Journalist Ogulsapar Muradova was murdered in a Turkmen prison after one of her children challenged police surveillance methods. The adult-age children were taken early September 14 to an Ashgabat morgue to identify the body, which showed signs of a "violent death."
"The last year has seen dramatic escalations of harassment of dissidents and perceived dissidents and their families. In the past few months in particular we have received increased numbers of cases of arbitrary detention, interrogation, house arrest, bans on leaving the country, and beatings. But Ogulsapar Muradova’s apparent murder signals unequivocally that the gloves are now off," said Erika Dailey, the director of the Turkmenistan Project at the Open Society Institute. [EurasiaNet also operates under the auspices of OSI].
National Security Ministry officers took Muradova, a correspondent for the US-funded Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe and a human rights defender, into custody in June on suspicion of conspiring to engage in espionage. Two other local human rights activists, Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiyev, were also arrested in the case. Turkmenistan’s despotic leader Saparmurat Niyazov at one point publicly characterized the trio as "traitors to the Motherland."
In the end, Muradova and her co-defendants were charged only with illegal arms possession under Article 287 of the country’s criminal code. The defendants insisted that the case against them was fabricated. In a trial that lasted only a few minutes, Muradova was convicted and received a six-year jail term. The others received seven-year sentences.
From the moment of her arrest, Muradova was held incommunicado, preventing friends and relatives from monitoring her physical and mental state. Although in fine heath before disappearing into the Turkmen prison system, Muradova reportedly required medical treatment recently for an unspecified condition. Authorities also pressured lawyers not to have contact with Muradova and the other defendants.
On September 11, according to sources familiar with the events, Muradova’s son, Berdy Muradov, noticed tight surveillance, including the permanent stationing of national security agents outside the family home. When on September 13, Berdy Muradov went to a local police station seeking an explanation for the surveillance, authorities refused to give reasons for their actions, and sought to intimidate Muradov. Officers accused several of Muradov’s close relatives with carrying out anti-state activities, clearing implying that more arrests would result if he didn’t remain silent.
In the early morning of September 14, state security agents went to the Muradov family home, telling Berdy and two other grown children that their mother had died. At the morgue, Muradova’s children were initially denied permission to see the body. When they expressed a desire to bring in a doctor for an autopsy, and balked at signing a death certificate, security agents threatened reprisals against them.
A statement issued by Amnesty International quoted Tajigul Begmedova, the exiled head of the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation, as saying: "The officers shouted at them and said, ‘If you don’t sign this, you’ll never see the body.’" Authorities would not tell the children anything about the time of or circumstances surrounding Muradova’s death.
Subsequently, the children returned to the morgue in the company of a foreign diplomat and they were permitted to view the body. According to Begmedova, the corpse showed numerous signs of trauma. "There was a huge wound on her forehead and marks on her neck," Begmedova told Amnesty International. The signs suggested that Muradov had experienced a powerful blow to the head from a blunt object, as well as suffered from strangulation.
"Muradova’s death heightens … concerns for the safety of Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiyev," the Amnesty International statement said.
Dailey said the United States and European Union had an obligation to confront Niyazov’s regime over rights abuses. "Torture and ill-treatment are an open secret in Turkmenistan," Dailey said. "Ogulsapar’s murder is a particularly terrible blow in part because protest from individual governments and intergovernmental bodies like the EU or the OSCE would probably have secured her release and made her death in detention avoidable."
"The European Union is currently debating whether to grant Turkmenistan most-favored-nation trading status," Dailey continued. "The pending Interim Trade Agreement is predicated on Turkmenistan promoting progress on human rights. The EU has a rare opportunity to call things by their proper name in Turkmenistan, put human rights ahead of energy interests, and vote down the Agreement."
Eurasianet September 14, 2006