Turkmenistan’s political model appears far more fragile than the record after twentyfive years of independence might lead one to believe.
Twentyfive years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan holds the title of the most authoritarian of all former Soviet states. Saparmurat Niyazov, the country’s last Soviet and first postSoviet leader, created a political system based on repression and hydrocarbon wealth. He used the proceeds from Turkmenistan’s vast natural gas reserves to finance an internal security apparatus, an omnipresent propaganda machine, and a measure of material wellbeing for the population through deep subsidies for the basic necessities of life.
OSCE Permanent Council No 1129, Vienna, 26 January 2017
The European Union reaffirms its strong commitment to the prevention of enforced disappearances, which constitutes a serious violation of human rights that guarantee, inter alia, the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The European Union is concerned about reports that Mr. Tirkish Tyrmyev, former Head of the State Border Service of Turkmenistan, died in prison on 13 January 2017.
Mr. Tyrmyev was one of the first victims of enforced disappearances about whom we learnt of in Turkmenistan and one of its most prominent victims. According to reports by the campaign “Prove They Are Alive!”, he had been subjected to complete isolation, torture and ill-treatment during his 15 years of imprisonment. We therefore call on the Turkmen government to thoroughly investigate the circumstances of Mr. Tyrmyev’s death and the accusations of torture in Turkmen prisons.
Reports by non-governmental organisations indicate that the case of Mr. Tuymyev is one grave example in a broader pattern. The Prove They Are Alive! campaign has documented 88 cases of enforced disappearances in Turkmenistan’s prisons from the early 2000s and is investigating over a dozen more from the same period, signalling a long-standing serious and systemic violation of international standards and commitments. In the past 13 months alone, the campaign has documented the deaths of four of those disappeared persons in the Turkmen prison system.
The European Union welcomes the fact that the Turkmen Government gave permission to diplomatic missions and representations of multilateral organisations such as the Head of the OSCE Centre in Ashgabat to visit two prisons in 2015 and 2016. We expect the announced visit to Dashoguz women’s prison in the very near future. We furthermore call on the government of Turkmenistan to also allow representatives of the ICRC to visit prisons in which the so-called disappeared persons are being held.
The European Union reiterates its strong call on Turkmenistan, also made during its 8th Human Rights dialogue with Turkmenistan on 17 May last year and at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in 2016, to immediately and effectively address and eradicate the problem of enforced disappearances. The European Union reaffirms its strong commitment to the prevention of enforced disappearances, which constitutes a serious violation of human rights that guarantee, inter alia, the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The European Union has repeatedly urged all participating States, including Turkmenistan, to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and to take practical steps to combat enforced disappearances.
The European Union stands ready to continue dialogue with Turkmenistan, including on human rights issues.
Turkmenistan is among the world’s most repressive and closed countries, where the president and his associates have total control over all aspects of public life.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has called on the authorities in Turkmenistan to «immediately» release RFE/RL contributor Khudayberdy Allashov.
The UN Committee Against Torture in Geneva questions Turkmenistan over abuses in its prisons
Delegation members have not given concrete responses to all questions during the two-day meeting; they kept referring to articles of different laws. Unfortunately, what is written on paper and what’s going on in real life are not the same.
Habibov was arrested in August on charges of possession and sale of narcotics, but that might not be the reason he ran into trouble with the law.
Investigate Abduction; Ensure Family’s Safety
Turkmen authorities should investigate the suspicious death of the brother of an exiled dissident journalist from Turkmenistan, Human Rights Watch said today.
Altymurad Annamuradov died on September 4, 2016, four days after he was kidnapped from his home in Turkmenistan and beaten by unknown men.
Altymurad Annamuradov, 52, was kidnapped while his brother, Chary Annamuradov, was in detention in Belarus under a Turkmen government extradition request in connection with politically motivated criminal fraud charges filed in 2000. On September 14, Belarusian authorities released Chary Annamuradov and allowed him to return to Sweden, where he was granted asylum in 2003. The death of his brother only recently came to the attention of Human Rights Watch.
“The death of Altymurad Annamuradov smacks of targeted retaliation against a political dissident,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Turkmen authorities have a long history of persecuting Chary Annamuradov and his family, and now his brother seems to have paid the price for the international scandal that surrounded the attempt to extradite Chary.”
Three of Chary Annamuradov’s brothers died under very suspicious circumstances within a year after he left the country in 1999. Altymurad Annamuradov, a father-of-five, was his last living brother.
Chary Annamuradov told Human Rights Watch that on August 31, two unidentified men in civilian clothes went to his brother’s house, told his wife they “need to talk to him,” and drove him away without further explanation.
His family had no information about his whereabouts for more than two full days. Late at night on September 2, unidentified men deposited him near his home. Relatives said that when he returned he was weak, had bruises on his face, and was in a fragile emotional state. He told his family that he was questioned about his brother, and had been brutally beaten and humiliated. He did not reveal any details about the beatings, the attackers, or where he was held, but in the hours after he was released, wept extensively because of his ordeal.
Altymurad Annamuradov died on September 4. When his relatives prepared his body for burial, they discovered bruises on other parts of his body.
Turkmen authorities should ensure a prompt, thorough, and effective investigation into the abduction, beating, and death of Altymurad Annamuradov, with a view to holding those responsible to account, Human Rights Watch said. The investigation should examine possible security services’ involvement in his kidnapping and beating and provide information to the family about the findings.
Chary Annamuradov, 58, worked as an independent journalist in the 1990s in Turkmenistan and reported on such issues as Turkmenistan’s political prisoners and ethnic minorities. He and his family faced harassment in retribution for his work, and in 1996, Turkmen police arrested him on bogus smuggling and numerous other trumped-up criminal charges. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 1997, but was released under an amnesty in 1999. He fled the country due to continuous persecution and eventually became a Swedish citizen. He continued to work in exile as a journalist for Radio Liberty’s Turkmen service, Deutsche Welle, and an opposition website, Gundogar, using pseudonyms up until 2008.
On July 19, 2016, Belarusian border police arrested him in the Minsk airport on the basis of a 10-year-old international arrest warrant. Belarusian authorities held him in custody for nearly two months before declining the Turkmen government’s extradition request.
Chary Annamuradov told Human Rights Watch that Altymurad had cirrhosis of the liver, but no other health problems that could cause an unexpected death.
Turkmenistan is one of the world’s most repressive and closed countries. The government tolerates no dissent, allows no media or political freedoms, and has driven into exile or imprisoned political opposition, human rights defenders, and independent journalists. Dissidents and often their family members are treated as criminals and are subject to internal exile, and thousands are believed to be on an arbitrary “black list” preventing them from leaving the country.
“We are extremely concerned for the safety of Altymurad Annamuradov’s family,” Denber said. “Turkmenistan’s international partners should make clear to the authorities that they will be closely monitoring the situation for the family, and seek government assurances that no further harm will come to them.”
President Berdymukhamedov is scheduled to meet Chancellor Merkel l and other leading officials in Berlin on August 29, 2016, to discuss economic ties and other issues.
Turkmenistan is one of the world’s most closed and repressive countries. The government tolerates no dissent, tightly controls all media, and arbitrarily bans people from leaving the country. It also refuses to reveal to family and loved ones the fate and whereabouts of dozens of people who were tried and imprisoned in the early 2000s.
“This is one of those rare opportunities for a world leader to stand up for those in Turkmenistan who cannot engage their own government,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Chancellor Merkel should not miss this opportunity to speak directly and forcefully about the need to end repression in Turkmenistan.”
Dozens of people, most of whom were arrested in the late 1990s and early 2000s, have simply disappeared into the Turkmen prison system. Families of the disappeared have had no official information about the fate, whereabouts, or health of their loved ones since their arrest and trial. These include former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, his brother Konstantin, and a former Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe ambassador, Batyr Berdiev. In 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Committee recognized Shikhmuradov as a victim of an enforced disappearance and stated that the Turkmen government must release him.
The international Prove They Are Alive! campaign, initiated by human rights groups including Human Rights Watch, has documented how, in a form of collective punishment, the authorities have arrested the relatives of several of the disappeared prisoners, had them fired from jobs, confiscated their property, or denied them permission to travel abroad.
Enforced disappearances constitute one of the gravest human rights violations, and are strictly prohibited in all circumstances. The victims include not only those forcibly disappeared, but also their families and loved ones, who are subjected to anguish not knowing the fate of the disappeared. In certain contexts, enforced disappearances can also amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity. The fate of those forcibly disappeared in detention should be immediately clarified, and they should be released.
In addition to those forcibly disappeared, in 2015, Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a freelance correspondent for the Turkmen language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was tried and imprisoned on bogus drug charges, and the government forced three other Radio Liberty correspondents to cease working for the service. In December, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions recognized Nepeskuliev as a victim of arbitrary detention, punished for having peacefully exercised his right to freedom of expression.
“Chancellor Merkel should urge Berdymukhamedov to free Nepeskuliev,” Williamson said. “He’s in jail merely for doing what correspondents everywhere do – trying to share information about what’s happening in his country.”
A new draft constitution under consideration in Turkmenistan does not limit the number of presidential terms in office and lifts presidential age limits, thus allowing President Berdymukhamedov to remain in power for life. The draft fails to ban censorship and uphold the right to distribute information, and contains no guarantee of freedom of movement to travel abroad. The German government should urge the Turkmen leadership not to adopt the constitution until it has been reviewed by an international expert body such as the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission or Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
The Turkmen government blacklists from foreign travel various groups of people, including students leaving for study abroad, activists, relatives of exiled dissidents, and others whom it suspects of disloyalty. The foreign travel ban is arbitrary, a form of collective punishment, and is used as a tool for political retaliation, Human Rights Watch said.
“During the communist era many people in East Germany were similarly banned from leaving the country, so this practice should resonate with Chancellor Merkel,” Williamson said. “People inside and outside Turkmenistan are counting on her to tell Berdymukhamedov that this practice should end.”
Ends 13-Year Travel Ban
(Berlin) – Turkmen authorities dropped a 13-year travel ban against three family members of an exiled dissident, Pirkuli Tanrykuliev, allowing them to leave the country on June 4, 2016, a coalition of human rights groups said today. Tanrykuliev’s daughter, Ayjemal Rejepova, and her two daughters, ages 3 and 11, were able to fly to Turkey, where Tanrykuliev’s wife awaited them.
The Turkmen government has arbitrarily banned several thousand people, including relatives of imprisoned or exiled critics of the government, from travel abroad to intimidate them and punish their family members. At times the authorities have turned the family members away at the airport or physically removed them from flights.
“Finally, after more than 13 years, Pirkuli Tanrykuliev’s family can be together,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “We hope that the Turkmen government will end its practice of arbitrary travel bans, so that other families can experience this same joy.”
Tanrykuliev is a retired doctor and medical school professor, and a former member of Turkmenistan’s Parliament. He was imprisoned in 1999 to silence his outspoken criticism of the government and prevent him from running for parliament again. He was freed in 2000, and eventually given asylum in Norway. President Gurganguly Berdymukhamedov of Turkmenistan, who is a dentist, was one of Tanrykuliev’s college students.
Soon after Tanrykuliev’s arrest, Rejepova and her husband were fired from their jobs. Law enforcement and security services subjected them to surveillance, periodically interrogated them, and tried to intimidate them. They were also banned from leaving the country.
In July 2015, Rejepova and her two daughters were barred from boarding a flight for Turkey. A migration services official told them they were banned “for life” from leaving the country, and their passports were stamped and signed “exit banned.” In summer 2014, Tanrykuliev’s brother, Doly, age 71 at the time, was removed before take-off from a flight to Turkey. He suffered a stroke soon thereafter, which his family felt was a direct result of the stress from the episode.
After the July incident, Rejepova filed an inquiry with the migration services about her travel ban. She received a written reply only after the November visit to Ashgabat by United States Secretary of State John Kerry, who had been informed of the ban. The reply, dated November 20, 2015 (on file with Memorial Human Rights Center and Human Rights Watch), merely stated that, “in accordance with findings by relevant government agencies, restrictions on your travel remain in force.”
Human Rights Watch, Memorial, and the Prove They Are Alive campaign, an international coalition to end enforced disappearances in Turkmenistan, along with other independent human rights groups, have raised Rejepova’s case repeatedly with European Union officials, in the context of the EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue, and of discussions around the EU-Turkmenistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. Human rights groups had also urged US officials to raise her case in their bilateral discussions with the Turkmen government.
On April 6, 2016, Rejepova once again wrote to the State Migration Services asking for an explanation of the legal grounds and duration of the travel ban, and which agency had imposed it. In mid-May, she received a reply stating that neither she nor her children were subject to any travel restrictions. A source close to the family said that Rejepova was so surprised by the written reply that she went in person to the State Migration Service to receive oral confirmation.
In September 2015, Turkmen authorities also allowed Geldy Kyarizov, a prominent horse breeding expert who fell out of favor with the government, to leave the country, after banning him numerous times from foreign travel. The authorities allowed his teenage daughter to leave a week later.
Freedom of movement is guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Turkmenistan ratified in 1997.
“Allowing Rejepova and her children to board the plane is the only right thing for the authorities to have done,” said Vitalii Ponomarev, Central Asia program director at Memorial Human Rights Center. “Turkmenistan’s international partners should consistently remind the Turkmen government that freedom of movement is a fundamental right, and urge the Turkmen government to end all its travel bans and allow those on the ‘black lists’ to travel abroad.”