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Appeal Cases

Amnesty, Wed 6 Aug 2003

TURKMENISTAN: APPEAL CASES

6 August 2003, AI Index: EUR 61/012/2003; public

Background on the human rights situation in Turkmenistan
An alleged assassination attempt on President Saparmurad Niyazov's motorcade in the capital city of Ashgabat on 25 November 2002 that left the President unharmed has opened the flood gates for increased repression and human rights violations committed by the authorities of Turkmenistan. Dozens of people were convicted to prison terms up to life imprisonment following grossly unfair trials. Scores of men, women and children have faced detention, harassment, evictions from their homes, and confiscation of property. Many of them were reportedly targeted solely because of their family relations with the regime's opponents. There have been credible reports of torture and ill-treatment of many of the defendants and their relatives in detention. In many cases the defendants' lawyers were given little or no notice before the court hearings began. Some lawyers representing the defendants in court reportedly began their plea with the words "I am ashamed to defend a person like you..."

To Amnesty International's knowledge, family members of those imprisoned have to date not been given permission to visit their relatives. There have been allegations of continued ill-treatment of those convicted in relation with the November 2002 attack and Amnesty International is extremely concerned for their safety.

Prior to the November 2002 attack on the President, Turkmenistan's human rights record was already dismal, including a climate of extreme intolerance of dissent, severe restrictions of political and civil liberties, persecution of religious minorities, recurring imprisonment of conscientious objectors, and tight control of the media and freedom of expression. Though the new wave of repression is extraordinary, it nevertheless reflects the harsh practices that human rights groups have documented throughout recent years.

A series of unfair trials following the November 2002 events

At the end of December 2002, at least four opposition figures accused of masterminding the November attack - Boris Shikhmuradov, Nurmukhammet Khanamov, Khudayberdy Orazov, and Saparmurad Yklymov - were sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment by the country's Supreme Court. The latter three were sentenced in absentia. The sentences were increased to life imprisonment the following day by the Khalk Maslakhaty, which consists of representatives of the legislative, the executive and the judicial branches of power. Amnesty International believes that the trial fell far short of international standards. Reportedly, none of the defendants in the trial was represented by an independent lawyer.

In Boris Shikhmuradov's televised 'confession' that was believed to have been dictated to him, he stated: "I and my allies ... are not opposition members but ordinary criminals and drug addicts ... there is not a single decent person among us; we are all thugs ... I am not a man able to rule a state ... I am a criminal able only to destroy the state." According to official sources, Boris Shikhmuradov - who had been in exile since he defected in November 2001 - entered the country shortly before the attack on the President and Turkmen secret police detained him on 25 December.

At least another 55 people were convicted in a series of closed trials that were believed to have opened on 13 January 2003. The defendants were not represented by independent lawyers. In many cases the defendants' lawyers were given little or no notice before the court hearings began. The defendants were reportedly forced to sign a document saying they were familiar with the documentation of their criminal case and the indictment, without being given the chance to study these documents. Representatives of embassies and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) who requested to observe the trials were not given access to the court hearings. Amnesty International received reports that many of the defendants were tortured and ill-treated in pre-trial detention (see below) and that "confessions" extracted under torture were used as evidence in the trials..

Torture and ill-treatment
Twenty-one-year old student Aili Yklymov and his elder brother Esenaman - relatives of Saparmurad Yklymov - were arrested the day of the attack on the President. According to credible sources, Aili Yklymov was beaten so severely in the basement of the Ministry of National Security in Ashgabat on 5 December 2002 that he was unable to walk and had to be taken to questioning on a stretcher. Aili Yklymov was released in mid December, but had to sign an undertaking not to leave Ashgabat. His father told Amnesty International that as a result of the ill-treatment in custody, his son has difficulties concentrating and is almost constantly tired.

Esenaman Yklymov was reportedly also ill-treated in custody the day he was arrested and his ears bled as a result; when he was released the following day he was unable to hold a pen in order to write. At the beginning of January 2003, Esenaman Yklymov was forced to denounce his parents on television and was reportedly sentenced to five years' imprisonment. Both brothers reportedly received no treatment for their injuries while in custody.

Other members of the Yklymov family have also been allegedly detained and tortured or ill-treated. Amanmukhammet Yklymov, who was reportedly sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment on 19 January 2003, is said to have been tortured in the Ashgabat city police building following his arrest on 25 November. His family claim that as a result of the torture, he lost the sight in his left eye and the hearing in his left ear. His left arm was reportedly broken and he is hardly able to move. Sources allege that a plastic bag was put over his head to restrict his breathing, and that he was suspended by his arms, and forced to wear a gas mask, to which the air supply was cut off. The court reportedly ignored Amanmukhammet Yklymov's allegations that he was tortured in custody.

Another brother, Orazmamed Yklymov, reportedly confessed that he was involved in the attack on the President following threats by law enforcement officers that his son would be tortured if he did not confess. There were reports that Orazmamed Yklymov appeared in court with a dislocated arm and a swollen eye, and that he was unable to hear in one ear. He was reportedly sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment on 19 January.

Yklym Yklymov, another brother, went into hiding following the 25 November attack. His girlfriend's sister Svetlana Prokofyeva and the mother of the two young women were reportedly tortured using electric shocks, and beaten with rubber truncheons and plastic bottles filled with water, in an attempt to force them to disclose Yklym Yklymov's whereabouts.

Davlatgeldi Annannyyazov, the brother of former political prisoner Gulgeldi Annannyyazov, was detained on 30 November 2002 in Ashgabat. He was reportedly ill-treated by agents of the Security Service. Gulgeldi Annannyyazov told Amnesty International from exile in Norway on 6 December: "When they detained Davlatgeldi the officers beat him and ridiculed him in front of his wife and children. Then they took him to the Interior Ministry and beat him there. I received information that they ill-treated him to force him to denounce me and that they recorded his words on a tape recorder."

Others who were detained and reportedly ill-treated included Batyr Berdyev, a former foreign minister and ambassador to the OSCE who was arrested on 8 December 2002. Three officers of the Ministry of National Security reportedly attached him to a door with handcuffs and then beat him. Batyr Berdyev was sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment on 21 January 2003 in connection with the 25 November attack.

Long-standing political prisoner Mukhametkuli Aymuradov
Political prisoner Mukhametkuli Aymuradov was convicted in 1995 of a number of charges, including "attempted terrorism," and sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment after a reportedly unfair trial. In December 1998, an additional 18 years imprisonment was added to his sentence in connection with an alleged prison escape attempt. Mukhametkuli Aymuradov is reported to have been denied appropriate medical treatment for a heart attack, a gastric ulcer and recurring inflammation of the kidneys, bladder and gall bladder. Unofficial sources have also said that Mukhametkuli Aymuradov's eyesight has deteriorated. A regulation, reportedly in force since January 2002, permitted his wife to visit him in the maximum security prison in the Caspian town of Turkmenbashi once every three months for 20 minutes. Amnesty International is calling for the release of long-standing political prisoner Mukhametkuli Aymuradov on the grounds that repeated calls for a fair retrial of his case have gone unheeded and there does not appear to be a prospect of his being given a fair trial. In addition, the organization is concerned about reports that Mukhametkuli Aymuradov's state of health continues to be very poor and that he is denied appropriate medical treatment.

Religious Minorities and Conscientious Objectors
Under the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations, religious congregations are required to register with the government, and since re-registration of religious organizations was made compulsory in early 1997 only two groups - the Russian Orthodox Church and Sunni Muslims - obtained registration.

Those belonging to religious groups that are not officially sanctioned, such as the Armenian Apostolic Church, Baha'i, Buddhists, Hare Krishna devotees, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Jews, have been denied any public religious activities and have faced imprisonment, deportation, internal exile, house eviction and harassment for years. Many have faced harassment by the authorities also for religious activities carried out in private, for example, when holding services in private homes. Amnesty International has documented many cases in which members of religious minorities were tortured or ill-treated by law enforcement officers. Many foreign missionaries have been deported from Turkmenistan in recent years and several ethnic Turkmen followers who advocated a religious belief other than those officially sanctioned have been forced into exile or have been sent into internal exile.

In addition, the Russian Orthodox Church and the Sunni Muslim community are under strict state control and members of registered religious groups have apparently also been targeted and punished when daring to express any kind of dissent.

There is no civilian alternative in Turkmenistan for young men who object to compulsory military service on grounds of conscience. Those who refuse conscription face imprisonment under criminal law. Amnesty International continues to receive reports of young men imprisoned in Turkmenistan solely for their refusal to serve in the army on religious grounds.

Twenty-year-old Kurban Zakirov, a Jehovah's Witness, is currently serving a prison sentence of eight years in particularly harsh conditions in a labour colony in Turkmenbashi. He was sentenced to one year's imprisonment in May 1999 for refusing to serve in the army on religious grounds. Since then, he was allegedly twice denied release for his refusal on conscientious grounds to swear an oath of allegiance to President Saparmurad Niyazov, first when he was pardoned in December 1999 and again upon completion of his sentence around April 2000. Following his second refusal, a new criminal case was brought against him and he was sentenced to an additional eight years' imprisonment. There is reason to believe that this case was fabricated to punish him for his religious beliefs.

On 2 July 2002 21-year old Nikolay Shelekhov was sentenced a second time for his objection to serve in the army on religious grounds. The Jehovah's Witness was convicted of "evasion of military call-up" (Article 219 Part 1 of the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan) and sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment by the President Niyazov District Court in the capital city of Ashgabat. Appeals lodged against his sentence with Ashgabat City Court and the Supreme Court were turned down in August and October respectively. Nikolay Shelekhov is still suffering from illnesses, including kidney problems, contracted during his previous imprisonment between August 2000 and December 2001.

RECOMMENDED ACTION:
Please send letters to President Niyazov in English, Russian, Turkmen or your own language, asking him to:
immediately and unconditionally release all prisoners of conscience, including Nikolay Shelekhov and Kurban Zakirov and political prisoner Mukhametkuli Aymuradov, convicted in 1995 in an unfair trial; ensure that all those convicted in connection with the 25 November 2002 events as well as all other political prisoners who were sentenced following unfair trials are granted a retrial in procedures which meet international standards of fairness; and ensure that independent trial observers are granted access to the trials;carry out impartial and thorough investigations into all allegations of torture and ill-treatment, including of Batyr Berdyev, Aili, Esenaman, Amanmukhammet, Orazmamed and Yklym Yklymov, Svetlana Prokofyeva, her mother, Davlatgeldi Annanyyazov (Turkmenistan's former Ambassador to OSCE), and others detained following the 25 November 2002 events; publish the findings of these investigations; bring to justice those found responsible and provide full reparation to the victims;grant access to the prisoners detained following the events of 25 November 2002 by the International Committee of the Red Cross and other independent bodies and the prisoners' families; ensure that parcels with medicine and food can be passed to the prisoners;ensure the protection of the human rights of the family members of known or perceived government opponents;ensure respect for the human rights of civil society activists and ensure that non-governmental organizations and civil society activists are able to carry out their peaceful activities free from harassment and persecution;ensure that everyone in Turkmenistan is able to exercise peacefully their right to freedom of religion without threat of imprisonment, detention or harassment.release promptly and unconditionally all those imprisoned for their refusal on conscientious grounds to perform military service, and refrain from imprisoning anyone else as a conscientious objector; introduce legislative provisions to ensure that a civilian alternative of non-punitive length is available to all those whose conscientiously-held beliefs preclude them from performing military service.

SEND LETTERS TO:
President, Saparmurad NIYAZOV
Turkmenistan; 744000 g. Ashgabat; Apparat Prezidenta; Prezidentu Turkmenistana NIYAZOVU S.A; TURKMENISTAN
Faxes: + 993 12 - 35 51 12 (if your fax doesn't go through, please send it by post)
Salutation: Dear President,

Foreign Minister of Turkmenistan, Rashit Ovezgeldiyevich MEREDOV
Turkmenistan; 744000 g. Ashgabat; pr. Magtymguly, 83; Ministerstvo inostrannykh del Turkmenistana; TURKMENISTAN; Ministru MEREDOVU R.

Faxes: +993 12 - 35 42 41
Salutation: Dear Minister
e-mail: mfatm@online.tm


List of the members of the EU-Kazakstan, EU-Kyrgyzstan and EU-Uzbekistan Parliamentary Cooperation Committees and Delegation for Relations with Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Mongolia (as of April 2003):


On. DI PIETRO, Antonio , Chairman
Group of the European Liberal, Democrat and Reform Party
Italy 2.. KOUKIADIS, Ioannis , Vice-Chairman
Group of the Party of European Socialists
Greece 3.Mr BOWIS, John , Vice-Chairman
Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats
United Kingdom 4.Mme BORDES, Armonia , Member
Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left
France 5.Mr CALLANAN, Martin , Member
Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats
United Kingdom 6.Mr CORBETT, Richard , Member
Group of the Party of European Socialists
United Kingdom 7.Mr FORD, Glyn , Member
Group of the Party of European Socialists
United Kingdom 8.Frau JEGGLE, Elisabeth , Member
Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats
Federal Republic of Germany 9.Sr. LAGE, Carlos , Member
Group of the Party of European Socialists
Portugal 10.De Heer MAAT, Albert Jan , Member
Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats
Netherlands 11.On. MUSSA, Antonio , Member
Union for Europe of the Nations Group
Italy 12.M. SAVARY, Gilles , Member
Group of the Party of European Socialists
France 13.Mme SCHAFFNER, Anne-Marie , Member
Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats
France 14.Herr SICHROVSKY, Peter , Member
Non-attached
Austria 15.De Heer STAES, Bart , Member
Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance
Belgium 16.VATANEN, Ari , Member
Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats
Finland

The personality cult of President NiyazovPresident Niyazov has written a book, called Rukhnama, which is compulsory literature in schools and universities. Everyone, who wants to enter university, has to know parts of this book by heart. Soldiers and prisoners have to swear an oath on the book, which President Niyazov compares to the Bible and the Koran. There is a public holiday for the Rukhnama (12 September).The text of the national oath reads as follows:
"Turkmenistan, my beloved Motherland, my beloved Homeland!
You are always with me in my thoughts and in my heart.
For the slightest evil against you may my hand be lost.
For the slightest slander about you may my tongue be lost.
At the moment of my betrayal of my Motherland, of her sacred banner,
Of Saparmurat Turkmenbashi, may my breath stop."
There are statues and posters of him everywhere; there is even a 12 m high golden statue, which follows the path of the sun, so that his face is always in the sun.He has given himself the title "Turkmenbashi (Father of all Turkmen) the Great" His birthday and the birthday of his mother are public holidays.He has renamed all the months, January is now TurkmenbashiHe has developed a new system to divide up the ages of his people. He himself has just moved from the age of the prophet to the age of inspiration.After having received medical treatment abroad last year, he was allegedly greeted by his ministers with a speech, from which we copy you some extracts:
Our love for you has no limits. We are your dedicated assistants, your companions-in-arms who are ready for the sake of the great goal and bright path even to lay down our lives...Holding their breath, our people lived in anticipation of seeing you again, of hearing your voice, your speech full of wisdom and sharp wit. People had only one concern - for how you were feeling - and they asked God for your recovery...

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AI INDEX: EUR 61/012/2003     6 August 2003

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©Copyright 2003, Kazekhstan News (Kazekhstan)

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