The case of a Turkmen human rights defender who was stopped by Russian border officials while returning from a conference in Kazakstan highlights the restrictions on movement that face Central Asian activists.
Vyacheslav Mamedov heads the Turkmen Civil Democratic Union, an émigré group based in The Netherlands, and was the only rights activist representing Turkmenistan who managed to get to an NGO event held in the Kazak capital Astana on November 28-29, timed just ahead of a summit of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE.
Other Turkmen activists based abroad were unable to make it, accusing Kazakstan – the current chair of the OSCE – of denying them visas, and of succumbing to political pressure from Turkmenistan. Instead, they sent a collective open letter describing the dire state of affairs in Turkmenistan and raising concerns about political prisoners. Unlike his colleagues, Mamedov did not need a Kazak visa as he was travelling on a Russian passport; he has dual Turkmen-Russian nationality.
Travelling through Moscow, he stayed in the city for a couple of days and was stopped twice by frontier officials at Sheremetevo Airport, on his way in from Astana on November 29, and on his way out to Amsterdam on December 3.
On the first occasion, the passport control officer cited a technical glitch in the computer system for holding him up, while the second time the official said he was just following orders. Mamedov’s passport was scanned and copied.
Mamedov said he had not experienced problems in Russia on previous occasions, including a trip there in September. “Three months have passed since then, and in that time my criticisms of human rights violations has been directed at the authorities in Turkmenistan and Kazakstan; the situation in Russia was never mentioned ,” he told IWPR.
“It’s more than possible the Russian security services are acting at the behest of their Turkmen colleagues,” he said. Mamedov is uncertain whether he can now travel safely to Russia as he fears his dual nationality could mean he is detained and extradited to Turkmenistan.
The Turkmen government exercises tight control over society and no human rights groups are allowed to operate in the country. Officials from the country pressured organisers of two earlier events held in the run-up to the OSCE summit to block rights groups from participating. These OSCE review conferences were intended to give NGOs an opportunity to submit “alternative reports” giving a different perspective from that of their governments.
At the first event, held in Warsaw in late September and early October, Farid Tukhbatullin, head of the Vienna-based Turkmen Human Rights Initiative, Nurmuhammed Hanamov, leader of the exiled Republican Party and Annadurdy Khajiev of the Bulgaria-based Turkmen Helsinki Foundation were denied registration. At the second, held in Vienna later in October, Hanamov and Tukhbatullin were again refused entry. However, after delegates from the European Union, United States and Canada raised objections with OSCE officials, the two were allowed to attend the following day. (See Turkmenistan Tries to Bar Rights Activists From OSCE Event.)
The NGO event which Mamedov attended in Astana submitted recommendations concerning freedom of movement in the OSCE region, and urged member states to stop obstructing human rights defenders from travelling as part of their work. The NGOs suggested that the OSCE hold conference on freedom of movement next year to discuss these matters, including the use of blacklists and travel bans. Finally, they called for changes to regional agreements that contradict OSCE members’ wider commitments. The 1993 Minsk Convention signed by the former Soviet republics in the Commonwealth of Independent States includes reciprocal arrangements for judicial practice and criminal law that have been used to extradite detained persons between signatory countries without regard for international conventions on refugee status, asylum and torture.
Mamedov says he plans to submit a complaint to Russia’s prosecutor general and frontier service. As a Russian citizen, he believes that he has a right to know why his passport was copied and how this information will be used.
Nazik Ataeva is a journalist from Turkmenistan. http://iwpr.net/ku/node/49564