The whereabouts of dozens of victims of forced disappearance in 2002 remained unknown. Prisoners of conscience continued to be imprisoned for peacefully expressing their beliefs. Freedom of expression, association and religion continued to be restricted.
The authorities continued to withhold information to relatives and the public about the whereabouts of dozens of people arrested and convicted following the alleged armed attack on former President Saparmurad Niyazov in November 2002. Letters from their relatives to various governmental officials remained unanswered.
- The whereabouts of Boris Shikhmuradov, Minister of Foreign Affairs under former President Saparmurad Niyazov, remained unknown. He was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment in a closed trial in December 2002, increased the following day to life imprisonment by the People’s Council which was abolished in 2008. Since then, Boris Shikhmuradov’s family have had no news of him. His wife wrote repeatedly to government officials, but received no response. In September 2007, during a visit to Columbia University in the USA, President Berdymukhamedov was quoted as saying he was “positive” that Boris Shikhmuradov was alive. This continues to be the only information about his fate since his life sentence was imposed.
Repression of dissent
All printed and electronic media remained under state control. The authorities continued to block websites run by exiled members of the opposition and dissidents. Journalists working with foreign independent media outlets were harassed by law enforcement and national security service officials. The authorities continued to put pressure on family members of exiled members of the opposition by putting them on a “black list” of people barred from leaving the country.
- Osmankuly Khallyev, correspondent of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty News Service (RFE/RL) in Lebap province, continued to suffer harassment by local governmental officials because of his work for RFE/RL’s Turkmen service. In January he was put under house arrest after covering the parliamentary elections in December 2008. He told RFE/RL that his son, his daughter-in-law and son-in-law were sacked as a punishment for his co-operation with RFE/RL. He complained to the local Prosecutor’s Office but received no response.
- On 15 November, Ovez Annaev died aged 46 after being denied permission to travel to Moscow for treatment for heart disease which was not available in Turkmenistan. He and other members of his family were barred from leaving the country after his brother-in-law, Kudayberdy Orazov, exiled leader of the opposition movement Vatan (Motherland), was sentenced to life imprisonment in his absence after the November 2002 attack on former President Saparmurad Niyazov.
Prisoners of conscience
- On 6 November Andrei Zatoka, an environmental activist, was released after Dashoguz Regional Court reconsidered his case and commuted his initial sentence to a fine of 1,000 Manat (about US$350). He had been sentenced on 29 October, after an unfair trial, to five years’ imprisonment for “hooliganism” and injuring a man who had attacked him at a market on 20 October. He told Amnesty International that he was released on the condition that he would renounce his Turkmenistani citizenship and leave the country. After paying the fine, he and his wife had to leave Turkmenistan for Russia on 7 November with only a few belongings, and fearing that the government would confiscate his freehold apartment. Amnesty International believes that he was targeted because of his peaceful work as an environmental activist.
The authorities continued to use false criminal charges to suppress peaceful dissent.
- Human rights activists Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khadzhiev remained in detention after being sentenced in August 2006, after an unfair trial, to seven years’ imprisonment for illegal possession or sale of ammunition or firearms. Both had been associated with the exiled NGO the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation.
Freedom of religion – Jehovah’s Witnesses
- In July, according to the international human rights organization Forum 18, two young Jehovah’s Witnesses, Shadurdi Ushotov and Akmurat Egendurdiev, were sentenced to two years and 18 months respectively in a labour camp for refusing to perform compulsory military service.
- In May, Serdar Town Court lifted the suspension of the two-year prison sentences imposed on brothers Sakhetmurad and Mukhammedmurad Annamamedov, both Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they were arrested to serve the remaining 18 months of their sentences. On 3 June, the two brothers lodged appeals at the Regional Court in Balkanabad against the lifting of the suspension of their prison sentences. On 30 June the court rejected their appeal.