The Authorities Fear Street Demonstrations
On the evening of September 5, 2020, the police in Balkanabad (formerly Nebitdag, the administrative center of Balkan Welayat in the west of the country) detained 48-year old Pygamberdy Allaberdyev—a lawyer for the Nebitdagneft department of Ministry of Oil and Gas of Turkmenistan. At first they accused the lawyer of hooliganism. However, by the evening it became clear that the arrest was made on the order of the Ministry of National Security, for suspicion of having links to activists of the protest movement.
According to reports from Balkanabad, around 7PM on Saturday, when Allaberdyev and other person exited a grocery store in the 211th block, an unknown young man unexpectedly approached them and tried to provoke a conflict. He started a verbal skirmish and then grabbed Allaberdyev by the collar. Almost immediately, a police outfit arrived on the scene. The attacker pointed to the lawyer as the instigator of the conflict and left the scene. Allaberdyev was taken to the police department; after twenty minutes, the “victim” arrived with a bandaged hand. The detainee told the police that no fight with the provocateur had taken place, and asked to be shown medical documents that indicated there was trauma. He was refused.
Representatives of the Ministry of National Security from Ashgabat soon arrived at the police department and accused Allaberdyev of having contact with activists from the protest movement abroad. The detainee denied these charges. All interrogations took place without the participation of a lawyer. Efforts by relatives to give him water, food, medication, and basic necessities were harshly denied. A witness reports that police cordoned off Allaberdyev’s home on Sunday evening.
Yesterday a source from the local law enforcement bodies confirmed that the arrest was made on the order of the central apparatus of the Ministry of National Security in Ashgabat, and that the case of hooliganism had transformed into a “case of terrorism.” According to the same source, they plan to transport Allaberdyev to the capital on Monday.
The arrest of Allaberdyev is part of the campaign by Turkmen authorities to prevent protests from spreading.
Ahead of the September 25 video meeting in Ashgabat of the Khalk Maslakhaty (the highest body of representative power), which is expected to approve the constitutional changes proposed by President Berdymukhamedov, security services are tightening control over the Internet and telephone communications, and there are reports of pressure on dissidents. For their part, oppositionists based abroad have declared their plans to hold peaceful protests inside the country (group street walks of "white shirts", etc.). The soonest possible date for the protests is September 14, the day that civic activist Ogulsapar Muradova died in 2006 after being tortured in prison, where she was held incommunicado for criticizing the regime. The authorities are reportedly concerned about the emerging situation. Last week, there were reports of the transfer of police units to the capital from other regions.
Tadzhigul Begmedova, Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
Vitaly Ponomarev, Human Rights Center “Memorial”