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Posted by admin on 2005/5/20 17:55:00 (2779 reads)



“Many people are highly critical of the regime. The reason why most remain silent is usually not because they are afraid of the consequences this may have for them personally. They know that if the authorities find out they are likely to punish their entire family.”
Civil society activist, 2005

“Without the work of dissidents the international community would have no idea what is going on in Turkmenistan. There would be no hope for change.”
Civil society activist, 2005

Civil and political rights are severely restricted. Independent civil society groups are unable to operate openly and independent political parties do not exist. Religious minorities are under tight state control. Civil society activists, political dissidents, members of religious minority groups as well as their families have been subjected to human rights violations including harassment, arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, and imprisonment after unfair trials. At least one man has been forcibly confined to a psychiatric hospital solely to punish him for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. Many dissidents, members of religious minorities and their families have been forced into exile in recent years and thousands are believed to be on a “black list” preventing them from leaving the country. According to credible reports, Turkmen Secret Service agents have in many cases tracked down exiled dissidents, in particular in Russia, to silence them by way of intimidation and assaults.

The authorities have taken a series of measures to curb access to independent sources of information about Turkmenistan within the country and to prevent critical information from coming to the attention of the international community. All media is state-controlled. Turkmen journalists affiliated with foreign media outlets, that are perceived by the authorities as critical of the regime, risk being subjected to harassment, arbitrary detention, beatings and being forced to emigrate. Foreign journalists have in many cases been denied visas to visit the country. Turkmenistan remains closed to independent human rights monitors, and in the past the Turkmen authorities deported several human rights monitors. In addition, the authorities have targeted relatives of exiled dissidents in an attempt to stop those in exile from criticizing government policies and speaking out about human rights abuses in Turkmenistan.

The widespread violations of civil and political rights are not limited to those exercising or wishing to exercise their rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and religion, and their families. According to information available to Amnesty International, torture and ill-treatment are widespread, in particular in pre-trial detention, and those targeted include detainees accused of ordinary crimes. Reportedly, no one has ever been brought to justice in Turkmenistan for carrying out torture or ill-treatment. According to available information, prison conditions fall far short of international standards. Overcrowding and unsanitary conditions are said to be common and to provide a fertile ground for the spreading of diseases.

Amnesty International is also concerned that failed asylum-seekers forcibly returned to Turkmenistan might be at risk of being regarded as “traitors” simply because they left the country and applied for asylum abroad. As a result they would be at risk of arbitrary detention, torture, ill-treatment and imprisonment following unfair trials, to punish them for their actual or imputed political opinion.

Freedom of movement inside the country has been severely restricted. For example, since the year 2000 Turkmen citizens have had to obtain special permission from the police to travel to the regions bordering on neighbouring Uzbekistan. Procedures to obtain permission were tightened in September 2004 after a relative of an exiled opposition politician managed to obtain permission to enter the border regions and then fled to Uzbekistan.

Amnesty International is also concerned about serious violations of social, economic and cultural rights in Turkmenistan.

Ethnic minorities such as Uzbeks, Russians and Kazakhs are discriminated against including through dismissal from their workplaces and through denial of access to higher education. President Niyazov stated in a speech broadcast in December 2002 that in “order to weaken the Turkmen, the blood of the Turkmen was diluted in the past. When the righteous blood of our ancestors was diluted by other blood our national spirit was low… Every person has to have a clean origin. Because of that it is necessary to check the origin up to the third generation.” Over the last few years scores of senior officials belonging to ethnic minorities have been removed from their positions. Reportedly, people applying to institutions of higher education are checked to ensure that for the last three generations of their family there has been no non-ethnic Turkmen relative. It is practically impossible for anyone with a non-Turkmen relative in their family to be admitted to university.

The organization is concerned that government measures have led to a severe deterioration of the education system including through a heavy emphasis on state ideology and the President’s personality cult in the school curriculum. Mandatory education was reduced from ten to nine years in 2002. Child labour continues to be used in the cotton harvest and further reduces the time spent in school. Since 2000 classroom instruction at universities has been reduced to two years. Since 1998 no master’s degrees or doctorates have been granted in Turkmenistan. Access to study programs abroad is severely restricted. In February 2005 President Niyazov announced a large-scale closure of public libraries including all libraries in rural communities. Prima-News agency reported him as saying: “No one reads books in our country, and people don’t go to libraries. Let’s keep the Central Library and students’ libraries in institutions of higher education; everything else has to be closed.” According to the Turkmenistan Initiative for Human Rights, in early March the city library of Dashoguz in the east of Turkmenistan was closed down as well as 13 of its branches and eight libraries in the districts of Dashoguz region.

In recent years Turkmenistan’s health care system has been subjected to drastic cutbacks, with some 12,000 medical personnel laid off two years ago, and another 15,000 in 2004 who were replaced by conscripts, reportedly in an effort to cut costs. In February 2005 President Niyazov announced that all hospitals apart from those in the capital city Ashgabat should be closed saying that they were not needed as any citizen requiring health care could travel to Ashgabat and obtain treatment there. If his announcement is implemented, the health system would become not affordable to most people and inaccessible to many requiring medical treatment in emergency situations.

On several occasions the authorities forcibly evicted people from their homes for government architectural projects or to implement apparently arbitrary presidential decisions. Reportedly, little notice was given and residents received little or no compensation.

This report focuses on the clampdown on dissent and religious freedom in Turkmenistan with the aim of updating Amnesty International’s September 2003 document Turkmenistan: Clampdown on dissent. A background briefing (AI Index: EUR 61/015/2003). This report documents that the government’s clampdown has continued unabated beyond the wave of repression that followed the November 2002 alleged assassination attempt on the President.

Small steps to fend off criticism of the country’s human rights record failed to adequately address concerns raised by human rights groups and intergovernmental bodies including the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights, and the UN General Assembly in recent years.

Key to the failure to address impunity or counter the widespread abuse of human rights is the subordination of executive and legislative powers to the President, and the ruthless repression of any forms of dissent. This domination by President-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov over all aspects of life in the country is reflected in the personality cult the self-proclaimed Turkmenbashi (Father of all Turkmen) has surrounded himself with. The President’s portrait and quotations from his books and poems are omnipresent in the country. State employees, such as teachers and doctors, have to know passages of the President’s book Rukhnama (Book of the Soul) -- a core element of his personality cult -- by heart. Pupils are not admitted to university unless they successfully pass a test on Rukhnama. When prisoners refuse to swear an oath on Rukhnama, they reportedly face beatings and, in many cases, have been denied release upon completion of their sentence. Prisoners have reportedly been held in punishment cells in particularly harsh conditions for 10 days or longer after failing to recite parts of Rukhnama.

Many foreign companies appear to fuel the personality cult, for example, by presenting President Niyazov with translations of the Rukhnama in the languages of their countries of origin. The French construction firm Bouygues has been engaged in the construction of a series of monumental buildings which reinforce the President’s personality cult, such as a mausoleum in his native village of Kipchak for the December 2004 reburial of the alleged remains of the President’s parents and two brothers.

In the absence of a transparent and independent legislative branch of power, presidential statements have in the past in many cases been sufficient to result in ad hoc enforcement. In April 2004, for example, during a ceremony at Niyazov Agricultural University in Ashgabat, President Niyazov spoke out against gold teeth. The next day university staff reportedly checked the students’ teeth and told them to only return to their classes once they had had their gold crowns replaced with white ones.

Turkmenistan’s appalling human rights record is in stark contrast with its commitment to uphold key human rights principles that it made when ratifying a series of important international human rights treaties. The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), including its first and second Protocols, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Convention against Torture), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

As a member of the OSCE Turkmenistan is bound to uphold the organization’s commitments with regard to the “human dimension”, which include the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, freedom from arbitrary arrest or detention, the right to a fair trial, freedom of thought, conscience, religious or belief, freedom of movement and freedom of expression, free media and information.

As Turkmenistan pursues a policy of denying access to independent human rights monitors to the country, Amnesty International has been unable to conduct a fact-finding mission to Turkmenistan to obtain information for this report. None of the UN special mechanisms who have requested to visit the country have so far been able to do so and Professor Emmanuel Decaux, who was the rapporteur on Turkmenistan appointed by the OSCE in 2003, was refused a visa. Amnesty International is still awaiting a reply from the Turkmen authorities to its letter dated 21 December 2004 requesting to visit Turkmenistan. This report is therefore based on information published or made available to the organization by a wide range of sources including Turkmen civil society activists, journalists, exiled opposition politicians, members of religious minorities, relatives of prisoners, governmental sources, and representatives of the diplomatic community.

Scrutiny by intergovernmental organizations and Turkmen government reaction

“I am sure that if there was no reaction by the international community the situation would be much worse. International attention prevents our authorities from even more fatal excesses.” Civil society activist from Turkmenistan, January 2005

Allegations of massive human rights violations in the course of the investigation into the 25 November 2002 alleged assassination attempt on the President formed a turning point with regard to international attention to human rights violations in Turkmenistan. Shortly afterwards, 10 OSCE member states invoked the OSCE’s so-called Moscow mechanism that led to the appointment of an independent rapporteur to look into the situation in Turkmenistan. In 2003 the UN Commission on Human Rights and the UN General Assembly adopted their first ever resolutions on the human rights situation in Turkmenistan. Both UN bodies adopted a second resolution in April and December 2004 respectively.

Other international institutions also added their voices. On 23 October 2003, for example, the European Parliament issued a resolution deploring that the “already appalling human rights situation in Turkmenistan has deteriorated dramatically recently, and [that] there is evidence that this Central Asian state has acquired one of the worst totalitarian systems in the world”.

According to the European Union’s Annual Report on Human Rights 2004, covering July 2003 to June 2004, representations to Turkmenistan raising human rights violations were made. However, the report does not specify the content of the representations.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development raised concern about the “deterioration of the situation with regard to the protection of human rights and the rule of law” in its strategy on Turkmenistan adopted in July 2004.

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

In the face of the deteriorating human rights situation following the November 2002 events, on 15 January 2003, 10 OSCE member states appointed the French international law professor Prof. Emmanuel Decaux to examine human rights concerns in the context of the investigation into the alleged assassination attempt. Contrary to OSCE procedure, Turkmenistan refused to appoint a second rapporteur. It also denied Prof. Emmanuel Decaux access to the country for a fact-finding mission.

In his 13 March 2003 report based on information from a large number of independent sources, Prof. Emmanuel Decaux described the conditions in which the trials of those implicated in the November 2002 events took place as “appalling” and “in breach of all the most elementary principles of the rule of law”. He recommended that the Turkmen authorities, among other things, “[create] an independent Constitutional Court, which would be the guardian of the primacy of international law over domestic law, of separation of powers and of the review of the constitutionality of laws”; “review, either by appeal or through new trials” the “political trials” following the 25 November events; “respect … the rights of individuals belonging to civil society”; “guarantee freedom of movement inside the country and freedom to leave the country for all Turkmen nationals, as well as for foreigners”; “abandon discriminatory discourses or practices, based on a conception of ‘racial purity”; and meet the country’s obligations as a member of the United Nations (UN) and a party to many major human rights treaties, and as a member of the OSCE.

There has been a lack of consistent follow-up to the invocation of the Moscow mechanism and the rapporteur’s report. While the UN Commission on Human Rights and the UN General Assembly have passed resolutions, there is little evidence of bi-lateral diplomatic measures by OSCE participating states to ensure implementation of the rapporteur’s recommendations.

The Turkmen authorities have turned down requests by OSCE officials to meet with Batyr Berdiev, the former head of Turkmenistan’s delegation to the OSCE, who was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment on 21 January 2003, accused of involvement in the November 2002 alleged assassination attempt on President Niyazov. There were reports that Batyr Berdiev was ill-treated in detention following his arrest on 8 December 2002. Three officers of the Ministry of National Security reportedly beat him after they had attached him to a door with handcuffs. He is held incommunicado, allegedly in solitary confinement.

The Turkmen authorities turned down offers by the OSCE to monitor the December 2004 parliamentary elections. In the absence of independent political parties, the elections were won by the President’s party.

The OSCE has a presence in Ashgabat in the form of a centre which was opened in January 1999. However, the centre has been limited in its activities because Turkmenistan has still not signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), which would define the role and activities of the centre.

In July 2004 Paraschiva Badescu, Ambassador of the OSCE centre in Ashgabat since January 2002, had to leave her post after the Turkmen authorities refused to extend her accreditation for another six months. The authorities of Turkmenistan did not publish any explanation of their refusal and did not review their decision following calls by the EU and the USA to extend the accreditation of the Romanian diplomat.

United Nations Commission on Human Rights

On 16 April 2003 the UN Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution on Turkmenistan, expressing “grave concern” about the human rights situation, including “the persistence of a governmental policy based on the repression of all political opposition activities”, “the suppression of independent media and freedom of expression”, “restrictions on the exercise of the freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, “the heavy prison sentences given to objectors to compulsory military service on religious grounds […] and the lack of alternative service compatible with the reasons for conscientious objection”. With regard to the investigation into the 25 November 2002 events, the Commission, for example, deplored “[t]he treatment of accused individuals in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”, “the harassment of family members of the accused and the arbitrary confiscation of their homes and property”, the “conduct of the Turkmen authorities with regard to the lack of fair trials of the accused, the reliance on confessional evidence which may have been extracted by torture or the threat of torture, the closed court proceedings […] and the refusal to allow diplomatic missions or international observers […] access to the trials as observers.” The Commission called upon the authorities of Turkmenistan, among other issues, to “grant urgently access by independent bodies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, to the persons detained following the events of 25 November 2002”, “to ensure that those responsible for human rights violations are brought to justice”, to “remove restrictions on the activities of non-governmental organizations, particularly human rights non-governmental organizations, and other civil society actors”, and to “immediately and unconditionally […] release all prisoners of conscience”. In addition, the Commission requested several UN Special Rapporteurs, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General on internally displaced persons and on human rights defenders to seek invitations from the authorities of Turkmenistan to visit the country.

On 15 April 2004 the UN Commission on Human Rights, at its 60th session, again adopted a resolution on the human rights situation in Turkmenistan. It reiterated most of its concerns and added several new concerns, including calls on the authorities to “remove the new restrictions on the activities of public organizations … stipulated in the new Law on Public Associations adopted on 21 October 2003”.

Amnesty International was dismayed that the UN Commission on Human Rights did not review the human rights situation in Turkmenistan at its 61st session in March and April 2005. The organization was concerned that the failure to adopt another resolution to follow-up from its previous resolutions sent the wrong signal to the Turkmen authorities. It is now particularly crucial that the international community press for implementation of its previous resolutions and recommendations in a consistent and principled way, including through the General Assembly which had adopted resolutions on the human rights situation in Turkmenistan since 2003.

United Nations General Assembly

On 22 December 2003, at its 58th Session, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution by a large majority expressing “grave concern” about the country’s human rights record. Among other issues, the General Assembly called on the authorities of Turkmenistan to “implement fully” the measures set out in the April 2003 resolution of the UN Commission on Human Rights and the recommendations made in the March 2003 report by the Special Rapporteur on Turkmenistan who had been appointed by the OSCE in January 2003; to “grant immediate access [to detainees] by independent bodies, including the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as lawyers and relatives of detained persons”, and to “release immediately and unconditionally all prisoners of conscience”.

On 20 December 2004, at its 59th Session, the UN General Assembly adopted its second resolution on Turkmenistan reiterating concerns raised in its 2003 resolution as well as in resolutions adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 2003 and 2004. The resolution “express[ed] […] grave concern at the continuing and serious human rights violations occurring in Turkmenistan”.

Turkmen government reaction to international pressure

Turkmen government officials have typically bluntly denied that there were any problems regarding the protection of human rights in the country. On 11 December 2003 the first channel of Turkmen TV broadcast a speech by President Niyazov at a government meeting in which he stated “regardless who is saying what about us, here in Turkmenistan we are not oppressing people. Individual rights and liberties are well protected in Turkmenistan. Nobody is being persecuted, no private premises are being searched […] No democracy can be better than ours. Of course, there are various outsiders trying to instruct us what to do. But let them look at themselves first. We have done nothing to be ashamed of.”

Speaking at the inauguration ceremony of a paper mill near Ashgabat on 21 May 2004 President Niyazov was reported by the first channel of Turkmen TV as saying: “There is no problem here with democracy and human rights. No one is being discriminated against and no-one is being persecuted; no one is put in prison for his beliefs or political views or for criticism.”

On 23 March 2005, while Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko was visiting Turkmenistan, President Niyazov was reported by Interfax as saying that in Turkmenistan “nobody is arrested on political grounds. There is a group of several people, wanted criminals, who live abroad under the guise of refugees spreading dirty rumours.”

In reaction to the resolution adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights in April 2004, the Foreign Ministry of Turkmenistan issued a statement expressing “extreme bewilderment” at the adoption of the resolution which it termed “biased”. According to the Foreign Ministry, “there has not been a single cases (sic) of arrest or conviction on political motives or beliefs of citizens”.

Speaking before the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly on 9 November 2004, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan urged Member States to vote against the draft resolution on the human rights situation in Turkmenistan that was being debated by the Committee. He stated there “were no cases of arrest or conviction on political grounds or for religious beliefs” and that Turkmenistan had “created guarantees for the realization of personal, political, economic, social and other rights of its citizens”.

At the same time the Turkmen authorities made a number of small concessions aimed at silencing international criticism of the country’s human rights record. These measures did not address the fundamental nature of the concerns raised by human rights groups and intergovernmental bodies. However, despite the limited nature of the measures, they demonstrate that the Turkmen authorities are far from immune to international pressure.

For example, on 2 April 2003 Farid Tukhbatullin, civil society activist and co-chair of Dashoguz Ecological Club, was released following an international outcry against his imprisonment. Amnesty International believes Farid Tukhbatullin was a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely to punish him for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. The release took place approximately one month after Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, then Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, had raised Farid Tukhbatullin’s case on a visit to Turkmenistan and shortly before the UN Commission on Human Rights voted on its first resolution concerning the human rights situation in Turkmenistan (see above). Amnesty International and other organizations had called for Farid Tukhbatullin’s unconditional release. However, prior to his release, Farid Tukhbatullin had to sign a “confession”, repenting his “guilt” and promising not to engage in any “illegal activity” in the future; the “confession” was published in Turkmen newspapers the day he was released. The authorities made it impossible for Farid Tukhbatullin to continue his work as a civil society activist. For example, a senior official at the Ministry for the Protection of the Environment contacted several ecological groups and urged them “to exclude Tukhbatullin from the ecological community”; he also urged members of Dashoguz Ecological Club to exclude him from his organization. Farid Tukhbatullin had to emigrate in June 2003.

In early January 2004 President Niyazov abolished a requirement introduced in March 2003 according to which residents had to obtain government permission to leave the country. The lifting of the requirement was said to have been the result of international pressure, in particular by the US. According to the so-called Jackson-Vanik amendment, a US cold-war-era mechanism that mandates the annual review of compliance with freedom of emigration obligations, restrictions may be imposed on bilateral trade relations if compliance is deemed insufficient. In June 2004 the US extended “normal trade relations” with Turkmenistan for another year. However, the Turkmen authorities continued to prevent many dissidents and their relatives from leaving the country on the basis of an unpublished “black list” that reportedly includes thousands of names. Freedom of movement inside the country, in particular for travel to the regions bordering Uzbekistan, also remains severely curtailed.

In 2004 and 2005 the Turkmen authorities took a number of steps in response to international pressure, in particular to avoid being classified as a “country of particular concern” under the USA’s International Religious Freedom Act. Such classification can lead to the USA taking measures ranging from diplomatic protest to targeted trade sanctions. The steps taken by the Turkmen authorities included the release of six conscientious objectors in June 2004, the release of four in April 2005, the de jure loosening of previously imposed restrictions on registering religious communities, and the registration of several religious minority congregations. Amnesty International welcomed the release of the conscientious objectors. However, the organization was concerned that these steps did not indicate a policy change with regard to conscientious objection as the refusal to serve in the army on conscientious grounds remained a criminal offence. Harassment and intimidation of registered and unregistered religious minorities continued. (For further information see the chapter “Religious freedom stifled”.)

It was believed that the March 2004 releases of the writer and Radio Liberty contributor Rakhim Esenov, his son-in-law Igor Kaprielov and Radio Liberty contributor Ashirkuli Bayriev (see the chapter “Silencing independent media”), who had reportedly been arbitrarily detained, was a result of international pressure. However, Igor Kaprielov received a five-year suspended sentence, the charges against the other two men were not dropped, and the men are said to have been under close surveillance since their release. There were allegations that a key reason for the transfer in December 2004 of Annageldy Gummanov from his post as Minister of National Security to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, where he served as Deputy Minister, was to punish him for his “soft handling” of the three men’s case. (For further information see the chapter “Silencing independent media”.)

On 2 November 2004, just one week before the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly was due to debate the draft resolution on the human rights situation in Turkmenistan, the President annulled the 2003 law criminalizing activities of unregistered non-governmental organizations. However, other restrictive legislation remains in force and it continues to be impossible for independent civil society groups to function openly. (For further information see the chapter “Clampdown on civil society”.)

In its resolutions of 2003 and 2004 the UN Commission on Human Rights called on Turkmenistan to develop a constructive dialogue with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and his Office as well as to fully cooperate with all the mechanisms of the UN Commission on Human Rights. In particular, the resolutions called on Turkmenistan to “submit reports to all relevant United Nations treaty bodies and to ensure full implementation of their recommendations”. It also called upon a number of special procedures including the Special Rapporteurs on the independence of judges and lawyers; on torture; on freedom of opinion and expression; and on freedom of religion and belief, to seek invitations from the Government of Turkmenistan to visit the country.

In August 2004 Turkmenistan submitted its first to fifth overdue periodic reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in one combined report. The report is to be considered by the CERD at its forthcoming August 2005 session. In November 2004 Turkmenistan submitted its combined first and second report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In March 2005 Turkmenistan submitted its first report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC). These reports had been between six and 10 years overdue. Turkmenistan still has six overdue reports, including reports to the Committee against Torture and the (UN) Human Rights Committee.

By the time of writing the Turkmen authorities had not granted access to the country to any of the UN special procedures that had applied for invitations to visit Turkmenistan.

Securing significant improvement of Turkmenistan’s human rights record – a collective responsibility

Despite the adoption by the international community of a series of resolutions as outlined above and the invocation of the Moscow mechanism by the OSCE, Turkmenistan has not shown any political will to significantly improve its human rights record and fully implement its obligations under international human rights treaties and standards.

It is therefore crucial that the international community focuses its efforts on establishing an effective mechanism for encouraging and monitoring implementation of the recommendations for protection of human rights in Turkmenistan that would report back to both the UN Commission on Human Rights and the UN General Assembly.

Such an approach would build on the momentum created by recent reports of the UN High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, as well as that of the UN Secretary-General, “In larger freedom: towards development, security and human rights for all”, to the Millennium Summit in September 2005. Both reports stressed the need for strengthening the human rights mechanism of the UN. The High-level Panel noted in its report that the capacity of the UN Commission on Human Rights has been “undermined by eroding credibility and professionalism” and the Secretary-General has recommended that the UN's main human rights body be given a “more authoritative position”. Moreover, in her statement to the opening session of the 61st session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in March 2005, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights noted that the state continues to be the main actor responsible for realizing human rights and where a particular state is unwilling or unable to protect human rights within its jurisdiction or control, the international community bears the collective responsibility for promoting and protecting human rights.

Clampdown on political dissent

As a party to major international human rights treaties, including the ICCPR and the Convention against Torture, the country has taken upon itself, for example, to ensure that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention” (ICCPR Article 9(1)); that “everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law” (ICCPR Article 14); that “everyone shall be entitled … to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing” (ICCPR Article 14(3d)); that no one should “be compelled to testify against himself or to confess guilt” (ICCPR Article 14(3g)); and that “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression” (ICCPR Article 19(2)).

In violation of their international obligations, the authorities of Turkmenistan have subjected political opponents to several waves of repression since the country became independent in 1991. Many political opponents have been forced into exile; many have faced house arrest, arbitrary detention, imprisonment following unfair trials, and torture and ill-treatment by police and officers of the Ministry of National Security. Several of those that were later released had to publicly repent on television, promising not to engage in political activities and in many cases had to swear an oath of loyalty to the President. Reportedly, many of those who remain in the country are under close surveillance. In many cases the family members of dissidents have been targeted as well including through harassment, arbitrary detention and dismissal from their workplaces. Thousands of dissidents and their relatives are included in a “black list” of people banned from leaving the country.

The authorities have carried out politically motivated demotions, dismissals from workplaces and have imprisoned numerous senior officials in recent years. For example, the prisoner Geldy Kyarizov, former director of the Government Association Turkmenatlary (Turkmen Horses), was reportedly caught up in the clampdown on senior government officials. There are allegations that the charges against him were fabricated, and that the true reason for targeting him was that he fell out of the President’s favour. He was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment by Ashgabat city court in April 2002 on charges including “abuse of office” and “negligence”. Amnesty International is concerned at reports that his health has dramatically deteriorated due to dismal prison conditions. Reportedly, he lost 30 kilograms while in prison, suffered a heart attack, and has been denied appropriate medical treatment. He is currently held in a prison colony in the eastern town of Seydi.

Alleged coup plotters still held incommunicado

In December 2002 and January 2003 at least 59 people were convicted in unfair trials to sentences ranging between five years’ imprisonment and life imprisonment for their alleged involvement in what the authorities described as an assassination attempt on the President in November 2002; three of them were sentenced in absentia. Amnesty International received credible reports that many of the defendants were tortured and ill-treated in pre-trial detention. No investigation has been opened into these allegations and it is believed that no one has been brought to justice for these alleged human rights violations.

All these prisoners continue to be held incommunicado, without access to families, lawyers, or independent bodies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. According to unconfirmed reports, the large majority of them are held in the new maximum-security Ovadan Depe prison near Ashgabat while those sentenced to life imprisonment and possibly also those sentenced to particularly long prison terms continue to be kept in cells at the Ministry of National Security in Ashgabat. In April 2004 the Foreign Ministry of Turkmenistan informed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that no access would be granted to any of these prisoners for five years.

The lack of access heightens Amnesty International’s concern that the prisoners continue to be at risk of torture and ill-treatment. There are strong indications that at least two prisoners -- Tagandurdy Khalliev and Amanmukhammet Yklymov -- died in custody in 2003 as a result of torture, ill-treatment and harsh prison conditions. There have been allegations of further deaths. However, in the absence of any reaction by the government to any allegations of deaths in custody it has been impossible to verify such reports.

Scores of family members of government critics whom the authorities implicated in the alleged assassination attempt on the President faced detention, harassment and eviction from their homes shortly after the November 2002 events. Many of them were reportedly targeted solely because of their family relations with government opponents. Many of those released after questioning had their passports confiscated and had to sign an undertaking not to leave the city where they had been detained. Virtually all family members of those accused of involvement in the November 2002 events were dismissed from their work places. Maral Yklymova, the 26-year-old daughter of Saparmurat Yklymov, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia in December 2002, has been barred from leaving the country to be reunited with her parents who have refugee status in Sweden.

According to unconfirmed reports, four citizens of the Russian Federation -- three Chechens and one Armenian -- who were detained in connection with the November 2002 events are still being kept in detention in Turkmenistan without trial. Seven other foreigners -- six Turkish and one US citizen -- have been handed over to their countries of origin.

There were reports that the authorities have continued to target people for their alleged involvement in the November 2002 events. For example, Atamyrad Moviev, deputy Minister of Internal Affairs from 1995 to 1998, and his sons Merdan and Mergen Moviev were said to have been called to the Ministry of National Security in December 2004 to question them about the November 2002 events. Reportedly, Merdan Moviev refused to sign a “confession” statement and maintained his family’s innocence. In order to force Merdan Moviev to “confess” and extract information from him, Secret Service agents reportedly beat up and insulted his father in his presence. The three were released the same day and warned that the investigation would continue. After his release, Merdan Moviev committed suicide. Secret Service agents reportedly urged the family to tell other people he had died of a drug overdose. According to unconfirmed reports, Atamyrad Moviev was later sentenced to 14 or 17 years’ imprisonment accused of financial crimes. The circumstances of the trial and the exact charges were unknown at the time of writing.

Mukhametkuli Aymuradov: Serving tenth year in prison after unfair trial

Mukhametkuli Aymuradov, aged 59, was convicted in 1995 of anti-state crimes, including “attempted terrorism”, and sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment after a reportedly unfair trial. There were reports that the case against Mukhametkuli Aymuradov and his co-defendant Khoshali Garaev was fabricated solely to punish them for their association with exiled opponents of the government. In December 1998 both men were sentenced to an additional 18 years’ imprisonment in connection with an alleged prison escape attempt. Khoshali Garaev died in September 1999 in Turkmenbashi maximum-security prison under suspicious circumstances.

In November 2003 Mukhametkuli Aymuradov was transferred to Tedzhen prison colony in southern Turkmenistan in accordance with his verdict that stipulated the transfer to a less harsh prison regime after having served the first part of his sentence in the maximum-security prison.

However, in May or June 2004 Mukhametkuli Aymuradov was transferred back to the maximum-security prison in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk), where he was placed in a cell with 14 other prisoners who had been sentenced for serious crimes. It is believed that he was sent back to Turkmenbashi prison, where prison conditions are known to be particularly harsh, for three years. The authorities did not inform his family about the transfer and when his wife heard rumours about it and went to the prison in Turkmenbashi on 25 June she was not told the exact reasons for the transfer. Later Amnesty International was informed that while in Tedzhen Mukhametkuli Aymuradov had been accused of having violated prison rules and transferred to Turkmenbashi as a punishment. There were allegations that the charges relating to the violation of prison rules were fabricated. Reportedly, the prisoner had been extremely cautious not to violate any prison rules so as to avoid any conflict with the authorities. After his transfer his family was not allowed to visit Mukhametkuli Aymuradov for several months. His wife is now permitted to visit him for some 30 minutes four times a year. When she visits him they talk on the phone and see each other through a glass screen. Their conversations are monitored by prison guards.

Amnesty International is seriously concerned about Mukhametkuli Aymuradov’s health. He has not been receiving appropriate medical attention for health problems which have included a gastric ulcer, cholecystitis, a heart attack and recurring inflammation of the kidneys and the bladder.

Amnesty International is calling for the release of possible prisoner of conscience Mukhametkuli Aymuradov because of his poor health and on the grounds that repeated calls for a fair retrial have gone unheeded, and that there does not appear to be a prospect of his being given a fair trial.

Prisoner of conscience forcibly confined to psychiatric hospital

Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev, aged 64, was forcibly confined to a psychiatric hospital in February 2004, solely to punish him for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression. Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience and calls for his prompt and unconditional release.

On 13 February 2004 Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev was taken from his house in the village of Suvchy in the Balkan region of western Turkmenistan by some six medical personnel and another six in plainclothes. He was taken by ambulance to a psychiatric hospital in the town of Balkanabad (formerly Nebitdag), where he was forcibly confined. Shortly after his hospitalization he was transferred across the country to a psychiatric hospital located in a former Soviet pioneer camp in Garashsyzlyk district in the eastern Lebap region.

Reportedly, a commission at the psychiatric hospital in Balkanabad chaired by an official from the Ministry of Health announced that Gurbandury Durdykuliev was mentally ill. He was officially diagnosed as suffering from “wild paranoia in an aggressive form”.

On 3 January Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev had sent a letter to President Niyazov and the governor of Balkan region, urging them to authorize a two-day-long demonstration on the main square of Balkanabad on 18 and 19 February, to coincide with the President’s birthday. He wrote: “We want to carry out a peaceful demonstration […] to express our disagreement with the policies of the President and other senior government officials and urge them to rectify any shortcomings in due course […] I ask you to refrain from using force against the participants of the meeting.” Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev had earlier repeatedly criticized President Niyazov’s policies in interviews he gave to Radio Liberty, and had openly spoken about the necessity to form an opposition political party.

The first time his wife got permission to visit him was in April. One doctor, reportedly referring to instructions received from the authorities, told Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev’s wife that if she passed on information about her husband’s case to media outlets abroad she would not be allowed to visit him again. When she travelled to the hospital again at the end of October, she was not allowed to meet with him. In February 2005 she was able to see him for 10 minutes. In March, she was again denied access to him. During her visits representatives of the hospital administration have always been present.

Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev was believed to be in a poor state of health. Amnesty International learnt in October 2004 that he had a high temperature and was suffering from severe stomach ache. He continues to suffer from the aftermath of a heart attack he had had before his confinement to the psychiatric hospital.

The authorities disconnected his family’s telephone line several times in an attempt to prevent information from reaching international human rights organizations and international media.

Religious freedom stifled

> According to Article 18 of the ICCPR, that Turkmenistan is a party to, “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.”

Article 11 of the Constitution of Turkmenistan stipulates that “Everyone has the right independently to determine her or his own religious preference, to practice any religion alone or in association with others, to practice no religion, to express and disseminate beliefs related to religious preference, and to participate in the performance of religious cults, rituals, and ceremonies.”

However, religious freedom in Turkmenistan is severely restricted. From early 1997, when re-registration of religious communities was made compulsory, until 2004, only two groups -- the Russian Orthodox Church and Sunni Muslims -- obtained registration. All other religious groups such as the Adventists and other Protestants, the Armenian Apostolic Church, Baha’i, Buddhists, Hare Krishna devotees, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Jews were effectively denied state registration making them more vulnerable to government pressure including imprisonment, deportation, internal exile, house eviction and harassment.

On 10 November 2003 the authorities published several legal texts and amendments to Turkmenistan’s Criminal, Civil and Administrative Codes further curtailing the right to freedom of religion. The new law entitled “On Religious Freedom and Religious Organizations in Turkmenistan” criminalized the activities of any unregistered religious group, and violations of the laws were made punishable by “corrective labour” of up to two years or prison terms of up to one year and other serious penalties.

On 13 May 2004, in a move evidently meant to avoid being classified as a “country of particular concern” under the USA’s International Religious Freedom Act, which could lead to the USA taking steps ranging from diplomatic protest to targeted trade sanctions, President Niyazov signed a law abolishing criminal penalties for unregistered religious activities. In June 2004 the Adventists, Baha’i and Hare Krishna communities gained registration, and several months later the Baptists were registered. However, harassment and intimidation of the newly registered as well as unregistered religious groups continued. In many cases religious gatherings in homes were raided; the participants were temporarily detained and often given hefty fines. Amnesty International learnt of two cases in 2004 where members of religious minority groups were prevented from travelling abroad. According to Forum 18, a news service on religious freedom issues, both the Adventist and the Hare Krishna communities were, for several months after receiving registration, again not allowed to meet outside the houses of members of their communities for worship. Amnesty International learnt that at least one official of the Gengeshi (Council) for Religious Affairs is frequently present during the religious gatherings of the Hare Krishnas. The registered groups mentioned above have been unable to print or import religious literature and have not been permitted to receive financial support from fellow-believers abroad.

In April 2005, in response to international pressure and in order to avoid being classified as a “country of particular concern” by the USA in 2005, five more religious minority communities -- the Church of Christ, the Greater Grace Church, the Light of the East Pentecostal Church, the Full Evangelism Church, and the New Apostolic Church -- were given assurances that they would be registered.

Despite their long-standing privileged status, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Sunni Muslim communities have also been under strict state control and members of these groups have apparently also been targeted and punished when daring to express any kind of dissent. All imams in state-approved mosques are appointed by the Gengeshi for Religious Affairs. Leaders of both religious communities are instructed to promote the President’s personality cult. In response to government orders, imams have placed copies of the Rukhnama in prominent places in mosques and both imams and Russian Orthodox priests are expected to quote from the Rukhnama in their prayers. The walls of a new mosque inaugurated in the President’s home village of Kipchak in October 2004 show inscriptions of verses of the Koran alongside quotations from the Rukhnama. An inscription above the gateway leading to the entrance of the mosque reads “Rukhnama is a holy book. The Koran is Allah's book.”

Customs officials reportedly seize religious literature and religious items of all religious denominations and can only release them with the permission of the Gengeshi for Religious Affairs. However, such permission is almost never given. Reportedly, the ban on subscriptions of Russian language print media (see the chapter “Silencing independent media”) also extends to religious literature such as the Journal of the Moscow Patriarchate, the main official Russian Orthodox publication.

Religious leader Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah sentenced to long prison term

On 2 March 2004 former Mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, an ethnic Uzbek, was sentenced to 22 years’ imprisonment on treason charges by Azatlyk district court in Ashgabat in a secret trial with the first five years to be served in a maximum-security prison. He was accused of involvement in the alleged assassination attempt on President Niyazov in November 2002. The President had removed Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah from his post as chief mufti and deputy chair of the Gengeshi for Religious Affairs in January 2003.

There are allegations that the charges against Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah were fabricated and that he was targeted for expressing dissent. For example, he was believed to have repeatedly objected to the extensive use of the President’s book Rukhnama in mosques. In addition, Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah did not advocate the imposition of the death penalty on the suspects in the November 2002 alleged assassination attempt on the President while other senior officials called for the reintroduction of the death penalty. Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah’s expression of his opinion on this issue, before President Niyazov himself decided that the death penalty would not be reintroduced, could have been perceived as undermining the President’s authority. There were also allegations that one of the reasons for targeting him was his Uzbek ethnicity. The government launched a new wave of pressure on religious minorities at the end of October 2003, removing ethnic minorities from particularly influential posts and replacing them with ethnic Turkmen.

According to the international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah and other prisoners from five cells of the maximum-security prison in Turkmenbashi were beaten by Interior Ministry officers in the night from 23 to 24 May 2004 and Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah “suffered significantly”.

Arbitrary detention and alleged sexual harassment of Jehovah’s Witnesses

On 5 September 2004 two female Jehovah’s Witnesses -- Gulkamar Dzhumaeva and Gulsherin Babakulieva -- were reportedly held incommunicado overnight at a police station in Gagarin district in the town of Turkmenabad (formerly Chardzhou) to punish them for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of religion. A procuracy official reportedly called Gulsherin Babakulieva to his office at around 11pm and harassed her sexually. When she refused to comply with his demands he reportedly threatened to rape her and then hit her several times. Another man who introduced himself as an investigator was also said to have threatened her with rape. Reportedly, another procuracy official who was present throughout did not come to her aid but continued to play a game on the computer.

Continued imprisonment of conscientious objectors

Another area where conscience has clashed with the authorities in Turkmenistan is over the issue of military service, which is compulsory for men. There is no civilian alternative for young men whose conscientiously-held beliefs preclude them from carrying out compulsory military service, and those who refuse conscription face imprisonment under criminal law. According to Article 38 of the Constitution, military service is the obligation of male citizens and Article 219 part 1 of the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan stipulates that the “evasion of call-up to military service in the absence of legal grounds to an exemption from this service, is punished by corrective work of up to two years or imprisonment of up to two years”.

All cases of conscientious objectors that have come to the attention of Amnesty International in recent years have been Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose religious beliefs do not permit them to bear arms for a secular power or to swear oaths, including that of allegiance required of army conscripts in Turkmenistan.

There were allegations that Jehovah’s Witness prisoners were routinely put under pressure by prison guards to renounce their faith and that they were regularly beaten.

Turkmenistan released several Jehovah’s Witnesses in 2004 and 2005 who had been imprisoned as a result of their conscientious objection to compulsory military service. The release of six conscientious objectors in June 2004 and of four in April 2005 (see below) was believed to have resulted from international pressure and was particularly aimed at avoiding being classified as a “country of particular concern” by the USA (see above). While welcoming the men’s release, Amnesty International deplores that the government has not addressed the issue of conscientious objection in a fundamental way. Conscientious objection remains a criminal offence and conscientious objectors continue to be at risk of imprisonment.

In June 2004 Turkmenistan only released those conscientious objectors whose cases were known to the international community at the time. Later that month it came to light that the Jehovah’s Witnesses Mansur Masharipov and Vepa Tuvakov had been arrested in their home town of Dashoguz, near the border with Uzbekistan, and sentenced on 28 May and 3 June 2004 respectively to 18 months’ imprisonment for refusing military service on religious grounds.

On 17 December 2004, 18-year-old Atamurat Suvkhanov, also from Doshoguz, was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment for “evading regular call-up to active military service”. He is believed to be serving his sentence in a prison colony in the eastern town of Seydi.

On 10 February 2005, 26-year-old Jehovah’s Witness Begench Shakhmuradov from Ashgabat was sentenced to one year of imprisonment by Azatlyk district court in Ashgabat for “evading regular call-up to active military service”.

Mansur Masharipov, Vepa Tuvakov, Atamurat Suvkhanov and Begench Shakhmuradov were released under a presidential decree on 16 April 2005.

Amnesty International considers a conscientious objector to be any person liable to conscription for military service who refuses to perform armed service for reasons of conscience or profound conviction. Their profound conviction may arise from religious, ethical, moral, humanitarian, philosophical, political or similar motives. But regardless of the conscientious base to their objection, the right of such individuals to refuse to carry weapons or to participate in wars or armed conflicts should be guaranteed. This right also extends to those individuals who have already been conscripted into military service, as well as to soldiers serving in professional armies who have developed a conscientious objection after joining the armed forces. Amnesty International does not question the right of governments to conscript individuals into the armed forces, nor does it agree or disagree with the motives of individual conscientious objectors, but it urges governments that all those liable to conscription are given the opportunity to perform an alternative to armed service on the grounds of their conscience or profound conviction. Wherever such a person is detained or imprisoned solely because they have been refused their right to register a conscientious objection or to perform a genuinely alternative service, Amnesty International will adopt that person as a prisoner of conscience and call for their immediate and unconditional release. In addition, Amnesty International calls for the development of law and procedure which make adequate provision for conscientious objectors, that is for alternative service to be purely civilian in nature, of non-punitive length, and open to all with a conscientious objection whether prior to conscription or during military service.

Clampdown on civil society

Despite Turkmenistan’s obligations under international human rights law, including its commitment to ensure freedom of expression (ICCPR Article 19(2)) and freedom of association (ICCPR Article 22(1)), the authorities of Turkmenistan have severely restricted the activities of civil society activists and have made it impossible for independent civil society activists to operate openly. Civil society activists have been frequent targets of interrogation and harassment by the authorities, and have in some cases been arbitrarily detained or imprisoned. Increased pressure forced several civil society activists into exile in 2003 and 2004.

In recent years the authorities have increasingly attempted to co-opt non-governmental organizations under governmental structures; they have stepped up scrutiny of funding in relation to independent civil society groups; and have shown great resistance to registering such groups. Like in many other former Soviet countries there appeared to be more scrutiny of possible connections between civil society activists, on the one hand, and political opposition figures or foreign pro-democracy donors, on the other, following the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia in 2003 and the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine in 2004.

The authorities have in many instances prevented civil society activists from meeting representatives of foreign governments and international organizations, including intergovernmental organizations such as the UN and the OSCE on their visits to Turkmenistan. They have been warned by the Secret Service not to attend such meetings or not to address any issues that may shed a negative light on the authorities, and threatened that non-compliance would have serious repercussions. In addition, in many cases the telephones of activists were apparently disconnected throughout the time of the visit of a foreign delegation. For example, during the October 2003 visit to Turkmenistan of Martti Ahtisaari, then Personal Envoy for Central Asia of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office, several civil society activists were subjected to house arrest and the Turkmen authorities only allowed activists of groups loyal to the government to meet with him.

Following the publication on 10 November 2003 of several legal texts and amendments to Turkmenistan’s Criminal, Civil and Administrative Codes further punishing the legitimate exercise of internationally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and association pressure on civil society activists increased. The new legislation criminalized the activities of any unregistered non-governmental group, and violations of the laws were made punishable by “corrective labour” of up to two years or prison terms of up to one year and other serious penalties.

Officials of the Ministry of Adalat visited civil society activists at home urging them to stop their activities and forcing them to sign a document stating that they were members of an unregistered organization and were aware that activities in such an organization were regarded as criminal offences under the new law on public organizations. Only 14 days after the publication of the legislation, the non-governmental Dashoguz Ecological Club was closed in a court ruling by Dashoguz city court. In April 2004 the Ministry of Adalat refused to re-register the ecological group Catena which had to be closed down as a result.

In November 2004, shortly before the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly was due to vote on the draft resolution on the human rights situation in Turkmenistan, the authorities of Turkmenistan annulled the criminalization of activities of unregistered public organizations that had been introduced in November 2003. However, other restrictive legislation remains in force and it continues to be impossible for independent civil society groups to operate openly.

Sazak Begmedov is still in internal exile

On 31 August 2003 Sazak Begmedov, a 79-year-old former prosecutor, was reportedly detained by four police officers in Ashgabat and forcibly resettled to Dashoguz. He is still not allowed to leave Dashoguz. Amnesty International believes that Sazak Begmedov was targeted in connection with the human rights work of his daughter, Tadzhigul Begmedova. Shortly before the forced resettlement, Tadzhigul Begmedova had announced the formation of the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation, a human rights group in exile in Bulgaria, and had publicly alleged that two men imprisoned in connection with the November 2002 events had died in prison as a result of torture. The officers reportedly beat and kicked Sazak Begmedov on their way to the airport, where they forced him onto a plane to Dashoguz. Police accompanied him on the flight and confiscated his passport. He was instructed to regularly report to the police in Dashoguz. The head of the local police department reportedly refused to give an explanation as to why he was being resettled. The police refused to register his complaint about the beatings although Sazak Begmedov showed a medical certificate documenting injuries to his body, concussion and injuries to the kidneys. Shortly afterwards, in the night of 3 to 4 September, Sazak Begmedov had a heart attack and had to be hospitalized for more than two weeks. He was unable to receive his pension payments for several months as he was told that he could only receive the money at his permanent place of residence in Ashgabat.

Tadzhigul Begmedova told Amnesty International in January 2005 that she regularly received emails threatening her with repercussions including to cause harm to her children if she continued her human rights activity. Reportedly, several of her contacts in Turkmenistan who passed on information about the human rights situation in the country are under close survei

Posted by admin on 2005/4/22 17:57:00 (1180 reads)

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: A coalition of non-governmental organizations is calling for a death penalty-free zone in Europe and Central Asia

Open Letter

AI Index: ACT 50/012/2005 (Public)

News Service No: 100

20 April 2005

The organizations joining this appeal are unconditionally opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances in all countries around the world on the grounds that it is a violation of the right to life and that it is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. As long as the death penalty is maintained, the risk of executing the innocent can never be eliminated. Executions are brutalizing and only serve to reinforce the cycle of violence. They achieve nothing but revenge and cause anguish for the innocent relatives of those who are executed.

One hundred and twenty countries -- more than half of the countries in the world -- have now abolished the death penalty in law or practice. An average of over three countries a year have abolished the death penalty in law or, having done so for ordinary offences, have gone on to abolish it for all offences.

On 20 April 2005, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution on the question of the death penalty calling for a moratorium on executions and the observance of international safeguards in death penalty cases. We welcome its adoption and urge all countries in Europe and Central Asia that retain the death penalty to follow the Commission's recommendations.

In particular, we are calling on the relevant authorities in Belarus and Uzbekistan, whose countries are the last executioners in Europe and Central Asia, to move swiftly towards abolition by introducing a moratorium on death sentences and executions as a first step with a view to complete abolition of the death penalty in due course.

We are calling on the governments of all countries and territories in the region that currently have moratoria in place to fully abolish the death penalty as a matter of urgency.

We urge the Presidents to exercise political leadership on this issue and to do all within their remit to further the trend towards abolition in the region.

The introduction of moratoria in Belarus and Uzbekistan is particularly pressing as flawed criminal justice systems in both countries provide a fertile ground for judicial error. There have been credible allegations of unfair trials, and torture and ill-treatment, often to extract "confessions", on a regular basis. In Belarus between four and seven people have reportedly been sentenced to death and executed every year since 2000. President Islam Karimov said at a press conference in December 2004 that between 50 and 60 people had been sentenced to death in Uzbekistan in 2004. However, both governments have consistently failed to publish comprehensive statistics on death sentences and executions. The application of the death penalty in Belarus and Uzbekistan is surrounded by secrecy. As a result death row prisoners and their relatives are subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment. Neither the prisoners nor their relatives are informed of the date of the execution in advance, denying them a last chance to say goodbye. The body of the prisoner is not given to the relatives for burial and they are not informed of the place of burial.

Around 150 prisoners have "accumulated" on death row since Kyrgyzstan introduced a moratorium on executions in December 1998. Many death row prisoners have been waiting for years in a state of continued uncertainty as to their ultimate fate, which constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Kazakstan as well as the internationally unrecognized regions of Abkhazia and the Dnestr Moldavian Republic have also continued to pass death sentences.

Russia has a moratorium on death sentences and executions in place and is now the only country of all 46 members of the Council of Europe that has still not abolished the death penalty in law despite its promise upon accession to the organization to abolish it no later than 1999. Tajikistan and the internationally unrecognized region of South Ossetia also have moratoria on death sentences and executions in place.

In most of the countries in the region that no longer carry out executions, relatives of death row prisoners, who had previously been executed, have still not been able to find out where their loved ones were buried. In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, for example, domestic legislation still stipulates that the place of burial is not disclosed.

We are concerned that the conditions on death row in the region fall far short of international standards. In Belarus, for example, death row prisoners are not entitled to any outdoor exercise and electric lighting is on day and night. In Kyrgyzstan some death row prisoners have reportedly lost mobility due to lack of exercise.

Many governments in the region have frequently referred to public opinion as a key argument against introducing a moratorium or abolishing the death penalty. At the same time, several countries prevent an informed public debate from taking place by withholding vital information about the application of the death penalty, including comprehensive statistics on death sentences and executions. In Belarus and Uzbekistan there have been instances where the authorities have actively limited the peaceful expression of opinions on the death penalty, including by harassing and intimidating activists.

The organizations joining this appeal believe that governments should lead public opinion in matters of human rights and criminal policy. Historically it has almost always been the case that the death penalty has been abolished by governments even though significant sectors of the public favoured its retention.

We urge the governments in Europe and Central Asia to refrain from deporting people to countries where they are at risk of being sentenced to death, in line with international treaty obligations. Many countries have in the past facilitated such deportations and the death verdicts have often been pronounced in unfair trials accompanied by torture allegations. Russia deported at least two men to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in 2001 and 2000 respectively where both were sentenced to death, in violation of Russia’s human rights commitments as a member of the Council of Europe. Kyrgyzstan deported people to executions in China and Uzbekistan only months after Kyrgyzstan had put a moratorium in place citing its commitment to protect human rights. Other countries that deported people to executions in recent years included Kazakstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.


In the nineteenth century and the period leading up to the Second World War, the death penalty was permanently abolished in several European countries. Out of the atrocities of the Second World War came a new thirst for human rights resulting, among others, in a new wave of moves towards abolition of the death penalty. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the creation of independent states from Eastern Europe to Central Asia gave a new impetus to the drive towards a death penalty-free zone in Europe and Central Asia.

We have great sympathy with the victims of crime and recognize the duty of governments to tackle problems of law and order. However, scientific studies have consistently failed to find convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishments. The most recent survey of research findings on the relation between the death penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the UN in 1988 and updated in 2002, concluded that "it is not prudent to accept the hypothesis that capital punishment deters murder to a marginally greater extent than does the threat and application of the supposedly lesser punishment of life imprisonment."


International non-governmental organizations

Amnesty International - Irene Khan, Secretary General;

ECPM, Ensemble contre la peine de mort - Micheel Taube, President;

FIDH, International Federation for Human Rights – Sidiki Kaba, President;

Human Rights Watch - Rachel Denber, Acting Executive Director for Europe and Central Asia;

ICJ, International Commission of Jurists - Nicholas Howen, Secretary General;

International Federation of ACAT, Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture - Sylvie Bukhari-de Pontual;

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights - Aaron Rhodes, Executive Director;

International League for Human Rights - Scott Horton, President;

OMCT-Europe, World Organisation Against Torture - Laetitia Sedou, European Co-ordinator;

Penal Reform International - Paul English, Executive Director;

Regional non-governmental organizations

ACAT México [Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture] - Fabienne Cabaret, Legal Coordinator (Mexico);

Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants - Esther C Bangcawayan, Women Program / Area Co-ordinator (Hong Kong);

Asian Human Rights Commission - Basil Fernando, Executive Director (Hong Kong);

Australian Coalition Against Death Penalty - Dorina Lisson, President (Australia);

Azerbaijan Foundation for Democracy and Human Rights Protection - Rena Sadaddinova (Azerbaijan);

Azerbaijan Human Rights Center - Eldar Zeynalov, Director (Azerbaijan);

Belarusian Helsinki Committee - Dzmitry Markusheuski, Press Secretary (Belarus);

Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law - Nigina Bakhrieva, Program Director (Tajikistan);

Caucasian Institute for Peace, Democracy and Development - Emil Adelkhanov, Deputy Chair of the Council (Georgia);

Center of Legal Aid for Ethnic Minorities - Guncham Nurakhunova, Director (Kazakhstan);

Centre for Civil Initiatives - Albert Voskanyan, Director (Nagorno-Karabakh);

Centre for Humanitarian Programs - Batal Kobahiya (Abkhazia);

Chernihiv Public Committee of Human Rights Protection - Oleksiy Tarasov, Chair (Ukraine);

Congress of Caucasian Women - Maka Khangoshvili, Chair (Georgia);

Death Penalty Focus - Lance G. Lindsey, Executive Director (United States of America);

Former Political Prisoners for Human Rights - Nana Kakabadze, Chair (Georgia);

Helsinki Citizens' Assembly of Azerbaijan - Arzu Abdullaeva (Azerbaijan);

Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly of Vanadzor - Artur Sakunts (Armenia);

Human Rights Center “Fray Francisco de Vitoria” - Miguel Concha Malo, Chair of the Board (Mexico);

Human Rights Committee - Fray Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada (Mexico);

Human Rights Information and Documentation Centre - Ucha Nanuashvili, Executive Director (Georgia);

Human Rights Network "Todos los Derechos para Todos" [All Rights for All] - Edgar Cortés, Secretary General (Mexico);

Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan “Civil Assistance” - Ruslan Sharipov, Chair (Uzbekistan);

Independent Human Rights Group - Dinara Sayakova, Director (Kyrgyzstan);

Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan - Surat Ikramov, Chair (Uzbekistan);

Institute of Peace and Democracy - Leyla Yunus (Dr.), Director (Azerbaijan);

Italian Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty - Arianna Ballotta, President (Italy);

Joint Committee for the Abolition of the Death Penalty - Father Franco Mella (Hong Kong);

Journey of Hope...from Violence to Healing - Bill Pelke, President (United States of America);

Justice and Peace Commission of the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese - Christine Or (Hong Kong);

Legal Aid Society - Nozima Kamalova (Uzbekistan);

Legal Forum Association - Yury Shentsov, Executive Director (Kyrgyzstan);

Legal Initiative - Valeri Fadeev, Chair (Belarus);

Mexican Commission for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights - Fabián Sanchez Matus, Director (Mexico);

Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture - Tamara Chikunova, Chief-Coordinator (Uzbekistan);

Murder Victims’ Families for Human Rights - Hon. Renny Cushing, Executive Director (United States of America);

Norwegian Helsinki Committee - Bjorn Engesland, Secretary-General (Norway);

Professional Assistance - Yelena Volochay, Member of Board (Ukraine);

Public Committee for Aid to Refugees “Civil Assistance” - Svetlana Gannushkina (Russia);

Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty - Rick Halperin, President (United States of America);

Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights - Farid Tukhbatullin (Turkmenistan);

Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation on Human Rights - Tadzhigul Begmedova, Chair (Turkmenistan);

United Filipinos in Hong Kong Secretariat - Emmanuel C Villanueva, Secretary-General (Hong Kong);

Uzbekistan Human Rights Society "Ezgulik" - Vasila Inoyatova, Chair (Uzbekistan);

Women’s Association of Abkhazia - Natella Akaba, Chair of the Steering Board (Abkhazia);

Youth Human Rights Group - Maria Lisitsyna, Chair of the Coordinating Council (Kyrgyzstan).

Public Document

Posted by admin on 2005/3/31 15:18:00 (1277 reads)

On March 3, 2005, a well-known Turkmen writer, Rahim Esenov, was due to fly to Moscow for extensive medical examinations and treatment in one of the Russian hospitals to which he is assigned as a labor veteran. (Esenov holds dual Turkmen and Russian citizenship.)

Rahim Esenov was first subject to persecution in the beginning of 2004 (see press-release of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation from February 27, 2004), when Turkmenistani authorities charged him with smuggling for allegedly bringing into the country his novel about medieval India, Venetsenosnii Skitalets (Hallowed Wanderer). Based on these charges and in accordance with Article 177 of the Turkmen Criminal Code, the authorities accused him of “incitement of social, ethnic and religious hatred.” On February 27, 2004, officials of the special services took R. Esenov, who had suffered a stroke, from the hospital and brought him to the pretrial detention facility of the Ministry of National Security (MNS). When this incident provoked broad outcry abroad, the authorities had to release R. Esenov. Later, eight hundred copies of the book Ventsenosnii Skitalets were confiscated from Esenov and destroyed. Esenov called it an act of vandalism.

Last year Rahim Esenov was forced to sign a written promise not to leave the country. Since then he has appealed to the MNS and the General Prosecutor’s Office several times asking them to lift the ban on his leaving the country. He has received no official answers to any of his letters. However, once in a while special services hold “prophylactic talks” with him.

Rahim Esenov informed the MNS and the General Prosecutor’s Office in advance about his intentions to leave for Moscow on March 3 to seek medical treatment. After that, Esenov was summoned to the MNS by the investigator, Chardjou Sahatmuradov, who had been working on his case before. Sahatmuradov prohibited Esenov to leave Turkmenistan and threatened to reopen his case, since it has been not closed but only suspended.

Last year, Esenov’s son-in-law, Igor Kaprielov, also fell victim of persecution and was sentenced to a five-year suspended term. For a year he has been going to the police station every Saturday to check in.

Rahim Esenov said, “Now doctors are strongly recommending that I undergo extensive medical examinations and treatment in a specialized cardiology ward. Since I was taken straight from the emergency room to prison, all my trust in Turkmenistani doctors has disappeared. Besides, now (after the January announcement about the closure of all regional hospitals – THF note), Ashgabat hospitals discharge their patients after ten days or less, regardless of the state of their health. Plus, treatment costs big money here.”

As a Russian citizen and a veteran, Esenov is entitled to free hospitalization and treatment in one of the best Russian clinics. The ban on his leaving the country violates Esenov’s right to effective and reasonable medical care.

Recently Rahim Esenov was invited to the Russian Embassy in Turkmenistan where he was informed that the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, handed the Turkmen Ambassador to Russia, Halmurad Agahanov, a note regarding Esenov’s situation.

The Turkmen Helsinki Foundation asks international organizations to pay close attention to continuous persecution of dissidents and persons regarded as such by the Turkmen authorities.

Turkmen Helsinki Foundation,
/Translation by the Open Society Institute’s Turkmenistan Project/

March 31, 2005

Posted by admin on 2005/3/29 18:03:00 (1202 reads)

“Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2004 – 2005”


The Government of Turkmenistan's human rights record remained extremely poor, and it continued to commit serious abuses. Turkmenistan is a one-party state dominated by President Saparmurat Niyazov, who retains his authoritarian monopoly on political power and on the Democratic Party, which remained the sole legally-recognized political party in the country. Niyazov has been president since independence in 1991 and may legally remain in office until 2010. In August 2003, Niyazov was elected to a life term as Chairman of the People’s Council, giving him a substantial say in the selection of any presidential successor. Government efforts continued to focus on fostering centralized state control and the glorification of the President. The unicameral parliament has no genuinely independent authority; in August 2003, the Peoples’ Council replaced it as the supreme legislative body. Parliamentary elections took place December 19. Foreign observers were not invited to monitor elections and all candidates were pro-government Democracy Party members cleared by authorities. President Niyazov controlled the judicial system. The Government severely restricts freedom of speech and does not permit freedom of the press. There were no domestic human rights groups. Throughout 2004, the Government remained repressive in its response to any perceived threats to the regime. While serious violations of religious freedom continued in Turkmenistan, the Government did make progress from a legislative perspective and with a noticeable reduction in harassment of minority religious congregations.

The United States maintained a three-pronged approach to promoting democracy and human rights. First, the United States urged the Government to respect human rights and advance democracy by raising these issues in high-level bilateral meetings and multilateral institutions, and by iterating its concerns in public statements. Second, the United States regularly advocated on behalf of individual cases of abuse, coordinating closely with other diplomatic missions and international organizations. Third, the United States funded programs designed to strengthen civil society and respect for human rights.

The United States recognized that the primary means of promoting democracy and human rights in Turkmenistan was to address the continued deterioration in the human rights situation after an armed attack on President Niyazov's motorcade on November 25, 2002. There were widespread, credible reports of human rights abuses committed by officials in the course of investigating the attack, including credible reports of torture and detention of suspects’ relatives. During the past year, the United States, through diplomatic efforts at the highest levels, continued to support efforts by the International Committee of the Red Cross to gain access to prisoners detained following that attack. In 2003, the United States and nine other Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) members invoked the "Moscow Mechanism" (for only the second time in the organization's history) which called for a Special Rapporteur on Turkmenistan's human rights abuses after the November 2002 attack. Throughout 2004, the United States consistently and publicly called for follow-through action on the OSCE Rapporteur’s report. In April, the United States and the EU jointly sponsored a resolution at the UN Commission on Human Rights which condemned the Government for human rights abuses and called on the Government to adopt measures called for by the OSCE Rapporteur. In November 2004, the United States and the EU jointly introduced a successful UN General Assembly resolution condemning the Government’s human rights abuses and calling for fact-finding missions by international envoys to investigate reports of torture and abuse. The Government continued to refuse to facilitate such visits. While none of these efforts have so far resulted in accountability for the human rights violations that have occurred, this diplomatic strategy succeeded in keeping very serious human rights issues in the public eye.

In January 2004, the Government formally lifted the exit visa regime imposed in early 2003. The Government took this action in response to notification from the United States in late 2003 that Turkmenistan was risking sanctions for not meeting the freedom of emigration requirements under the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the Trade Act of 1994. Although the Government maintained a black list of select individuals not permitted to travel, freedom of movement improved. Throughout 2004 the United States continued to monitor the situation to ensure Turkmenistan’s compliance with its international obligations on freedom of movement. In November 2003, the Government enacted draconian laws on public organizations and religious groups that severely curtailed freedom of association and religion by imposing criminal penalties for unregistered activities. These human rights violations were also a focal point for U.S. diplomatic efforts in 2004. In Ashgabat, the U.S. Ambassador, Deputy Assistant Secretary, Commander of the U.S. Central Command and visiting OSCE delegations informed President Niyazov that the improvement of the human rights situation was of the highest priority, and high-level U.S. officials raised their concerns in Washington D.C. After sustained U.S. and international pressure, Turkmenistan removed the legal requirement that minority religions must have a certain number of members in order to obtain registration and dropped criminal penalties against unregistered religious groups and non-govern-mental organizations (NGOs). Four minority religious groups were permitted to register, as were several independent NGOs. Though registered, the religious groups continued to face difficulties in achieving all their rights under the law, and the United States continues to monitor the situation closely. The Government granted amnesty and released six conscientious objectors from prison in 2004. Government officials closed or destroyed at least six mosques.

To implement the second prong of its strategy, the United States raised concerns regarding individual cases of human rights abuse to the Government of Turkmenistan. In 2004, the Embassy coordinated with other diplomatic missions to protest the harassment and detention of a noted author. Upon his return to Turkmenistan, he was detained, his travel documents were seized and his relatives were arrested and accused of committing high crimes against the state. Intervention by the United States contributed to his release, and the cases against his relatives were reviewed. The Embassy consistently monitored and actively advocated on behalf of a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty who was frequently harassed. In one case, U.S. intervention helped secure his quick release after he was abducted, blindfolded, injected with an unknown substance and threatened with 15 years in prison. The Embassy subsequently persuaded the Government to allow the journalist to depart the country in 2004.

In response to continued harassment of religious minority groups, the U.S. Embassy raised issues of freedom of worship with the Council of Religious Affairs and other responsible bodies within the Government of Turkmenistan. One principle concern was that the Government was hindering some registered religious groups from establishing places of worship. The Government cooperated on hosting a visit to Turkmenistan by a representative of the U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, who encouraged the Government to register additional religious groups and cease harassment.

The U.S. Embassy continued to advocate better treatment of relatives of those implicated in the November 2002 attack, urging the Government of Turkmenistan to cease systematically harassing them. In 2003, the Ambassador sent a letter to the Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan in advance of the annual presidential amnesty, urging the Government to release political prisoner Mukhammet Aimuradov and individuals imprisoned for refusing to perform compulsory military service due to their religious beliefs. The Embassy was a principal point of contact and advocacy for individual cases of abuse. The third prong of the strategy was to fund programs that strengthen civil society. The Government of Turkmenistan was a hesitant partner in civil society programs and educational exchanges; it often used bureaucratic mechanisms to delay or hinder implementation of exchange programs or registration and operations of truly independent NGOs. Nonetheless, in FY 2004, the Embassy awarded 30 Democracy Commission grants focusing on civic education, Internet access, the free flow of information, community self-help and women's and human rights issues. A U.S.-funded civil society development program focused on grassroots community development and advocacy. In FY 2004, 53 capacity-building training events were conducted for more than 1,032 participants under this program. In 2004, the United States gave more than 125 future leaders the opportunity to study and receive training in the United States through exchange programs. One new American Corner (four in total) and two new Internet Access Training Program sites (four in total) were opened in 2004, providing a critical link to the outside world by offering access to nonofficial sources of information. The Embassy also awarded three and four-year scholarships to 17 Turkmen college students to attend the American University of Central Asia in the Kyrgyz Republic. In order to support rule of law, the U.S.-funded program implemented by the American Bar Association’s Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative (ABA/CEELI) provided support to the Legal Resource Center (LRC) at Turkmen State University (TSU). ABA/CEELI also worked with LRC staff to develop strategies to increase its accessibility to the public. Since January 2004, the LRC has organized training programs on Turkmenistan's labor legislation, the development of its criminal legislation, legal guarantees of women's rights and the development of civil legislation. By the end of May, a total of 198 people had participated in the seminars. Between January 1 and the end of May, 4,053 people visited the LRC's facilities.

ABA/CEELI continued to sponsor student participation in moot court competitions. Working with the administration of TSU, ABA/CEELI conducted a modified moot court competition on the national level. In April, 12 students gave oral arguments on a hypothetical case focusing on the International Criminal Court and submitted written briefs. The event provided a much-needed opportunity for Turkmenistan's law students to sharpen their practical legal skills.

ABA/CEELI's Street Law program in Turkmenistan developed over the past year in cooperation with TSU offered young people the opportunity to learn about the law and basic principles of human rights and democracy. Law students involved in the program learned techniques for teaching primary and secondary school students about their rights and responsibilities under Turkmen law. The program’s objective is to sensitize students at a young age to the ways in which the law can help solve critical family, social and political issues. Trainings during the past year covered topics such as children's rights under Turkmen law, the law on delinquency, administrative violations, the right to individuality, the right to marry and the legal status of women. The program was effective at promoting practical skills and legal knowledge among law student participants and providing desperately needed legal information to the population at large.

A civil law clinic in which TSU law students provide legal consultations under the supervision of qualified practicing attorneys began operating in Ashgabat in May 2004. This was the first clinical program in Turkmenistan, and it offers a unique opportunity for students to serve their community and gain practical legal experience. ABA/CEELI staff will provide ongoing training to clinic staff attorneys on managing a student-run clinical program and addressing practical and pedagogical issues surrounding clinical legal education.

The U.S. government-funded civil society development program supported a network of four Civil Society Support Centers (CSSC) that provided training seminars, technical support, information resources, networking opportunities and professional services to NGOs and associations. The United States provided training and resources to strengthen the financial and institutional sustainability of these centers, and also created opportunities to develop new centers. The program included funding to provide institutional grants for leading NGOs in specific sectors and community development grants with a focus on social partnerships to help NGOs engage with their communities and advocate for their needs at the local level. The United States also provided assistance in the development of a comprehensive legal and fiscal framework that will support and strengthen the NGO sector, as well as direct legal support and services for NGOs through the CSSC Network.

In 2004, U.S. funding to combat trafficking in persons (TIP) supported the International Organization for Migration’s work with the State Border Service on a Ministry of Justice-approved program attempting to ascertain the extent and patterns of TIP in Turkmenistan. Funding also supports an anti-trafficking public education campaign and training for the Border Service to combat TIP.

U.S. Department of State
March 28, 2005

Posted by admin on 2005/3/21 15:20:00 (1396 reads)

Text of report by Ukrainian television TV 5 Kanal on 21 March

Turkmen human rights groups are seeking Ukraine's support. The Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation has sent Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko an open letter asking him for help in solving problems related to human rights abuses in that country, the Ukrainian service of Deutsche Welle radio has said.

The Turkmen activists believe that the human rights situation in that country is catastrophic. Almost all political freedoms have been destroyed, and civil society is gradually being wiped out.

[Yushchenko is to pay an official visit to Turkmenistan on 22 March.]

Original source: TV 5 Kanal, Kiev
March 21, 2005

Posted by admin on 2005/3/18 15:21:00 (1381 reads)

An open letter to the President of Ukraine from Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Dear Mr Victor Yushenko,

The human rights organization, the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation, appeals to you in advance of your forthcoming visit to Turkmenistan.

Since the end of 1990-s, president S. Niyazov has usurped all the power in the country. He illegally declared himself president-for-life, and, currently, he is the head of both the state and the government. The human rights situation in Turkmenistan today is catastrophic. Fundamental freedoms, including those of expression, the media, association and religion do not exist; freedom to participate in political life has been radically denied; persecution of dissidents is accepted without comment. All possible restraints and any counterbalance to the president’s power have been eliminated. There is neither supremacy of law nor transparency of the legal proceedings in the country. Political prisoners, prisoners of conscience and civil society activists who, without fear, spoke out openly demanding the observance of the fundamental rights as set forth in the Constitution, are now held in prison in extremely harsh conditions. The government have been deliberately destroying the educational system in the country, its medical care and civil society.

You are, undoubtedly, aware of the Resolution, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 20 December 2004, condemning the dictatorial regime established in Turkmenistan. Unfortunately, the representatives of the former Ukrainian government at the Assembly abstained from voting when the Resolution on Turkmenistan was adopted.

International human rights organizations consider Turkmenistan as one of the most repressive and isolated countries not only in Central Asia but in the whole world. Recently, a group of non-governmental organizations, concerned with the situation in Turkmenistan, sent their appeal to the 61st Session of the UN Human Rights Commission to appoint a special reporteur on Turkmenistan.

Under the circumstances, the aspiration of a reformed Ukraine to continue co-operation with the dictator looks odd in our opinion, and pursuing the policy of the former government does not correspond to the principles proclaimed by Ukraine after the “orange” revolution.

We appeal to you to work out a new, different, policy towards Turkmenistan, making the democratization of Turkmenistan a key issue. We are urging you to use your visit to Ashgabad as a possibility to openly discuss with the Turkmen government the issues of observance of human rights in the country, the supremacy of law and the democratization of the Turkmen society.

Bear in mind that the money made from the economic agreements with foreign countries, including Ukraine, are not used to improve the welfare of the people of Turkmenistan, but to further escalate the personality cult of Niyazov, persecute people, strengthen the ‘unique’ anti-democratic society, and bring Turkmenistan nearer to a humanitarian catastrophe.

Thank you for your attention to the above issues.

Yours sincerely,

Tadzhigul Begmedova


Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Posted by admin on 2004/7/24 15:29:00 (1479 reads)

Halmurad Gylychdurdiyev, a 70 years old inhabitant of Ashgabat, was detained by three officers of the Ministry for National Security (MNS) on 23 June 2004.

Since 2001 he started to openly give interviews to the US Radio Liberty based in Turkmenistan. As a matter of fact, his discussions were not related to politics. However, he did openly criticize the arbitrariness of the Turkmen officials and discussed important cultural and artistic issues. Some days ago Gylychdurdiyev was one of the participants of the ‘round table’ discussions arranged by Radio Liberty, where he was asked:” Are you not afraid of participating in our programmes?”

According to received information, Gylychdurdiyev was summoned to the MNS shortly before his detention. However, there was no signature, no stamp nor surname on the summons. In addition, an MNS officer, introducing himself as Dovletmurad Karayev, repeatedly called him (tel. 39 37 98). Gylychdurdiyev demanded that either the summons be issued properly by the MNS staff or a warrant be submitted from the public prosecutor’s office.

On 22 June Gylychdurdiyev had a cataract operation. The same day several Secret Service officers came to his house and attempted to take him to the MNS. One of the officers gave his name as Berdiev. The officials, however, failed to present the documents confirming their identities. Gylychdurdiyev’s wife, Galina, insisted that Halmurad had to stay in bed after his recent surgery, whereupon one of the officers entered Halmurad’s bedroom to see if she was telling the truth.

The next day Halmurad Gylychmuradov went to the eye hospital to have the bandage removed and a check-up. At 10 a.m., as soon as the procedure was over, the three officers immediately took him to the MNS. This fact was confirmed by his hospital doctor.

We were also informed that the day before Gylychdurdiyev was detained the MNS officer Dovletmurat Karayev called him demanding that he report to their office “for a talk”. In response Gylychdurdiev said:” We have talked already several times. I answered all your questions. Why are you still persecuting me? Leave me alone!”

The officials reportedly demanded that Gylychdurdiyev stop his contact with the Radio Liberty in Turkmenistan.

Yesterday Gylychdurdiyev’s relatives went to the MNS office asking for Halmurad’s release as he needed further treatment. The officers on duty, however, at first denied his detention. Furthermore, these same officers were unable to confirm the names of the MNS officers who had ‘visited’ the Gylychdurdievs and telephoned Halmurad; they could only verify the surname of the officer Berdiev. His first name, as it turned out, was fictitious. The name of Dovletmurad Karayev allegedly was not on the list of the MNS officers at all. The relatives waited in the duty unit of the MNS till late at night when they finally heard from the officer on duty:” The interview is still in progress”. No other explanations were given.

Guluchdurdiev’s wife wants to send a written complaint to the appropriate bodies.

Background information. Halmurad Gylychdurdiyev is a higher education specialist with 40 years of experience in filming gained at the Alty Karliyev film studio. After the film studio was closed down he had to arrange his private film studio. He made several documentary films, including one about Chary Hanamov, the Socialist Labour Hero and some other documentaries about the rural Turkmenistan.

Some years ago Gylychdurdiev made repeated appeals to all banks and appropriate institutions in Turkmenistan asking them to assist in exchanging the local currency for US Dollars - for the films to be shown it was necessary to finish them in one of the Russian film studios. However, “he was not even listened to; he was knocking on a closed door “. Gylychdurdiev appealed to legal bodies against the unlawful refusal of the Turkmen officials.

Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation

24 june 2004

Posted by admin on 2004/7/13 15:29:00 (1633 reads)

Inhabitants of another three streets in Keshi were issued with house demolition orders. As a result, on 12 July, the women from these families also tried to appeal to the UN Representatives. However, THF does not have information whether they have managed to see any of the staff. The same evening some of these women were taken to the police. One man tried to stand up for them, but he was also taken to the police. There has been no information about what happened to the detained people as yet. As witnesses report, the people were forcibly put into the cars, although they strongly objected.

Moreover, in the morning of 12 July, policeman Yazmamedov, together with one of the staff from the department No 6 of the Niyazov district, visited the families who had already been issued the demolition orders and handed them other orders ‘inviting’ them to attend a so-called meeting at 9 p.m. in the district police station. However, only some of the people attended the meeting. According to the witnesses, who were at the police station where the meeting was held, they could hear the people’s voices of indignation and dissatisfaction at the authorities’ behaviour, which has led to a further deterioration in people’s social conditions.

Some of the inhabitants were reportedly issued the orders instructing them to “report to the administration No 6 of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Turkmenistan at 9 a.m. at 34 Asudalyk Street, office No 88”. The people are to report on different dates and, as the orders specifically state, it is mandatory to bring with them their passports.

Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation

13 July 2004

Posted by admin on 2004/7/11 22:16:00 (2128 reads)

In September 2000 Akbibi Hemrayeva (d.o.b. – 29.04.1978) started her employment with the personnel department of the Customs Service of “Turkmenistan Airlines” at Ashgabat International airport. Some time later, due to the forthcoming celebration of the next Independence anniversary, Akbibi got a promotion – she was appointed a senior inspector of the personnel department, and, afterwards, on 28 September 2003 – a senior inspector of the Cargo Transportation department.

Ms A.Hemrayeva reports: “At work I had a reputation as a being an independent minded person and I could not refrain from making comments on the deteriorating situation in Turkmenistan. I took all possible steps not to make an oath of loyalty to president, as, for Turkmens, it is considered to be blasphemous to wish anyone, especially yourself, “let my hand be paralyzed, let my tongue be numb, let my breath stop”. Some of my colleagues blamed me for not being a true patriot of Turkmenistan. Others thought I was insane. At first my superiors threatened me and then, as was there usual practice, accused me of taking bribes. Some of my colleagues stood up for me and even signed some evidence affirming my innocence.

On 25 February 2004 Akbibi Hemrayeva was sacked from her job. On 27 February 2004 the information about her was handed over to the office of public prosecutor and a criminal case was brought against her. Having learnt this fact, Akbibi Hemrayeva left the country on 3 March this year and claimed asylum in Turkey.

Currently the case of Ms Hemrayeva is in the hands of the Ministry of National Security of Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan authorities are accusing her of the following three offences: falsification of documents, bribe-taking, bribe-taking with a group of people. The ‘group of people’ included the employees, who stood up for her (junior technical staff). As a result, they were all sacked from their jobs. Being afraid of the repressions, these people had also to leave the country for Uzbekistan. Ms Hemrayeva believes that she might be at risk of up to 15 years of imprisonment.

Akbibi also told us that after she fled the country, security services started harassing her relatives. They were not allowed to talk on the phone. MNB agents as well as the staff of the public prosecutor’s office came to see her six brothers and their families daily and put them under psychological pressure. They are threatening at least to sack them. They insist that unless Ms A.Hemrayeva returned by the beginning of June, she would be on the list of ‘wanted’ people.

We hope that the Turkish authorities to whom Ms Hemrayeva appealed for protection are informed that Turkmenistan is ‘well-known’ for its egregious human rights violations, lack of transparent legal proceedings, convictions of innocent people and use of increasingly brutal and inventive means of torture. It is also well-known that Turkmenistan authorities are intolerant to any dissent and fabricate cases in order to persecute critically minded people.

Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation

11 june 2004

Posted by admin on 2004/6/3 22:17:00 (1618 reads)

Statement of the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights to the Secretary General of the United Nations

M ay 31, 2004

Dear Mr. Secretary General,

We would like to bring to your attention the following statement regarding the consideration and adoption during the 60th session of the Commission on Human Rights of the resolution entitled “The Situation of Human Rights in Turkmenistan” and the official response to it from the Turkmenistan government.

The Human Rights Commission resolution and the response to it from the Turkmen Foreign Ministry are based on completely opposite premises. The United Nations regards as of paramount importance human rights violations, which are regularly reported by Turkmen citizens who have suffered from them. Meanwhile, the Turkmen Foreign Ministry selectively pulls out from international reports on the situation parts where it shows that Turkmenistan is on the road to democracy and is willing to adopt democratic measures of its own. Yet, the Turkmen side has not reacted at all to the concerns of the international community and human rights organizations which are constantly ringing bells of alarm about the violations of human rights in Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan has not once deigned to respond to numerous cases of violations against freedom of conscience, unlawful detention, and persecution against religious groups and relatives of the convicted.

The Foreign Ministry complains about the absence in the resolution of concrete facts of human rights abuses in Turkmenistan. We are disappointed that this organization does not contact human rights organizations that systematically carry out human rights monitoring. Since the standard procedure, evidently, did not allow the Commission to describe in greater detail all known cases of human rights violations in Turkmenistan, the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation listed its own short account of just a few of them.

On the abolishment of the death penalty

Undoubtedly, the abolishment of the death penalty is a positive step of Turkmenistan. However, the agonizing conditions of Turkmen prisoners in and of themselves lead to death, as is the case with Hoshgeldi Garaev and Hayit Kakaev. Turkmenistan did not confirm nor deny the deaths of Khallyiev T. and Yklymov A.

On political prisoners and prisoners of conscience:

Up until now, citizens who are believed to be political prisoners or prisoners of conscience have been serving sentences. Among them include Aimuradov M., Atakov, S, Babadzhanov R, Zakirov R, Matveev A, Mitogorov S, Nazyrov R, Satlyikov R, Shelekhov N. The Turkmen government has not responded to any appeals from human rights organization for these people. Only as a result of enormous international pressure was prisoner of conscience Farid Tukhbatulin released.

On free speech

There are no possibilities for impartial journalists to work in Turkmenistan. Journalists S.Ovezberdyiev, M. Berdyiev, S. Berdyiev were repeatedly subjected to persecution and beatings. Others who were subject to persecution include R. Esenov, A. Bairiev, as well as the son-in-law of R. Esenov, I. Kaprielov. Resident of Nebit-Dag G. Durdyikuliev, sentenced for conducting a peaceful demonstration, was violently thrown in a psychiatric hospital. Accredited independent foreign journalists are absent.

On prison conditions

Human rights organizations give thorough examples of inhumane treatment of detainees, prisoners. Yet the Turkmen authorities do not consider it necessary to end abuses of these people.

Thousands of people suffer from the Turkmen government’s wanton practice of persecuting relatives of the suspected and convicted criminals. The mass arrests following the alleged assassination attempt against President Niyazov is a case in point. (Examples of these well known arrests were contained in the report compiled by OSCE Special Rapporteur Emmanuel Decaux). Turkmenistan refused to discuss any of the convictions connected with November 25 incident and members of the family subjected to torture and psychotropic means were also fundamental issues contained in Decaux’s report.

Regarding the ban on arbitrary search in homes

This ban remained only on paper. Despite the fact that the Constitution of Turkmenistan declares that “no one has the right to enter into homes… against the will of the resident,” we have many cases of intrusion by government officials, with the purpose of searching the apartments of citizens. State officials harshly and cynically insulted, beat up and threatened citizens; searches were conducted in violation of the law.

On amnesties

Not one political prisoner, prisoner of conscience or individual convicted of fabricated charges was on the list of pardons.

On opposition and political parties

In Turkmenistan only one political party exists. The Turkmen opposition must operate in exile. Persecution of individuals declaring themselves part of the opposition or wishing to form their own party is never ending. In an interview with Izvestia newspaper, Martti Ahtisaari said: “nothing and no one should interfere with what the opposition wishes to do. Unfortunately, at present it is an authoritarian regime. Lots of work lies ahead for the OSCE.”

NGOs and Religions

The human rights groups Turkmenistan Helsinki Initiative and Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation must operate in exile. Not only representatives of international human rights organizations, but also members of the Turkmenistan human rights groups are completely deprived of the possibility of working inside the country. In November 2003, the “Dashoguz Ecological Club” was closed by the decision of the city court. In April 2004, the Justice Ministry notified the “Catena Ecological Club” that its registration was rejected.

Up until now, groundless limitations on religious activities have not been revoked, including the complicated registration procedures, a ban on conducting religious meetings, participation in unregistered religious groups, and so on. Persecution and detention of pious citizens continue. Twelve people were fined by the Nebit-Dag city police. Not a single religious community after the relaxing of registration rules has been able to register. And even the Protestant church “Great Grace,” located in the capital Ashgabat, which had applied to register three weeks from the time of the easing of the rules, has so far not received a response to its request.

Freedom of movement

Turkmenistan did not confirm or deny an existence of “black lists” with the names of thousands of citizens who have been deprived to move freely. S. Begmedov has been persecuted and exiled twice from Ashgabat to Dashoguz. International human rights observers and journalists still can not get entry visas.

Regarding Willingness to Collaborate

Turkmenistan does not observe international human rights obligations it has ratified at the United Nations and as a member state of the OSCE. In light of the growing human rights crisis after the November 25 incident, ten OSCE member states authorized Emmanuel Decaux to elucidate a number of disturbing questions regarding the investigation following the alleged assassination attempt on President Niyazov. Turkmen authorities refused to cooperate with the OSCE and did not allow the rapporteur and members of the commission into the country. Moreover, the OSCE representative expressed his displeasure that Turkmenistan did not appoint an expert of its own.

The OSCE Chairman in Office’s Envoy for Central Asia, Martti Ahtisaari remained upset with the human rights situation in Turkmenistan.

At the meeting with other high level representatives and delegations of international organizations, as well as with Solomon Passy April 8-9, 2004, not one word was mentioned about the human rights violations in Turkmenistan. Nor was anything said about the necessity of reforms to correct the situation, the willingness of Turkmenistan to implement the UN and OSCE resolutions, the position of the Turkmen government regarding the necessity of political transparency and independent mass media, and the realistic steps needed to make the Turkmen leadership improve the atmosphere for registration and ensure unimpeded NGO activity in the country.

Currently the Turkmen government has not demonstrated the political will to the existing recommendations made by the international community.

We would be grateful to you for the distribution of this statement as a document under Agenda Item 117 (c) at the General Assembly.


Tadjigul Begmedova

Representative of the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

03 june 2004

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