July 16 marks the first anniversary of the arrest of Dr Hursanay Ismatullaeva from Turkmenistan. She is serving a nine-year prison term for criminal charges that were clearly in retaliation for her labour dispute becoming a topic for discussion at a European Parliament event.
Hursanay Ismatullaeva worked in the Ene Mahri Perinatal Center in the town of Gokdepe, Ahal region. She reported she had been illegally dismissed from her job and had exhausted all legal avenues in her search for reinstatement.
In fall 2020 Dr Ismatullaeva asked independent journalists for help. Her story was published in detail. Initially, the authorities did not react: Dr Ismatullaeva was not reinstated at work but she was not prosecuted either.
On July 15, 2021, however, Dr Ismatullaeva’s story was mentioned in an online discussion on “Silencing Practices in Central Asia: The Voices of Human Rights Defenders,” organized by Members of the European Parliament. The next day 10 security agents arrived at Dr Ismatullaeva’s house and detained her.
Later it emerged that the doctor had been arrested allegedly as part of a fraud case. She was accused of misappropriating the apartment of an older man whom she cared for in 2016-2018. Her case was heard at the Bezmein district court in Ashgabat under presiding judge Amanmuhamed Ishanguliev. At the conclusion of the trial on September 7, 2021, she was sentenced to nine years.
The doctor is not a criminal. She hid from no one before her arrest. All the transactions concerning the man’s apartment were officially notarized. No one claimed that Ismatullaeva’s handling of the man’s apartment involved anything illegal until Hursanay Ismatullaeva got in touch with an independent publication about her dismissal from work. Testifying in court, alleged witnesses called by the prosecution used identical phrases and did not hide the fact that the first time they had heard about Dr Ismatullaeva’s “fraudulent activities” was in the police department in July 2021, after the human rights discussion at the European Parliament. Notary H. Kuliev, who registered the documents for the apartment, first featured as an “associate” in the case, but was later removed from the list of the accused “in light of his contrition.” Realtor D. Annanurov, who was also involved in the property transaction, was not held liable at all.
Dr Ismatullaeva was not a political activist, did not advocate to change the government, and did not criticize the current authorities. She simply wanted to defend her labour rights and ended up in prison. She realized from the start that this might happen in Turkmenistan, so at the end of 2020, to be ready for any eventuality, she recorded a video address to the then-president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. The video, in which she talks about the possible fabrication of a criminal case, was made public when her fears became reality.
We call on Turkmenistan’s new President, His Excellency Serdar Berdimuhamedov, to ensure a review of the criminal case against Dr Ismatullaeva, who was valued by patients but disliked by management. By contacting the independent media, speaking about her unfair dismissal, and seeking her reinstatement, Dr Ismatullaeva was exercising her right to freedom of speech and her labour rights. She should not face retaliation and prison for this. We call on the authorities of Turkmenistan to release Dr Hursanay Ismatullaeva from detention and to hold accountable those who took the decision to maliciously prosecute her.”
Heidi Hautala, Vice President of the European Parliament, Greens/EFA, Finland
Petras Auštrevičius, Member of the European Parliament, Renew Europe, Lithuania
Róża Thun und Hohenstein, Member of the European Parliament, Renew Europe, Poland
Isabel Santos, Member of the European Parliament, S&D, Portugal
Helmut Scholz, Member of the European Parliament, The Left, Germany
Ruslan Myatiev, Turkmen.News, The Netherlands
Farid Tukhbatullin, Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, Austria
Rachel Denber, Human Rights Watch, USA
Brigitte Dufour, International Partnership for Human Rights, Belgium