MOSCOW (AP)--A human rights activist and journalist has died in prison in Turkmenistan, according to a rights group whose director blamed the government Thursday for what he said appeared to have been her violent death.
The body of Ogulsapar Muradova was displayed in prison Thursday and was seen by her relatives, said Aaron Rhodes, executive director of the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, citing contacts in the tightly controlled Central Asian nation. Her body had a major head wound and there was evidence of strangulation, he said.
"It’s an extremely serious crime that has taken place," Rhodes said. "First of all because she was unfairly tried and imprisoned, and now she appears to have been the victim of an extrajudicial killing."
Muradova was associated with the Bulgaria-based Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation rights group, and was also a reporter with U.S.-funded Radio Liberty. She and two other rights defenders were arrested in June and later handed down sentences ranging from six to seven years, according to the International Helsinki Foundation. The charges were unclear.
Autocratic President Saparmurat Niyazov, in power since before the 1991 Soviet collapse, tolerates no dissent.
Rhodes said the International Helsinki Foundation would appeal to the government to conduct a thorough investigation and to Western governments to "put this issue on the table" in dealings with Turkmenistan.
"It is completely intolerable that this kind of abuse can occur," Rhodes said.
Despite its human rights record, Turkmenistan attracts foreign because of its massive natural gas deposits.
In July, several major rights organizations wrote a letter assailing Turkmenistan’s leadership over the detention of Muradova and the two other activists, Amankurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiyev, who are also associated with the Bulgaria-based group.
The organizations expressing grave concerns about their treatment and called for their immediate release, saying they were imprisoned for their human rights work, calling them prisoners of conscience. They said Turkmen authorities hadn’t granted the three access to an attorney and they were "at risk of torture" and other mistreatment.
Authorities in Turkmenistan couldn’t be reached for comment.
Dow Jones International News September 14, 2006