Joint release of the «Memorial» Human Rights Center and the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.
Amid conflicting reports surrounding the death in Turkmenistan of 14-year-old athlete Suleyman Tursunbaev, who was denied medical care in the capital due to his residence permit in another region of the country, a group of Turkmen activists in Turkey initiated a protest on February 19 near Taksim Square in the Stambul. However, according to our sources, the Turkish police took a series of preventive actions, which led to the cancellation of the action.
For example, on February 18, Akhmed Rakhmanov, a 47-year-old Turkmen citizen, and his wife received a phone call from a police officer named Khakan who demanded that the head of the family report to the police station in the Taksim district in response to calls among the Turkmen diaspora for a protest action. Answering a police question, Ahmed confirmed his participation in the Turkmen opposition, but explained that he could not come to a meeting with Hakan, as he had been living in Antalya, hundreds of kilometers from Istanbul, for more than ten years.
Another Turkmen activist received an SMS the same day with a similar demand. Other possible participants in the planned action were called by a policeman named Osman. Calls to the police were related to information on the Internet about the plans of Turkmen migrants to hold a picket on February 19 against the policies of the Turkmen authorities. Street actions in Istanbul are prohibited under the restrictions imposed in connection with the COVID pandemic.
As a result of the actions of the police, the protest rally in Taksim Square did not take place.
A protest in New York was also canceled due to heavy snowfall. Only in the city of Moncton in Canada, on February 21, a picket was held with the participation of just over 10 people.
Against the background of the discussion by Turkmen migrants in different countries of the issue of resuming protest actions in 2021, the first such action in Russia was unexpected.
On February 18, Malik Allamyradov, a third-year philologist student of the Faculty of Humanities of the Kalmyk State University, went to a solo picket in the center of Elista, near the Seven Days Pagoda complex on Lenin Square. 15 minutes later he was detained by the police. Video footage shows him holding up a sign that says, “The Turkmen dictator has deprived us of our money. This is genocide against the people." His friend, a student of the same university from Uzbekistan, who filmed the action on video, was also detained.
Allamyradov is a 22-year-old Turkmen blogger, since July 2020 he has been running the Youtube channel “Türkmenistan Ar Namys Üçin!” (“For the honor of Turkmenistan!”), at which revolutionary appeals are made against the Turkmen authorities. After the opening of the channel, the student's parents Rejep and Ogulsheker, who live in the Chashkyn daikhan association of the Sakarchaga district of the Mary region, were repeatedly called to the police, demanding that their son close the channel and stop criticizing the authorities.
Allamyradov explains that he went out to picket because of the restrictions imposed by the Turkmen authorities on the transfer of money to students studying abroad. The problem is related to the inconvertibility of the Turkmen national currency and the huge (almost 9 times!) difference between the official and unofficial exchange rates. According to the student, the limit on the transfer of foreign currency that parents could send was 500 dollars a month, later it was reduced to 200, and recently the amount allowed was reduced to 50 dollars a month. Sometimes such a transfer is allowed to be sent only once every two months.
In the city police department, Allamyradov was kept for five hours, his data and the reasons for going to the picket were being ascertained. Referring to Russian law, the police argued that the detainee, being a foreigner, had no right to hold a picket. An administrative offense report was drawn up. The student was promised to be informed about the date of the trial by phone and warned that the court could decide not only on a fine, but also on his deportation to Turkmenistan, where he would be sent on the “first flight”. Allamyradov's friend, who filmed the picket, was also considered by the police to be a participant in an uncoordinated rally.
After the police procedures, by the end of the day Allamyradov had five "conversations" with the participation of various university officials: the rector, vice-rector, assistant vice-rector, head of the international relations department and a representative of the dean's office. Judging by the student's story, the conversations were held in a tough style, he was subjected to psychological pressure, threatened with expulsion from the university.
The interlocutors asked why he was “interfering in politics”, who advised him to go on a picket, etc. Allamyradov tried to explain that his action was an attempt to draw attention to the problems of Turkmen students abroad who found themselves on the verge of survival due to financial problems. Now students are forced to work at night, one of them recently died at work. Rector Badma Salaev replied that the administration of the university is aware of the problem, “we have already sent letters to the consulate four times, but we still have not received a response.”
During the conversation, a representative of the department for international relations dialed the number of the Turkmen consulate in Astrakhan and demanded that the student report to the diplomats. Allamyradov turned on the recording mode on his phone to record the conversation. In response, the official tried to take the apparatus away from him by force in order to prevent this. As a result of the “fight for the phone”, the conversation with the diplomats did not take place. “I never understood why he called the consulate,” says Allamyradov.
An equally strange conversation, according to the Turkmen blogger, took place with another university official. He asked detailed questions about the student’s friends and like-minded people, asking: who supports him, Turkmens from which cities and universities in Russia participate in discussions of these subjects, which of them is the most active, which online communities the student is a member of, what social networks he uses, how many visitors his sites have, etc. All this was scrupulously recorded. Realizing that the purpose of the survey goes far beyond the professional interests of the university administration, Allamyradov in a number of cases gave fictitious names to his interlocutor.
The Allamyradov incident is the second high-profile case of pressure from the administration of a Russian university on a student from Turkmenistan who is trying to criticize the government of his country. Earlier we wrote about the case of Rozygeldy Choliev, who studied in Karachay-Cherkessia.
Turkmen citizens in Russia, in contrast to their compatriots abroad, until recently, as a rule, avoided openly showing support for the Turkmen protest movement. The only known action with their participation was the posting of leaflets criticizing President Berdimuhamedov in the fall of 2020 in various parts of Moscow. Against the backdrop of recent Russian rallies related to the “Navalny case”, the diplomatic missions of Turkmenistan were instructed to seek the deportation of citizens of the country to their homeland if they were detained during uncoordinated actions. Although this instruction is more of a preventive nature, it indicates the fears of the authorities that the “bacillus of dissent” could become no less dangerous for Turkmenistan than COVID.
Tajigul Begmedova, Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights
Vitaliy Ponomaryov, Human Rights Center «Memorial»