Turkmen human rights activists are hoping a new United Nations report will draw international attention to prisoners held incommunicado in the country.
A report from United Nations Radio says an independent study of secret prisons around the world will be presented at a session of the UN Human Rights Council in March.
“Secret detention effectively takes people outside the legal framework and renders the safeguards contained in international instruments, including habeas corpus, meaningless,” said the report, which said 66 countries in have used or are still imprisoning people in secret.
To compile the report, a team of researchers spoke to officials, inmates and their relatives, and defence lawyers, in the countries having secret jails, inmates of such prisons, their family members and legal counsels.
Manfred Nowak, the UN special rapporteur on torture and one of those who drafted the study, says, “Secret detention is irreconcilably in violation of international human rights law.”
Turkmen human rights activists say the authorities have used secret imprisonment as a weapon against political prisoners. Dozens of people convicted after a 2002 coup against the then president Saparmurat Niazov were the first to be held at secret locations. No one knows where they are being held, what physical state they are in and even whether they are still alive.
“We must speak about this more openly and keep insisting that the authorities eliminate secret jails and make public the names of those who have been held there,” said a rights activist in Ashgabat. “That’s the only way they can have hope that they will not die there and be buried in secret.”
Turkmenistan has 15 prisons that are known, the most notorious of which is at Ovadan-Depe, which is 50 kilometres north of the capital Ashgabat, and is famous for its harsh conditions and secret cellblocks.
This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing CentralAsia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.
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