red Cross team visits Turkmen prisons

A DELEGATION from the International Committee of the Red Cross has visited prisons in Turkmenistan in a landmark development for the nation.

Turkmenistan’s authoritarian government has long been criticised for refusing international access to inmates in detention.

While the ICRC provided no details on its findings from last week’s visit – to an interior ministry-run jail and a prison currently under construction – the prison tour appears to represent a breakthrough following a series of meetings.

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Foreign-based Turkmen rights activists say the country’s jails are overcrowded and that disease is rife. Authorities are believed to routinely imprison dissidents.

After coming to power in 2006, president Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov promised democratic reforms. Critics say those promises have not been kept.

In March, the UN Human Rights Committee decried what it said was an increase in reports of torture and ill-treatment in places of detention.

In an effort to dampen criticism, Mr Berdymukhamedov has promised largely token measures to reduce overcrowding, including cutting maximum sentences. But with virtually no public scrutiny of government policy permitted, it is unclear to what extent those measures have been adopted.