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Europe and Central Asia: Summary of Amnesty International's Concerns in the Region: January – June 2006

Turkmenistan excerpt

TURKMENISTAN

International scrutiny

UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

On 17 May the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) considered Turkmenistan’s combined initial and second state report on its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. CEDAW raised concern about the “lack of precise and reliable statistical data” provided by the government, making it difficult “to assess accurately the actual situation of women in regard to all areas covered by the Convention”. It pointed out that the lack of examples of any court cases that invoked the Convention in the 10 years since its ratification was “indicative of the lack of knowledge about the Convention in the State party and the lack of its enforcement”. Other concerns included the lack of awareness of the State party of “the urgency of the existence of violence against women” leading to a lack of specific legislation including with regard to domestic violence; the “lack of information regarding the extent of trafficking in women and measures taken to address that issue”; and “the persistence of patriarchal attitudes and deep-rooted stereotypes regarding the roles and responsibilities of women and men in the family and society”.

In order to comply with its obligations as a state party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, CEDAW recommended that Turkmenistan “put in place expeditiously a comprehensive system of data collection in all areas covered by the Convention so as to assess the actual situation of women and to track trends over time” and to include in its next report to CEDAW “statistical data and analysis, disaggregated by sex and by rural and urban areas, in regard to the provisions of the Convention, indicating the impact of measures taken and of results achieved in the practical realization of women’s de facto equality”. It also urged Turkmenistan to promptly take measures to “eliminate discrimination against women and ensure de jure (formal) and de facto (substantive) equality between women and men” and that the authorities “provide an enabling environment for the establishment and active involvement of women’s and human rights organizations to promote implementation of the Convention”.

UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

In May the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) considered Turkmenistan’s initial report on the country’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, submitted with a delay of almost 10 years. On 2 June the CRC issued its concluding observations raising concern about “the absence of data in the State party’s report on most of the issues covered by the Convention”. In addition, it deplored the lack of “a specialized body responsible for the independent monitoring of the implementation of the Convention” considering the “ineffectiveness and lack of independence” of the National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights. Among other issues, the CRC also voiced concern that children of dissidents “are often victims of discriminatory and punitive practices”; that torture and ill-treatment of detainees, including children, is widespread; that severe limitations to the rights to freedom of expression and religion also affected children; and that children of ethnic minorities were often subject to discrimination. The CRC also deplored the “serious obstacles” facing civil society organizations in carrying out their work.

The CRC underlined the crucial role of civil society in contributing to the full implementation of Turkmenistan’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and recommended Turkmenistan to remove “restrictions to the functioning of independent civil society organizations”. It also recommended the authorities to “investigate thoroughly all allegations of torture and ill-treatment committed in particular within the juvenile justice administration by public officials […] and [to] ensure that perpetrators are rapidly brought to justice”; “to ensure the right of the child to access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources”; and to “respect the right of the child to freedom of religion”.

Human rights concerns raised by the chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht, chairman-in-office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), visited Ashgabat on 29 March. According to an OSCE press release issued the same day, Karel de Gucht called on the authorities to “devote increased attention to the Human Dimension”. Reportedly, he addressed issues such as democratization, free and fair elections and corruption during his meetings with government officials. In addition, he raised with President Saparmurad Niyazov the cases of four individuals, who had been subjected to human rights violations. According to the OSCE press release, the President “gave a firm commitment to seriously examine these cases and solve them”.

Shortly after his visit a dissident and the relative of an imprisoned opposition politician, whose cases Karel de Gucht had raised with the President and who had repeatedly been barred from leaving Turkmenistan, were able to leave the country.

One of them, the writer and journalist Rakhim Esenov, had been held in the Ministry of National Security (MNS) for about two weeks in 2004, until he was released following international pressure. He had been targeted solely to punish him for exercising his right to freedom of expression. Following his release he was placed under travel restrictions. The charges against him were not dropped but the authorities did not carry out any further investigation into the case. Rakhim Esenov repeatedly urged the General Procuracy and the MNS to close the criminal case and allow him to travel to Moscow for specialized medical treatment in a cardiology hospital. He never received a reply and in March 2005 an MNS official reportedly confiscated a flight ticket to Moscow that he had bought, threatening to arrest him if he did not hand it in (for further information see AI Index: EUR 01/012/2005).

To AI’s knowledge, at the time of writing there have been no changes in the circumstances of the other two cases raised by Karel de Gucht. Mukhametkuli Aymuradov, for example, remained imprisoned in the maximum security prison in the town of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk), which is known for its particularly harsh prison conditions (for further information, see AI Index: EUR 61/006/2005).

Mukhametkuli Aymuradov 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 him was fabricated solely to punish him for his association with exiled opponents of the government. In December 1998 he was sentenced to an additional 18 years’ imprisonment in connection with an alleged prison escape attempt. AI urged his release on the grounds that repeated calls for a fair retrial have gone unheeded, and that there does not appear to be a prospect of Mukhametkuli Aymuradov being given a fair trial. In addition, AI was seriously concerned about his 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.

A press conference held on 29 March to inform journalists of the outcomes of the OSCE delegation’s visit to Turkmenistan was only attended by correspondents of foreign news agencies. According to the human rights group Turkmenistan Initiative, journalists of Turkmenistani media outlets were warned by the MNS not to attend the press conference. The editor-in-chief of the state-controlled newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan, who had reportedly been contacted by an officer of the MNS, announced at a staff meeting that anybody who attended the press conference would be dismissed without notice.

The clampdown on dissent continues (update to AI Index: EUR 01/007/2006)

In the period under review the clampdown on dissent intensified. People continued to be targeted because of their family relationship with dissidents. In a new development the authorities particularly targeted human rights defenders, portraying activities conducted as part of their human rights work as “treason” and “espionage”. Human rights violations which dissidents and their relatives were subjected to included arbitrary detention; torture or other ill-treatment; forcible confinement in a psychiatric hospital; severe restrictions on the freedom of movement; forced eviction from their homes; and dismissal from workplaces.

Prisoner of conscience Kakabay Tedzhenov forcibly confined in psychiatric hospital

On 4 January Kakabay Tedzhenov was reportedly taken to a psychiatric hospital in the city of Turkmenabad (formerly Chardzhou) in the eastern Lebap region by law enforcement officers. Later he was transferred to the psychiatric hospital in Garashsyzlyk district (formerly Boyunuzyn district) in the same region. When Kakabay Tedzhenov arrived at the psychiatric hospital in Garashsyzlyk district he was reportedly placed in a cell together with people convicted of serious crimes, including murder, for a week. At the end of February or the beginning of March he was transferred to a special section of the hospital for patients without relatives to care for them or whose relatives have disowned them. Later in March Kakabay Tedzhenov was reportedly transferred to the urology department of Lebap regional hospital for medical treatment. AI learnt at the time of writing that Kakabay Tedzhenov was subsequently returned to the psychiatric hospital.

Following public appeals by non-governmental organizations on behalf of Kakabay Tedzhenov, the delegation of Turkmenistan to the OSCE claimed in a statement sent to all OSCE participating states on 24 February that Kakabay Tedzhenov “has never been detained and he is not confined in any medical institution”. This statement was not in accord with the information received by AI.

Since Kakabay Tedzhenov was removed from his home in January his daughter Olga Tedzhenova, who lives in Russia, tried to establish his whereabouts, including by asking the authorities in Dzheykhun district, where Kakabay Tedzhenov lived. She told AI: “I called the police in my father’s town many times but nobody gave me any definite information about his situation. I cannot ask relatives or friends to inquire about him because I don’t want to put them at risk.”

In recent years Kakabay Tedzhenov had sent several complaints to the authorities of Turkmenistan, including to the administration of his home town and of Lebap region, regarding concerns about communal services in his district. On 7 June 2005 he sent telegrams to the President and the Procurator General of Turkmenistan protesting government policies. In September 2005 he sent to contacts abroad his Statement about human rights violations in Turkmenistan which included calls on the authorities of Turkmenistan to allow freedom of expression, and called on the international community to impose sanctions against Turkmenistan. In the statement he criticized President Saparmurat Niyazov for his neglect of issues of vital interest to the citizens of Turkmenistan such as “mass unemployment and the low standard of living [noting that] heads of city and regional administrations build monuments in honour of the President in huge quantities while in Dzheykhun district people have lived in unheated apartments for twenty years.”

AI believes that the 69-year-old dissident has been targeted solely to punish him for exercising his right to freedom of expression, in particular for protesting against government policies, and regards him as a prisoner of conscience who should be released immediately and unconditionally.

Journalists Dzhumadurdy Ovezov and Meretmuhammet Khommadov arbitrarily detained

Dzhumadurdy Ovezov and Meretmuhammet Khommadov from the Mary region of southeastern Turkmenistan, who worked as correspondents of the US-funded Radio Liberty, were held in incommunicado detention from 7 to 17 March. Meret Khommadov told the Turkmen Service of Radio Liberty on 22 March that on the day of their arrest they were taken to the administration of the city of Mary. He reported: “There were a lot of [village elders] there who talked to us. They were shouting, calling us traitors. They were very aggressive toward us. They promised to evict us from the village and not let us live there. Then [the village elders] made accusations against us, using harsh language and sentenced us to 15 days of community service.”

AI believed that the two were detained as a punishment for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, and in order to prevent them from passing on information about Turkmenistan to other countries. Before they were released, security officers reportedly forced Dzhumadurdy Ovezov and Meretmuhammet Khommadov to sign papers “confessing” their guilt. In addition, they were threatened that if they continued to cooperate with Radio Liberty the authorities would also target the two men’s family members. Following their release they were placed under close surveillance by security officers.

Radio Liberty journalists have on many occasions been deliberately targeted by the authorities in the past for their reporting. Methods to silence them have included arbitrary detention, torture or other ill-treatment, and dismissal of family members from their workplaces (for further information, see AI Index: EUR 61/003/2005).

Human rights defenders and their families targeted

AI was deeply concerned about the detention of four human rights defenders and three of their relatives. AI believed that they were being detained solely as members, or relatives of members, of the non-governmental human rights organization Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation (THF). Prior to the recent clampdown, the authorities had already tried to silence the THF (for further information, see AI Index: EUR 61/007/2005).

THF members Annakurban Amanklychev, Ogulsapar Muradova (who is also a correspondent for the US-funded Radio Liberty), Sapardurdy Khadzhiev and Elena Ovezova, and Ogulsapar Muradova’s three adult children Sona, Maral and Berdy, were taken into custody between 16 and 19 June. The officers detaining them did not show arrest warrants. There were credible allegations that some of the detainees were subjected to torture or other ill-treatment in custody. At the end of the period under review, the detainees remained in incommunicado detention. The detainees reportedly received food only once a day and the relatives of the detainees were not allowed to pass on food parcels and water to them.

On 19 June the Minister of National Security of Turkmenistan was broadcast on national television as stating at a meeting of law enforcement bodies that Annakurban Amanklychev had been engaged in “subversive activities” and had planned a revolution in Turkmenistan. The accusations mainly related to attendance of human rights courses in Poland and Ukraine; the gathering and passing on of human rights-related information to the director of the THF in Bulgaria; and cooperation with foreign journalists from the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the French media production company Galaxie Presse. At the same meeting President Saparmurad Niyazov was reported as saying: “Let people condemn the traitors. The entire population is proud of their motherland, whereas they are trying to harm it.” In addition, the Minister of National Security alleged that when secret service agents and police inspected Annakurban Amanklychev’s car on the day of his arrest they found weapons and ammunition. However, according to eyewitnesses, five secret service agents planted an unidentified package in his car so as to fabricate a case against the dissident (for further information, see AI Index: EUR 61/005/2006).

Prisoner of conscience Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev released (update to AI Index: EUR 61/006/2005)

Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev was discharged from a psychiatric hospital on 12 April, a week after sustained lobbying by AI members in the USA had led to 54 members of the US Senate and House of Representatives sending a petition to President Saparmurad Niyazov urging his release. Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev had been forcibly confined in psychiatric hospitals for over two years, to punish him for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression.

Number of people barred from leaving Turkmenistan dramatically increased

According to an unofficial source, the “Black list” of people barred from leaving Turkmenistan rose dramatically since last year and included some 19,000 people, about 8,000 more than in 2005. The categories of people on the “Black list” ranged from those perceived to be critical of the authorities such as dissidents and civil society activists, and their relatives; through relatives of people imprisoned in connection with the 2002 alleged assassination attempt on President Niyazov; to relatives and friends of government officials who have been imprisoned in recent years. In addition to those included in the “Black list”, some 4,000 government officials continued to be barred from leaving Turkmenistan without special permission and categorically barred from leaving the country together with their close relatives. Restrictions on the freedom of movement were part of the government’s policy to silence any kind of dissent and put pressure on dissidents and potential dissidents, including by targeting their relatives.

A typical case was that of Ovez Annaev who was prevented from leaving the country for medical treatment. On 2 May Ovez Annaev, the brother-in-law of Khudayberdy Orazov, leader of the opposition movement Watan (Fatherland) in exile, boarded a plane to Moscow from Ashgabat. He had been advised by doctors to go to Moscow for specialist medical treatment of a gastric ulcer. However, shortly before departure MNS officers forced him to leave the plane. They reportedly threatened him that if he complained to international organizations or embassies, “we will put you in prison”. Ovez Annaev and his wife Svetlana Orazova had previously been barred from travel abroad and taken off a plane at least once. Khudayberdy Orazov told AI on 26 June: “This time it was different. Before Ovez Annaev bought tickets for the flight he sent letters to the relevant authorities and actually received permission to fly to Moscow for his medical treatment. Also, this was the first time that he was threatened with imprisonment.”

AI believes that Ovez Annaev was targeted by the authorities because of his family relationship with Khudayberdy Orazov whom the authorities have labelled a “traitor” and accused of having played a key role in the alleged assassination attempt on President Saparmurad Niyazov in November 2002. Many of Khudayberdy Orazov’s relatives have been targeted in recent years. Svetlana Orazova, for example, informed AI that “while until 2003 law enforcement officers occasionally called us for questioning, since May 2003 my family has been barred from leaving Turkmenistan and since 2004 from leaving Ashgabat”. In January 2005, when Khudayberdy Orazov’s mother Sona Orazova died, some 30 relatives -- including Sona Orazova’s husband Artyk Orazov -- who were travelling by bus from Dashoguz region were prevented by officers at a police check-point from entering Ashgabat to attend the funeral. Reportedly, law enforcement officers had cordoned off the house in Ashgabat where a funeral ceremony was taking place and two MNS officers reportedly filmed the mourners and took down the passport details of each of them.

Amnesty International
September 4, 2006