Turkmenistan - Amnesty International Report 2007

Human Rights in TURKMENISTAN

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Head of state and government: Kurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (replaced Saparmurad Niyazov in December)
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
International Criminal Court: not ratified

Despite improvements in a small number of individual cases, human rights violations continued on a large scale. The targeting of human rights defenders intensified. The authorities failed to open a prompt, thorough or impartial investigation into the death in custody of a human rights defender who died in suspicious circumstances. Measures to silence dissent included harassment, restrictions of the freedom of movement, arbitrary detention, torture or other ill-treatment and the targeting of relatives. Dozens of those imprisoned in connection with an alleged assassination attempt on President Saparmurad Niyazov in 2002 continued to be held incommunicado.

Political background

President Saparmurad Niyazov died on 21 December from a cardiac arrest. The same day the State Security Council and Cabinet of Ministers appointed Deputy Prime Minister Kurbanguly Berdymukhammedov as acting President. President Niyazov's constitutionally designated successor, the Chairman of the Mejlis (parliament), was dismissed, and criminal charges were reportedly brought against him.

On 26 December the Halk Maslahaty (People's Council) approved the nomination of six people, including the acting President, as candidates in presidential elections to be held in February 2007.

All were members of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, the only registered party in the country. The interim government ignored calls by exiled opposition groups to allow opposition leaders to put forward candidates.

International scrutiny

The UN Secretary-General, reporting to the UN General Assembly in October, concluded that "gross and systematic violations of human rights continued in [Turkmenistan], notwithstanding gestures by the government." He highlighted the plight of human rights defenders and minorities, restrictions on freedom of expression and religion, the use of torture, the absence of an independent judiciary, and the limited access to health care and education. He called on Turkmenistan to invite the special mechanisms of the UN Human Rights Council to visit the country. Despite repeated resolutions by the General Assembly and the UN Commission on Human Rights, Turkmenistan has previously failed to invite them.

In June the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stressed 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 removing restrictions on independent civil society organizations. It called on the authorities to investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment, in particular within the juvenile justice system, to bring the perpetrators to justice, and to ensure that children enjoyed freedom of religion and access to information from a diversity of national and international sources.

Violence against women

In May the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women raised concerns at Turkmenistan's lack of awareness of the urgent need to stem violence against women, to pass specific legislation, including on domestic violence, and to introduce measures to address trafficking in women. Among other issues, it urged Turkmenistan to criminalize domestic violence; bring to justice the perpetrators; ensure that the victims have access to appropriate redress; and ensure that shelters are set up. The Committee also recommended that the government provide an enabling environment for women's and human rights organizations.

Death in custody

Activists from the human rights group, the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation, were taken into custody in June: Annakurban Amanklychev, Sapardurdy Khadzhiev, Elena Ovezova and Ogulsapar Muradova, a journalist with the US-funded Radio Liberty, and her three adult children. Four were released on 1 July. Annakurban Amanklychev, Sapardurdy Khadzhiev and Ogulsapar Muradova were convicted of "illegal acquisition, possession or sale of ammunition or firearms" and sentenced to prison terms of between six and seven years after an unfair trial in August. The charges appeared to be fabricated. The defendants were reportedly ill-treated in detention, and Annakurban Amanklychev and Ogulsapar Muradova given psychotropic drugs in an attempt to extract "confessions".

In September, Ogulsapar Muradova died in custody in suspicious circumstances. The authorities failed to open a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into her death.

Silencing dissent

Civil society activists, political dissidents, members of religious minority groups and their relatives were harassed, arbitrarily detained and tortured.

The Ministry of National Security summoned for questioning virtually all those who met journalists of the BBC and the French media production company Galaxie Presse who visited Turkmenistan and subsequently criticized the government's policies. Those questioned were barred from leaving Turkmenistan, and some put under house arrest.

• Kakabay Tedzhenov, aged 70, was forcibly confined in medical institutions, mostly in a psychiatric hospital in Garashsyzlyk district in the eastern Lebap region, from January until October, when he was released following international pressure. On release, he reportedly had to undertake not to make political statements in the future. AI believed he was being punished for protesting at government policies and adopted him as a prisoner of conscience. In February the Turkmenistan delegation at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe told all participating states that he had never been detained or confined in a medical institution.

• Environmental activist Andrei Zatoka was detained on 17 December by local police at the airport in his home town of Dashoguz. He had been preparing to fly to the capital, Ashgabat, and then on to Moscow the following day, to meet members of the International Social and Ecological Union and holiday with his family in Russia. He was reportedly charged with breaching public order. However, there were allegations that he had been targeted because of his peaceful work as an environmental activist.

The authorities continued to restrict freedom of movement to punish and put pressure on dissidents and their families. Thousands of people were reportedly on a "black list" barring them from leaving the country. They included those perceived as critical of the authorities and their relatives, relatives of people imprisoned in connection with the 2002 alleged assassination attempt on the President, and the relatives and friends of government officials imprisoned in recent years.

• On 2 May, Ovez Annaev, the brother-in-law of Khudayberdy Orazov, leader of the opposition movement Watan (Fatherland) in exile, was forced by National Security officers to leave a plane he had boarded. They reportedly threatened to imprison him if he complained to international organizations or embassies. He was on his way to Russia for specialist medical treatment for a gastric ulcer. He and his wife had previously been barred from travel abroad and removed from a plane before take-off, apparently because of their relationship with Khudayberdy Orazov, and accused by the authorities of playing a key role in the alleged assassination attempt.

At least one member of a religious minority group was reportedly deported to his country of origin as part of the clampdown on religious freedom. Since the mid-1990s hundreds of foreign members of minority religious groups have reportedly been deported to their countries of origin.

• When Aleksandr Frolov, a Baptist and Russian citizen who had lived in Turkmenistan for many years, returned from a trip to Russia via Kazakstan in March, religious literature he had on him was confiscated by Turkmenistani border guards. Shortly afterwards three officers of the Migration Service came to his house and confiscated his residence permit. They reportedly accused him of attempting to import Christian literature, failing to notify the Migration Service of his exit from Turkmenistan, and holding religious services in his home. No charges were known to have been brought against him. In June he was deported to Russia, separating him from his wife, a Turkmenistani citizen, their three-year-old son and a five-month-old daughter.

Incommunicado imprisonment

Dozens of prisoners sentenced following unfair trials in connection with the 2002 alleged assassination attempt continued to be held incommunicado, denied all access to families, lawyers and independent bodies including the International Committee of the Red Cross. There were allegations that many had been tortured and ill-treated following their arrests, and that some had died as a result of torture, ill-treatment and harsh prison conditions. The authorities failed to conduct thorough or impartial investigations into the allegations, or to respond to inquiries by AI and other human rights organizations.

In October President Niyazov announced that eight prisoners serving sentences in connection with the alleged assassination attempt would be released in a forthcoming amnesty. The eight had repented, "were not involved much and did not use arms", he said. None of those prisoners known to have been convicted of involvement in the alleged coup attempt was included in the published amnesty list.

AI country reports/visits

Reports

• Europe and Central Asia: Summary of Amnesty International's concerns in the region, January-June 2006 (AI Index: EUR 01/017/2006)

• Commonwealth of Independent States: Positive trend on the abolition of the death penalty but more needs to be done (AI Index: EUR 04/003/2006)

• Turkmenistan: Open letter from a coalition of human rights organizations (AI Index: EUR 61/010/2006)

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