Government attempts to silence the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation

August 31, 2005

Government attempts to silence the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation

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Amnesty International (AI) is seriously concerned at attempts by the authorities to stop the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation (THF) from carrying out its human rights work. Some of these attempts are believed to be part of a government policy to prevent information about human rights violations from leaving the virtually closed country, and so reaching the attention of the international community. The targeting of the THF is part of a larger pattern of intimidation by the authorities of civil society activists and their relatives and, more generally, of the clampdown on dissent.

Seventy-nine -year-old Sazak Begmedov still in internal exile

Exactly two years ago, on 31 August 2003, Sazak Begmedov, the father of the THF director Tadzhigul Begmedova, was stopped by four police officers near his home in the capital Ashgabat and forcibly resettled to Dashoguz near the border with Uzbekistan. AI believes that Sazak Begmedov was targeted in connection with his daughter’s human rights work. Shortly before the forced resettlement, Tadzhigul Begmedova had announced the formation of the THF, and had publicly alleged that two men imprisoned in connection with the alleged assassination attempt on the President in November 2002 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. In February 2005, the house where Sazak Begmedov lives in Dashoguz was reportedly put under surveillance for two weeks and his telephone was cut off for about a month following a phone call on 25 February from a representative of a European embassy who wanted to arrange a meeting between Sazak Begmedov and diplomats. Sazak Begmedov is believed to be in poor health and suffers from tuberculosis.

Further examples of harassment and intimidation

The TNF director Tadzhigul Begmedova, who now lives in exile, told AI that since announcing the formation of the THF in August 2003 she has received numerous emails threatening her with repercussions including causing harm to her children, who also live outside Turkmenistan, if she continued criticizing the human rights situation in Turkmenistan. Reportedly, several of her contacts in Turkmenistan who passed on information about the human rights situation in the country are under close surveillance; they have been called to the police many times who threatened them with dismissal from their workplace and with pressure on their children or elderly relatives if they did not end their work for the THF. Their phone lines are also frequently cut off.