Government attempts to silence the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation

Report
August 31, 2005

Government attempts to silence the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation

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In May 2004 several officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and one officer from the Procurator’s office reportedly tried to obtain information about Tadzhigul Begmedova and the work of the THF from her sister Akchagul Kakaeva. Akchagul Kakaeva is serving a prison term of eight years in Dashoguz women’s colony in a case not related to the human rights work of the THF. One official also reportedly mentioned to her that Tadzhigul Begmedova had given interviews to the Turkmen Service of the US-funded Radio Liberty. This Prague-based radio station is one of the very few remaining sources of alternative information available to people inside Turkmenistan and has been highly critical of the regime and its human rights record. Akchagul Kakaeva was reportedly interrogated in the open air in extreme heat several times in the course of the day. Other prisoners were also interrogated. However, they were reportedly able to return to their wards after their interrogations while Akchagul Kakaeva was forced to stand in the direct sun between her interrogations and up until the officers finished their work for the day. By the end of the day Akchagul Kakaeva reportedly suffered from bleeding in her right eye. She was so exhausted that she was unable to move or even raise her head without assistance and had to be guided back into her ward by prison guards.

In April 2005 the Ministry of National Security summoned several of Tadzhigul Begmedova’s former colleagues, acquaintances from university and fellow students of her relatives for questioning. They were asked for information about Tadzhigul Begmedova, the THF’s work and the names of Tadzhigul Begmedova’s sources of information in Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan: background information

AI is seriously concerned about widespread abuses of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights in Turkmenistan. The authorities have engaged in a clampdown on dissent and religious freedom for many years.

They have in many cases targeted relatives of dissidents to put pressure on the dissidents. AI has documented cases where family members of dissidents including dissidents in exile have been summoned to the Ministry of National Security, dismissed from their work or threatened with confiscation of their flats.

Despite Turkmenistan’s obligations under international human rights law, the authorities of Turkmenistan 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. Several have been forced into exile in recent years. Most of them were political dissidents and their relatives.

In addition to the pressure on the THF, another human rights group the authorities have tried to silence is the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TI). In March 2005, for example, Ruslan Tukhbatullin, the brother of Farid Tukhbatullin, a former prisoner of conscience and the founder of the TI in exile, was forced to hand in his resignation from his post in the military because of his family relationship with Farid Tukhbatullin (See AI Index EUR 61/004/2005 for further information).
The authorities have in many instances prevented civil society activists from meeting representatives of foreign governments and intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe on their visits to Turkmenistan. They have been threatened by the Ministry of National Security with serious repercussions if they attend such meetings or address any issues that may shed a negative light on the authorities. In addition, in many cases the telephones of activists were apparently disconnected throughout the time of the visit of a foreign delegation.

Please send politely worded appeals to the authorities of Turkmenistan to arrive as quickly as possible, in Turkmen, Russian, English or your own language: