Туркменский Хельсинкский Фонд по правам человека совместно с Болгарским Хельсинкским Комитетом подготовил меморандум, в котором рассматриваются важные аспекты ситуации с правами человека в Туркменистане на момент подготовки документа. В нем затрагиваются вопросы, связанные с преследованием гражданских активистов и диссидентов внутри страны и за рубежом, проблемой насильственных исчезновений, соблюдением прав человека в ходе кампаний борьбы с экстремизмом и терроризмом, ограничениями свободы передвижения, в том числе связанные с проблемами документирования туркменских мигрантов в Турции.
Также ТХФ осуществил существенную поддержку, руководство и критический вклад в обзор, подготовленный Группой по защите прав человека Университета Южной Калифорнии (USC HRAG) и организации «Свобода для Евразии».
Во втором меморандуме обобщаются опасения по поводу ситуации с правами человека в Туркменистане в предверии осеннего 2023 года Универсального периодического обзора. В частности, в материале основное внимание уделяется нарушениям прав человека и транснациональным репрессиям, с которыми сталкиваются граждане Туркменистана, в том числе трудовые мигранты и правозащитники, проживающие в Турции, важном центре туркменской диаспоры. В этом меморандуме подробно описывается слежка, ограничения на поездки, дискриминация и другие злоупотребления, которые Ашхабад и Анкара все чаще используют для контроля и наблюдения за туркменами за рубежом и их родственниками, которые остаются в стране.
Туркменский Хельсинкский Фонд по правам человека
TO THE 44-TH UNİVERSAL PERİODİC REVIEW OF TURKMENİSTAN FROM THE TURKMEN HELSİNKİ FOUNDATİON FOR HUMAN RİGHTS AND THE BULGARİAN HELSİNKİ COMMİTTEE
Information about applicant organizations:
The Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights was registered in Varna (Bulgaria) in August 2003. Monitors the human rights situation in Turkmenistan and Turkmen citizens living abroad.
Varna, Bulgaria, e-mail: email@example.com
The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee was registered in Sofia (Bulgaria) in 1993. Monitors human rights in Bulgaria and other OSCE countries. Participated in many events aimed at protecting human rights in Turkmenistan.
Sofia, Bulgaria, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This memorandum, presented jointly by the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, examines important aspects of the human rights situation in Turkmenistan in the lead-up to the upcoming Universal Periodic Review. The document addresses issues related to the persecution of civil activists and dissidents at home and abroad, the problem of forced disappearances, respect for human rights during campaigns against extremism and terrorism, restrictions on freedom of movement, including those related to the problems of documenting Turkmen migrants in Turkey.
Persecution of civil activists:
There are no registered opposition parties, independent non-governmental organizations, or non-state media in Turkmenistan. Bloggers, civil activists, and dissidents who publicly criticize the government are under pressure, whether they are at home or abroad. Pressure on their relatives is widely practiced. Such pressure increased markedly after a new protest movement emerged among Turkmen migrants in Turkey in 2020, which tried to establish contacts with activists within the country. The reasons for the emergence of the protest movement were many years of government neglect of social, economic and political problems (including the unsettled status of hundreds of thousands of Turkmen migrants), which worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawyer Pygambergeldy Allaberdiev (from Balkanabad city) became a victim of persecution due to his social activity and contacts with foreign dissidents. He was detained on September 7, 2020 on trumped-up charges of hooliganism and on September 29 he was sentenced to 6 years in prison. In 2022, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found Allaberdiyev's deprivation of liberty to be contrary to Turkmenistan's international obligations and recommended that the government immediately release him from custody without conditions, ensure the right to compensation, and conduct an investigation into the circumstances of his arbitrary deprivation of liberty. The recommendations have only been partially implemented. On December 10, 2022, Allaberdiyev was released under an amnesty, but he was placed under administrative supervision for 5 years, during which he must report to the police and is deprived of the right to freedom of movement. His request to the authorities to allow him and his wife to travel abroad for treatment remains unanswered. An investigation into the circumstances of the arbitrary deprivation of liberty has also not been carried out.
Video blogger Murad Dushemov was repeatedly detained and tried on the basis of fabricated materials. In June 2020, he was detained for 10 days for publishing a video on YouTube in which he expressed his views on the activities of the government and foreign oppositionists. In June 2021, after publishing a video criticizing the authorities’ actions during the COVID pandemic (the authorities denied its existence in Turkmenistan), he was fined for violating public order. On July 7, 2021, he was subjected to administrative arrest for 15 days for illegal parking, and then accused of fighting with a cellmate while in custody and extortion. On August 16, 2021, the court sentenced him to 4 years in prison. Dushemov's relatives report that he still cannot receive a copy of the verdict, which is why he was unable to appeal it in a timely manner. Persons involved in other politically motivated cases in Turkmenistan also complain about the refusal to provide copies of court decisions.
Since September 2021, Magtymguly Gurtgeldyev, who is studying in China, has been subjected to pressure from the Turkmen special services. After he did not receive meaningful responses to his appeals to the parliament and the National Bank of Turkmenistan about the problems of students studying abroad, he began discussing the same problems on social networks with other students. Because of this, pressure began to be placed on parents of Gurtgeldyev as well, they demanded that he delete all his publications on this topic from social networks. In October 2022, he learned that because he did not comply with these demands, his relatives were threatened with dismissal from their jobs.
Rozgeldi Choliev, who studied in Russia, came under pressure from the authorities after he posted a video message on Turkmen opposition channels on Youtube in May 2020 related to the social problems of students studying abroad and the lack of help from the Turkmen Embassy, then several more videos. Almost immediately, the Turkmenistan consulate informed the Russian authorities that the student was involved in terrorism and asked that he be handed over to Turkmen diplomats, who would send him home. At the same time, pressure began on his relatives in Turkmenistan. The parents were demanded that Choliev no longer perform on the Internet, and that the father call his son home, otherwise he would be fired and the apartment would be confiscated. After Choliev’s new video messages in the fall of 2020, when he went to Turkey and began to openly criticize the authorities of Turkmenistan, calling on Turkmen to go to rallies, his parents in Turkmenistan were taken to the police several times and demanded to influence their son so that he would stop speaking on the Internet. Around the same time, Rozgeldi Choliev's sister and brother were demoted and threatened with dismissal if they did not influence their brother. Currently, due to the threat of arrest, the former student is forced to seek refuge abroad.
Since June 2020, the Turkmen authorities have been putting pressure on the relatives of Dursoltan Taganova, who has become an iconic figure in the Turkmen protest movement created in 2020 by migrants from Turkmenistan in Turkey. Taganova's relatives were repeatedly called to the police, demanding that she be convicted; some were subjected to physical violence. On October 12, 2020, police informed her brother in Turkmenabat that Taganova was a “traitor to the Motherland” and was wanted in a criminal case of fraud. Taganova has not visited Turkmenistan since 2011. According to the policeman, the initiative to initiate a criminal case comes from “another organization” (meaning the Ministry of National Security of Turkmenistan). In December 2022, security services in Turkmenistan tried to recruit her minor son, Firuzjan, to provide them with information about his mother and her contacts with relatives8.
Since the end of 2018, the police began to put pressure on the relatives of Rustam Yusupov, a citizen of Turkmenistan living in Turkey, who collaborated in 2017-2019 with the Turkmen service RFE/RL (Radio Azatlyk). They demanded that Yusupov stop speaking on the radio and return to Turkmenistan.
On August 16, 2022, Turkmen activists who came to the consulate of Turkmenistan in Istanbul to deliver an appeal to the president about the problems of migrants were beaten in the courtyard of the consulate by unknown masked men who came out of the building. The incident occurred before the eyes of the accompanying activists of Turkish human rights activists and lawyers. One of the Turkmen activists Atamyrat Saparov received a serious injury to the head and face, and was forced to seek medical help. The Turkish authorities are currently investigating the incident.
Turkmenistan still has not fulfilled the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee on the cases of Ogulsapar Muradova (CCPR/C/122/D/2252/2013), Sapardurdy Khajiev (CCPR/C/113/D/2079/2011) and Annakurban Amanklychev (CCPR /C/116/d/2078/2011). We are talking, in particular, about the conduct of an impartial and thorough investigation and holding the perpetrators accountable, the provision of compensation and complete information, as well as the adoption of measures to prevent such violations in the future. In March 2023, representatives of Turkmenistan, despite the fact that in 2006, the court of Ashgabat sentenced Ogulsapar Muradova to 6 years in prison, made an absurd statement that she was allegedly not prosecuted at all.
Turkmenistan continues to use Interpol procedures to persecute dissidents and refugees, as was the case in 2007 in relation to dissident Annadurdy Khajiev. In particular, in 2019, a request was sent to Austria about the extradition of the famous critic of the regime, the former ambassador of Turkmenistan in Turkey Nurmukhammet Khanamov, who has been living in Austria since 2003 as a refugee. Earlier, Turkmenistan has already demanded his extradition. The new request mentioned allegedly taking place in 1993, involvement in the smuggling of opium and theft of funds from the government in 2002. When Austria requested the provision of legal assistance with Turkmenistan, the Turkmen side "could not fulfill the request for evidence confirming the guilt of the accused." With this in mind and other circumstances, the Austrian prosecutor's office decided to close the case.
Recommendations to the government of Turkmenistan:
1. To stop the pursuit of activists, bloggers and other persons related to the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of associations and freedom of assembly, to stop pressure on their relatives in Turkmenistan, to investigate all such cases related to violation of the law, and to punish guilty;
2. To free all the detainees and convicted activists for their activities in protecting human rights;
3. To give an independent human rights NGO (including the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation) to register and act freely in defense of human rights in the territory of Turkmenistan;
4. To ensure the implementation of the recommendations of the UN working group for arbitrary detentions regarding Pygambergeldy Allaberdyev, cancel the restrictions on his movement;
5. To ensure compliance with procedural norms regarding access to texts of court decisions for all persons convicted of administrative and criminal cases who were unreasonably denied this right (Murad Dushemov and others);
6. To ensure the unconditional implementation of the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee on the cases of Ogulsapar Muradova, Sapardurdy Khajiev and Annakurban Amanklychev, who were persecuted in connection with their civic activity;
7. To conduct an investigation into the circumstances of the use of violence against a group of civil activists in the courtyard of the Turkmenistan Consulate in Istanbul on August 16, 2022, punish those responsible and take measures to prevent such incidents;
8. To stop using Interpol procedures to unjustifiably persecute critics of the regime living abroad.
The problem of enforced disappearances:
The problem of forced disappearances in Turkmenistan arose in early 2003, when former President Saparmurad Niyazov ordered convicted opponents of the regime to be placed in the new Ovadan depe prison and held there incommunicado. Subsequently, a similar regime was extended (contrary to the law) to some other groups of political prisoners. In the event of the death of such prisoners, their bodies were not released to relatives for burial, and the death was not officially reported. In subsequent years, the situation changed under the influence of international pressure and internal changes; for some categories of political prisoners, the incommunicado regime was abolished in 2018. However, the fate of at least dozens of victims of enforced disappearances remains unknown after their sentencing. Currently, about 100 people remain on the «Prove They Are Alive» campaign's list of victims of enforced disappearances, most of them convicted of participating in the November 25, 2002 coup attempt. Turkmenistan has not yet provided any information about the fate of these people, including former foreign ministers Boris Shikhmuradov and Batyr Berdyev, the former head of the state television and radio company Serdar Rakhimov, as well as Rustem Jumaev, whose cases were registered by the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID). There is no information about the majority of victims of enforced disappearances whose prison terms expired in 2019-2022, and relatives do not have any information about their fate. Given this, the officials' assertion that they are all alive is questionable. Some of them may continue to serve an illegal life sentence, not provided for in criminal law and determined in 2002 by an extrajudicial body.
Recommendations to the Government of Turkmenistan:
1. To provide information on all alleged victims of enforced disappearances included in WGEID inquiries and dialogues in other international forums;
2. To take measures to prevent the illegal incommunicado detention of these and other prisoners;
3. To inform relatives about the whereabouts or death of all such persons in previous years, if this has not been done previously;
4. To review illegal life sentences for participants in the 2002 events as not in compliance with criminal law.
Human rights violations during the campaign against terrorism and extremism:
In information on the implementation of the Concluding Observations of the UN Human Rights Committee, adopted following the consideration of the second periodic report of Turkmenistan, the authorities of Turkmenistan argued that in the period 2015-2019, the courts of Turkmenistan allegedly did not consider cases of crimes such as extremism and terrorism at all, that is not true. According to the “Prove They Are Alive” campaign, which has copies of official documents in some criminal cases, during this period at least many dozens of citizens were convicted under such articles of the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan as terrorism (Article 271), financing of terrorism (Article 271.1), conspiracy to violently overthrow the constitutional order (Article 174), calls for a violent change of the constitutional order (Article 175), incitement of religious hatred committed by an organized group (Article 177 Part 2), which falls under the definitions of “extremism” and “ terrorism" in the legislation of Turkmenistan.
Currently, hundreds of citizens of Turkmenistan are serving long prison sentences (from 12 to 25 years) as “extremists” and “terrorists", often only for their religious beliefs. With regard to this group of prisoners, the practice of “promotion” is widespread, that is, fabrication of new charges while serving their sentence. Until 2018, many persons convicted in cases of terrorism and extremism were kept incommunicado, subsequently, such a regime was introduced in a number of cases for a limited time.
A number of dubious criminal cases have been filed against students who studied abroad and returned home for various reasons.
Annamurad Atdaev, who studied in Egypt, returned home in March 2016 to renew his passport. He was banned from traveling abroad and was offered to become an intelligence agent among believers. After Atdaev’s refusal, he was detained on September 27, 2016 on a trumped-up administrative case of petty hooliganism, and then criminal charges were brought. On December 13, 2016, the Ashgabat City Court sentenced him to 15 years in prison for conspiracy to overthrow the constitutional order, etc. The trial was closed, and his relatives still do not know what his guilt is. Atdaev was supposed to serve his sentence in a colony in Tejen. However, two days after arriving in this colony, he was transferred to the Ovadan depe prison with especially strict conditions of detention. Despite this, the government of Turkmenistan asserted in its May 2017 response to WGEID that Atdayev remains in Tejen. Subsequently, he was either returned to a regular colony, or again transferred to Ovadan depe without clear legal grounds. His wife, Russian citizen Daria Atdaeva, was denied a visa to visit her husband.
Turkmen students Kakajan Khalbaev and Kemal Saparov, who studied in Russia, found themselves in a similar situation. They returned home for the holidays at the end of 2017 and were arrested as “extremists” about two months later. At first they were detained on fabricated materials about an administrative offense, and a few days later they were charged with criminal charge. The students were accused of participating in a conspiracy to overthrow the constitutional order, calling for its violent change, organizing and participating in a criminal community, and inciting religious hatred. All the criminal acts accused of him allegedly took place on Russian territory. On April 27, 2018, the court sentenced them to 15 years in prison. According to Khalbaev’s mother, who was present in the courtroom, the proceedings lasted no more than 2-3 hours, not a single witness was questioned, no specific episodes were mentioned, except for the alleged discovery on her son’s computer of two “extremist” religious audio files downloaded from the Internet content. There is no evidence in the case that these files were distributed by Khalbaev. Neither Khalbaev nor the lawyer were able to obtain the text of the indictment and the court decision. In connection with the same case, 10 more citizens of Turkmenistan who studied in Russia were put on the interstate wanted list.
These and other examples demonstrate the general problems associated with law enforcement in cases of “extremism”.
To the list of problems it is worth adding dubious humanitarian expertise, which plays an important role in proving accusations of “extremism". The possibility of challenging such pseudo-expertises, which are usually only a declarative and not always competent presentation of the expert’s subjective opinion, is currently actually absent.
Recommendations to the Government of Turkmenistan:
1. To make changes to anti-extremist legislation that comply with the norms of international law, in particular the concept of “extremism", which allows for an arbitrary and broad interpretation, should be replaced by the narrower “violent extremism";
2. To take measures to verify the materials of criminal cases of “terrorism” and “extremism”, sentences in which were passed in violation of the right to a fair trial, stop the practice of fabricating new criminal charges against persons serving sentences in such cases, and unjustifiably tightening conditions their content;
3. To establish clear and higher requirements for humanitarian examinations, which play an important role in proving charges in cases of “extremism” and “terrorism,” and ensure the possibility of the defense providing alternative examinations;
4. To ensure control over the prevention of a new illegal establishment of an incommunicado regime in relation to these groups of prisoners.
Restriction of freedom of movement:
Over the past 20 years, Turkmenistan has widely practiced restrictions on leaving the country, usually without explanation of the reasons. Although the list of travel bans has been reduced since the death of President Niyazov in 2006 and some citizens have been able to file complaints against unfounded bans, thousands of people remain on blacklists and travel ban decisions continue to be made in a non-transparent manner and without a clear notification procedure.
Bans remain on travel abroad for relatives of dissidents and human rights activists living abroad. For example, the relatives of the chairman of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Tajigul Begmedova (registered in Bulgaria), were prohibited from leaving the country until 2050 in the early 2000s; this restriction, introduced for political reasons, has not yet been lifted.
After the introduction of new biometric passports in 2013, hundreds of thousands of Turkmen citizens living abroad, primarily in Turkey, effectively became illegal immigrants, which seriously limited freedom of movement. After the expiration of old documents, consulates, as a rule, refuse to issue new ones, demanding, contrary to the law (Article 29, paragraph 3 of the Law of Turkmenistan “On Migration”), that the citizen draw up new documents in his homeland. However, upon returning to Turkmenistan, many migrants faced a five-year travel ban and were treated as criminals, which created a situation of divided families and social problems related to employment. Because of this, lots of citizens of Turkmenistan are afraid to return to their homeland. The situation worsened after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Turkmenistan, while publicly denying cases of COVID-19 infection on its territory, actually interrupted air and ground passenger connections with other countries. Only after protests by Turkmen migrants in Turkey, consulates, as a temporary measure, began to prolong old passports from 2021, which were expiring in 2020-2024.
It should be noted that passport prolongation marks are not recognized by the authorities of third countries, as a result of which the owners of such passports are deprived of the opportunity to legally travel to other countries and cannot obtain visas.
According to official data, by mid-March 2023, more than 200 thousand passports had been prolonged, but this process has so far affected only a minority of Turkmen migrants, many of whom are abroad illegally, especially in Turkey. In addition, according to the latest reports, starting from March 29, 2023, Turkish authorities began to refuse to accept documents for renewal of residence permits to citizens of Turkmenistan with prolonged passports. This could further aggravate the situation of Turkmen migrants. At the moment, human rights defenders and activists are trying to draw the attention of Turkish migration services to this problem.
Due to the lack of legal documents, hundreds of thousands of Turkmen citizens living abroad face problems of employment, obtaining banking services, social protection, etc. According to the Turkish NGO «International refugee rights association», 3426 Turkmen citizens aged 5-17 years living in Turkey, deprived of the right to education. The data covers the period 2021 - 2022. The real figure is much higher, since the estimate is made only for legally registered migrants.
When preparing documents for children born abroad, citizens of Turkmenistan also face difficulties due to the refusal of consulates to issue birth certificates; to obtain them, mothers are also required to return to their homeland, which is not always possible for various reasons.
In some cases, employees of the Turkmen consulate in Istanbul refuse to issue (prolong) documents of civil activists or their family members, citing their criticism of the government as the reason.
Thus, activist Zarina Akhtyamova, who has repeatedly applied to the consulate, is each time denied several documents: certificate about absence of marriage, a document for her daughter born in Turkey, and a passport.
Alisher Sakhatov, who was trying to process documents for his son, who was born in Turkey on January 27, 2022, was denied acceptance of documents due to his critical speeches on social networks. His wife, because of her dialect, was “recommended” to go to the Uzbekistan consulate for help.
Another activist Aziz Mamedov, who submitted his passport for prolongation to the Turkmenistan consulate in Istanbul in December 2020, was told that his document was lost and was refused to issue a new one24. The issue is still not resolved.
In September 2022, at the initiative of Turkmenistan, a visa regime was introduced for short-term trips to Turkey. Since February 2023, there have been reports from citizens who have issued visas for such a trip that some of them, after obtaining a visa, are summoned to the police at their place of residence and required to give a receipt that while abroad they will not participate in protests or political discussions on the Internet, comment and like videos criticizing the government.
Recommendations to the Government of Turkmenistan:
1. To establish a transparent procedure for notifying citizens about the reasons and terms of the travel ban, revise the “black lists” of those prohibited from traveling, excluding politically motivated cases and cases with disproportionately long ban periods;
2. To ensure the implementation of paragraph 3 of Article 26 of the Law “On Migration”, obliging the consulates to issue new passports to all citizens of Turkmenistan who are abroad. To ensure the issuance of birth certificates to citizens of Turkmenistan born abroad, certificates of the presence/absence of marriage, by consular offices;
3. To abandon the practice of putting pressure on activists living abroad by denying them and their relatives the legally required issuance (prolongation) of documents at consular offices;
4. To take steps to legalize and regulate the legal status of hundreds of thousands of citizens of Turkmenistan living in Turkey;
5. To abolish the practice of requiring receipts from citizens of Turkmenistan traveling abroad containing obligations that violate their rights guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Politica
Information from the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation on Human Rights
Information from the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation on Human Rights.
16In preparing this section, we used, among other things, materials from a survey of 502 citizens of Turkmenistan living abroad, conducted in February-March 2003 by the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.
 More precise estimates are difficult due to the lack of official data on Turkmenistan's population dynamics and migration, which leads to the use of extremely contradictory figures by various sources. According to Turkish sources, as of January 2023, 222,090 citizens of Turkmenistan lived legally in the country (https://rus.azathabar.com/a/32240362.html), which, by all estimates, was significantly less than the number of illegal immigrants. According to some estimates, up to 2 million citizens of Turkmenistan (more than a third of the population) may be abroad (https://www.ng.ru/cis/2021-07
23 Information from the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation on Human Rights.