28 February 2007
Vanuhi Arakelian Chairman Varna District Court Pl. Nezavisimost Varna 9000 Transmitted via facsimile: + 359-52-617-953
Dear Ms. Arakelian,
We are writing to you as a matter of urgency to ask that Bulgaria decline a request made by the government of Turkmenistan for the extradition of Annadurdy Khajiev, a dual citizen of Turkmenistan and the Russian Federation, who was granted humanitarian status in Bulgaria on March 10, 2004. We are convinced that upon return to Turkmenistan Mr. Khajiev would face persecution due to his political affiliations and activities and would face an almost certain risk of torture or other ill-treatment in custody. We also urge you to release Mr. Khajiev from detention immediately.
On February 19, 2007, Varna police detained Mr. Khajiev without a warrant for 24 hours as he was renewing his humanitarian status document (card of subsidiary protection beneficiary). Police released Khajiev on February 20 at 10.15 a.m, when the 24-hour limit expired for detention without warrant, on condition that he appear at Varna Supreme District Court at 1.30 p.m., when the arrest order was expected to arrive from Sofia. As requested, Mr. Khajiev returned at the specified time and was detained for another 72 hours; three hours later Khajiev’s lawyer received a copy of the resolution of the Supreme Cassation Procuracy of Bulgaria ordering Khajiev’s detention for 72 hours and requesting a court order to detain him for up to 40 days. Prosecutor Nikolov argued that these measures are necessary to prevent Khajiev from fleeing.
We believe that there are no legitimate grounds to keep Mr. Khajiev in custody while the court considers the extradition request. We are not aware of any evidence demonstrating that Mr. Khajiev is a flight risk or would obstruct justice. To the contrary, Mr. Khajiev voluntarily submitted to arrest on February 20 and previously on December 4, 2002, the first time Bulgaria considered an extradition request for Mr. Khajiev. We regard Mr. Khajiev’s detention as a disproportionate measure and ask you to release Mr. Khajiev immediately.
In 2002 Turkmenistan requested that Bulgaria extradite Mr. Khajiev, claiming he was involved in the theft of about U.S. 41 million from the Central Bank of Turkmenistan, where he served from 1992-1998 as deputy chairman. It is our understanding that the current extradition request is based on the same charges. On May 23, 2003 the Varna District Court rejected the extradition request on the grounds that there was reason to believe the charges were politically motivated. The Court concluded that “the criminal prosecution against Khajiev is for political reasons, due to his political beliefs and his involvement in the opposition against the official government of Turkmenistan.”
We are convinced that Mr. Khajiev is at high risk of torture and ill-treatment should he be returned to Turkmenistan. We are also convinced that he would be prosecuted in retribution for his political affiliations and activities and would not be tried by a fair and impartial court.
It is not clear when Turkmenistan issued the extradition that the court is now considering. But it is clear that since 2003 the situation in Turkmenistan has not changed in any way that would reduce the risk of persecution and mistreatment Mr. Khajiev would face if extradited to Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan remains one of the most repressive states in the world that brutally suppresses any dissent and where torture of detainees is a widespread problem.
The new president of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who came to office through the February 11 pro forma election following the death of Turkmenistan’s president-for-life Saparmurad Niazov, has given no indication whatsoever that he would end severe human rights violations that characterized the Niazov era.
We believe that Mr. Khajiev, a member of opposition movement Watan, has a well-founded fear of persecution in Turkmenistan for his political opinion. This assessment is based both on the government’s overall record and on persecution that his family members in Turkmenistan have endured in retribution for Khajiev’s political affiliations and for the human rights work of his wife Tajigul Begmedova . Ms Begmedova is head of the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, a Bulgaria-based human rights group that monitors and reports on human rights conditions in Turkmenistan.
In August 2006, Mr. Khajiev’s sister Ogulsupar Muradova, a journalist and affiliate of the Turkmenistan Helsinki Human Rights Foundation, was convicted along with his brother, Sapardurdy Khajiev, and Annakurban Amanklychev, on politically motivated charges of illegal weapons possession. All three were associated with the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. Muradova died in custody under suspicious circumstances several weeks after the trial. Security agents harassed and threatened Muradova’s adult children following her death, including by intensified surveillance and threats. This was accompanied with specific references to the activities of Muradovas’ aunt and uncle in Bulgaria.
Several other close relatives of Mr. Khajiev —two brothers as well as his brother-in-law and sister-in-law—have been in custody since 2002 when they were arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. On August 31, 2003, Mr. Khajiev’s elderly father-in-law, Sazak Begmedov was seized by the agents of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, beaten, and forced into internal exile in Dashauz, a remote area near the border with Uzbekistan.
Ill-treatment and torture and by law enforcement and security agencies in Turkmenistan is routine. Local activists continue to make credible allegations of vicious beatings and other forms of torture used to coerce confessions and intimidate defendants and witnesses. Methods include suffocation with plastic bags, beatings with batons, food and sleep deprivation, and injection of unknown narcotics.
Because Mr. Khajiev faces a credible threat of almost certain ill-treatment or torture, his extradition would violate Bulgaria’s obligations under the international law.
Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) prohibits inhuman treatment and torture including the return, expulsion, deportation or extradition of any person to a country where they would face a real risk of exposure to such treatment.
Article 3 of the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment also imposes an obligation not to return a person to places where they are likely to be tortured. Khajiev’s extradition would also violate the 1951 Refugee Convention, which bans the return of refugees and asylum seekers to countries where they face persecution (refoulement).
We hope you will release Mr. Khajiev immediately and reject Turkmenistan’s extradition request. Should you require further information about the human rights situation in Turkmenistan, please do not hesitate to contact our organizations.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent letter.
Holly Cartner Executive Director, Europe and Central Asia division Human Rights Watch
Aaron Rhodes Executive Director International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
Farid Tukhbatullin Chairman Turkmenistan Initiative
Robert Ménard Secretary General Reporters Without Borders
Krassimir Kanev Chairman Bulgarian Helsinki Committee
CC: John Beyrle, US Ambassador to Bulgaria Michael Geier, German Ambassador to Bulgaria Terry Davis, Secretary General, Council of Europe René van der Linden, President, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Mr. Eduard Lintner, Chairperson, Monitoring Committee, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Commissioner for External Relations, European Union Ronald K. Noble, Secretary General, Interpol