US embassy cable - 06ASHGABAT105

THE TURKMEN ARCHIPELAGO: A FORMER PRISONER RECOUNTS LOCAL PRISON CONDITIONS

Identifier: 06ASHGABAT105
Wikileaks: View 06ASHGABAT105 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Ashgabat
Created: 2006-01-23 11:48:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PHUM PREF SMIG TX
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
VZCZCXRO8710
RR RUEHDBU
DE RUEHAH #0105/01 0231148
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 231148Z JAN 06
FM AMEMBASSY ASHGABAT
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6909
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ASHGABAT 000105 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPT FOR EUR/CACEN (PERRY) 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/26/2016 
TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, PREF, SMIG, TX 
SUBJECT: THE TURKMEN ARCHIPELAGO: A FORMER PRISONER 
RECOUNTS LOCAL PRISON CONDITIONS 
 
Classified By: AMBASSADOR TRACEY JACOBSON FOR REASONS 1.4 B,D. 
 
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SUMMARY 
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1.  (C) On December 30, 2005 and January 4, 2006, Charge and 
Conoff met with Reuben Agabekyan, a former prominent ethnic 
Armenian businessman who was released in December 2005 after 
having served several years in prison on dubious charges, 
(and) who was seeking Post's assistance in helping him 
immigrate to America.  During the course of the conversation, 
Agabekyan recounted his experiences in prison: how he was 
convicted, prison conditions, alleged physical abuse and 
torture, as well as how he managed to survive.  Agabekyan 
also informed Emboffs that he had seen several high profile 
ex-GOTX officials in several prisons.  Although post cannot 
state whether or not he was guilty of any crimes, Agabekyan's 
statements provide post with a better understanding of 
conditions inside Turkmenistan's penal system.  END SUMMARY. 
 
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BACKGROUND 
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2.  (C) Reuben Agabekyan, a middle-aged ethnic-Armenian 
businessman, was a prominent businessman who imported car 
parts and tires from Turkey and the United States in the 
early to mid-90s.  He opened two businesses, one of which is 
registered in the United States.  In 1999, Agabekyan was 
driving his car and cut off another car that happened to be 
driven by then Presidential Press Secretary Kakamurad 
Baliyev.  Police soon arrested and detained Agabekyan without 
charges.  He was later charged with threatening to commit 
murder (based upon the "confession" of a neighbor who claimed 
that Agabekyan had wanted to kill somebody) and sentenced to 
one year in prison.  The authorities later destroyed one of 
his houses, confiscated his property, and convicted him of 
embezzlement, adding an additional ten years to his sentence. 
 In December 2005, his sentence was cut by four years and he 
was released.  He is currently out on parole. 
 
3.  (C) Agabekyan met with Conoff per the request of 
Armenia's Ambassador, who knows Agabekyan well (probably 
through their shared ethnicity and Agabekyan's business 
reputation).  Agabekyan repeatedly expressed fear that the 
authorities were still after him, claiming that his contacts 
in the government said that the head of the Presidential 
Security Service was personally handling his case.  He wants 
asylum in the United States, where he has several cousins. 
 
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THE TURKMEN ARCHIPELAGO 
----------------------- 
 
4.  (C) Agabekyan recalled to Conoff his experiences in 
Turkmenistan's prison system where he served time in several 
prisons, including Owadan Depe, a prison outside of Ashgabat 
considered to be one of the worst in Turkmenistan.  Agabekyan 
said that authorities sent him to Owadan Depe for six months 
in 2001 in order to force him to confess to his involvement 
in the murder of one of Agabekyan's former employees which 
occurred while Agabekyan was in prison.  During his time in 
Owadan Depe, Agabekyan said prison authorities (under the 
direction of the MNB) deprived him of food, as well as beat 
and tortured him.  Later, the prison staff subjected 
Agabekyan to electric shock by attaching wires to his ears, 
as well as attaching him to an old-fashioned wind up 
telephone that would shock him when wound. (Note: Khoja 
Adjayev, the MNB officer directing the torture, was later 
sent to prison for unknown reasons.  End Note.)  While in 
Owadan Depe, he lost over 25 kilograms and was later 
hospitalized in Tejen, where he continued to serve out his 
sentence. 
 
5.  (C) Agabekyan described prison life as being extremely 
harsh for those who did not have the means to fend for 
themselves, i.e., access to cash to bribe prison guards and 
authorities.  Using money stashed away and delivered to him 
by frequent visits by one of his common-law wives (he has 
two), Agabekyan was able to buy off prison officials who 
helped him obtain food and other items.  He said that he 
"bought his life with all the money" he brought in.  He added 
that for many prisoners, their only source of nourishment and 
sustenance are care packages from home, as the porridge 
served in prisons lacked any nutritional value. 
 
6.  (C) Throughout his imprisonment, Agabekyan saw several 
prominent former government officials who had been imprisoned 
 
ASHGABAT 00000105  002 OF 002 
 
 
by the regime. Among them were: 
 
Jurakoly Babakuliyev, Former Deputy Head of the Cabinet of 
Ministers; 
 
Said Gandimov, Former Head of the Central Bank; 
 
Imam Gandimov, Former Head of the State Bank; 
 
Anadurdi Paljayev, Former Head of InvestBank; 
 
Pukuli Tanarkuliyev, a prominent academic who has since been 
released; 
 
Parkhat Yklymov, younger brother of alleged assassination 
plotter Saparmurat Yklymov. (Both are now living in Sweden); 
 
Ashyrberdi Chukezov, former hakim (mayor) of Ashgabat; 
 
Kurban Welmuradov, former Head of the Ministry of Water 
Resources; 
 
A mid-20's nephew of presumed ringleader of the 2002 
assassination plot Boris Shikhmuradov.  The nephew was 
described as being in "very bad condition." 
 
7.  (C) When asked if he would be willing to provide the 
names of those prison officers involved in abusive acts 
against prisoners, Agabekyan, visibly nervous, demurred, 
noting that those perpetrating such acts were "marked men" 
already.  Those who could manage to leave Turkmenistan would 
most certainly be targeted by relatives of those they abused, 
adding that he himself relished the idea of meeting one of 
his tormentors.  Interestingly, he said that by and large, he 
got along well with most prison officials, mostly because of 
the bribes he paid them to ensure his well-being in prison. 
 
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COMMENT 
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8.  (C) There is no way for us to ascertain the true cause of 
Agabekyan's legal woes as corruption is endemic in 
Turkmenistan's business circles, as is the regular 
imprisonment of those who have fallen afoul of the regime. 
Armenian Consul Artak Kalachyan told Conoff that Agabekyan 
may very well have upset someone in the regime over some of 
his business activities, and that his problems were in no way 
politically related.  However, Agabekyan's commentary about 
his experience in several of Turkmenistan's prisons provides 
us with a rare and disturbing snapshot of what life is like 
"on the inside."  As the GOTX continues to refuse prison 
access to foreign embassies and international agencies, 
chance encounters like this one will continue to serve as our 
only insight into Turkmenistan's penal system.  END COMMENT. 
JACOBSON 

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