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UN asks Turkmenistan for information on Nurgeldy Khalykov

UN asks Turkmenistan for information on Nurgeldy Khalykov

The government responded.

In February 2021, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Working Group on arbitrary detentions, the Working Group on enforced involuntary disappearances and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders sent a ten-page letter to the Turkmen authorities (download.pdf) regarding the verdict handed down to Nurgeldy Khalykov, a freelance correspondent for Turkmen.news. A young man was sentenced in 2020 to 4 years for sending a photo with a WHO delegation.

A three-paragraph response was received from the authorities. The UN appeal details Khalykov’s story: on July 12, 2020, he sent independent journalists a photo of members of the WHO delegation, which his acquaintance posted on Instagram. The next day, a friend deleted him from her friends and asked if he had forwarded this photo. He was then called in for an interview with the police and the Ministry of National Security. On July 26, Khalykov told our editors that he was accused of refusing to repay a $5,000 debt allegedly taken in early 2020. On September 15, Nurgeldy was sentenced to four years in prison under Article 228 (“fraud”).

The UN emphasizes that usually non-repayment of debt in Turkmenistan does not lead to the initiation of a criminal case. If a complaint is received, the police talk to the debtor, they take a receipt from him stating that he undertakes to return the money. The mechanism by which, in this case, Nurgeldy's actions were qualified as fraud is unclear.

Turkmen.news published material on the sentencing of Khalykov only in December. Prior to this, the relatives of the convict were promised that he would be released during the next amnesty. But on December 12, the amnesty took place, but Khalykov did not fall under it. “The trial and sentence of Mr. Khalykov does not meet minimum standards of justice and international human rights standards,” - the UN appeal emphasizes. The authors of the letter note: “This case cannot be considered outside the context of other systematic and severe violations of freedom of speech in Turkmenistan, because of which other independent journalists, human rights activists, civil activists who collect facts and transmit information about events in the country are forced to remain silent.”

The answer of the Turkmen authorities, received by the UN, is as follows: “Nurgeldy Palvanovich Halykov was born on December 1, 1994 in Ashgabat, Turkmen by nationality, a citizen of Turkmenistan, unemployed, registered at (information seized). In accordance with the decision of the Bagtyyarlyk District Court of Ashgabat dated September 15, 2020, Mr. Khalykov was sentenced under article 228 (2) of the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan to four years in prison. Mr. Khalykov is serving a term in facility LB-E/12 of the Lebap Velayat Police Department.”

The response does not explain the reasons for "turning" the debt into fraud, nor the circumstances regarding the photo of members of the WHO mission, nor issues related to freedom of speech. Turkmenistan annually takes one of the last places in the press freedom rating. Only state media and those private publications that repeat the state agenda are allowed to broadcast in the country. This agenda is mainly devoted to the work and rest of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. The editorial offices of independent media are located abroad, and their websites are blocked inside the country. Sources within the country are forced to interact anonymously with the editors. The fate of Nurgeldy Khalykov is a typical example of what happens if such a source is disclosed.

The July visit of the WHO mission to Turkmenistan was intended to check whether the country is indeed free of COVID-19, as the authorities claim. As a result of the visit, the experts did not insist that the virus exists in the country, but recommended that the authorities imagine that it had entered the country. The WHO visit was not secret, it was covered by the state media. However, the authorities considered the "unauthorized" photo of the members of the mission inadmissible.

Khalykov was supported by the international organization «Reporters Without Borders» and the OSCE representative on freedom of the Media. Currently, the World Bank is considering an application from the Ministry of Finance and Economy of Turkmenistan for a loan of $20 million to prevent the coronavirus and respond to its threat. In other words, the authorities deny the existence of the infection in the country, imprison those who help independent media track this topic, but ask international financial institutions for money for prevention. Turkmen.news held a series of negotiations with the bank's management, we told them about the general situation with the coronavirus in Turkmenistan, and also dwelled on the Khalykov case in detail. We urged the bank to put forward two conditions for issuing a loan - the release of Khalykov and the disclosure by the government of real information about COVID-19.

https://turkmen.news/human-rights/freedom-to-halykov/

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