Human rights activists are urging the international community to apply sustained pressure on Turkmenistan’s government to force it to end some of the worst abuses of civil liberties.
They say the Turkmen authorities need to stop persecuting human rights defenders, end the mistreatment of detainees, respect the right to freedom of movement, and allow non-government organisations to operate legally.
The dismal state of human rights observance in Turkmenistan was the focus of discussion at talks on March 8-11 between Turkmen and Uzbek rights groups in emigration and the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The event took place during a regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, between February 28 and March 25.
Vyacheslav Mamedov, leader of the Netherlands-based Turkmen Civil Democratic Union, said there is little that could be described as civil society left in the country, and even that is in a fragile state, with the handful of human rights groups that still operate facing surveillance and intimidation.
“The Turkmen authorities won’t allow UN special rapporteurs into the country, even though they’ve been sent 35 requests for permission to visit in the last 15 years,” Mamedov said. “So we’ve used this meeting to try to supply [the human rights rapporteur] with the maximum amount of information.”
Mamedov believes the international community should intervene on behalf of civil society groups that are under increasing pressure. Last November, rights activists from Turkmenistan were not allowed to exit the country to take part in a side meeting on human rights at the summit of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE, in the Kazak capital Astana.
One of them, Natalya Shabunts, was placed under house arrest and has been under constant surveillance since then. Three others were summoned to the security service department and threatened with arrest if they went to the human rights meeting, and told not to visit even the OSCE office in Ashgabat.
The authorities continue to deny official registration – which means permission to operate without fear of arrest – to local human rights groups, using minor technicalities and procrastination to drag out the application over many years. The only “non-government organisations” that operate legally are in fact government-sponsored and deal only with women, children and veterans of the Second World War.
Timur Misrikhanov, leader of the Association of Independent Lawyers, also based in The Netherlands, used the Geneva meeting to raise concerns about arbitrary detention and the use of torture in detention. In an interview for NBCentralAsia, he said his group was receiving reports of widespread abuses in detention centres and prisons, including regular beatings of inmates. There were also reports of people dying while in pre-trial custody.
On the basis of interviews with former detainees, Misrikhanov’s association found out that around one in two had been ill-treated in an attempt to coerce a confession.
“Only a few of them informed their lawyers about police officers using physical force and psychological pressure, while others refused to file a complaint out of fear,” Misrikhanov said.
The Turkmen rights activists at the meeting urged the special rapporteur to send an urgent request to the government in Ashgabat regarding arbitrary detention and reports of mistreatment.
This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy. http://iwpr.net/ru/node/50732