IHF: An Open Letter for Freedom of Expression in Turkmenistan: Turkmen Dissident Remains in Forced Psychiatric Detention Despite International Appeals
Vienna, 30 August 2006
H.E. Mr. Karel De Gucht OSCE Chairman-in-Office, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belgium 15, Rue des Petits Carmes B-1000 Brussels, Belgium
Chairman De Gucht,
I write to you gravely concerned that the freedom of expression in Turkmenistan, despite international pressure, continues to be violated with impunity and that the health and welfare of an innocent Turkmen citizen, having exercised this fundamental freedom, is seriously at risk.
In February 2006, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) jointly released an open letter addressed to all OSCE delegations about the politically-motivated detention of 70-year-old Turkmen citizen Kakabai Tedjenov, a pensioner and a vocal critic of President Niyazov’s administration.
Mr. Tedjenov was detained on 4 January 2006 and taken to a psychiatric hospital under charges that remain unknown. Prior to his detention, he frequently had sent letters of protest to local and national authorities, decrying government policies. On 7 June 2005, for instance, he dispatched telegrams to the president and prosecutor general of Turkmenistan attacking administration practices. In September 2005, he distributed a pointed declaration among international contacts admonishing President Niyazov for failing to address issues important to citizens of Turkmenistan such as widespread poverty and high rates of unemployment. The declaration also called upon the international community to impose sanctions on Turkmenistan for repeated human rights violations.
In our letter, we concluded that the circumstances of Mr. Tedjenov’s case clearly suggest that he was targeted by authorities for merely exercising his right to the freedom of expression, a right which Turkmenistan, as a party to the ICCPR and an OSCE participating State , has undertaken to respect. Indeed, as early as May 2004, authorities detained Mr. Tedjenov, along with fifty other participants, for protesting official policies during a visit by President Niyazov to Turkmenabat, Mr. Tedjenov’s hometown in eastern Turkmenistan.
We asked that the OSCE Permanent Council quickly take up the case for discussion and consideration. The response, in late February, from the Delegation of Turkmenistan to the OSCE was disappointing. In a brief statement distributed to OSCE participating States, the delegation denied that Mr. Tedjenov had ever been detained or that he had ever been confined to a medical institution.
All of our information, gathered from numerous, credible sources, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Center “Memorial”, contravenes such a flat denial. Since the reported date of Mr. Tedjenov’s detention, his daughter Olga Tedjenova has, for example, been trying to determine his whereabouts by inquiring with government authorities, but they continually refuse to give any definite information. Despite such obstacles to information, we have managed to compile an account of Mr. Tedjenov’s detention.
Not having committed any obvious crime, he has been moved from one psychiatric hospital to another, where at different points he has been confined to cells with murderers and cells for those with no relatives to care for or visit them. In March, he was reportedly sent to the urology department at a medical hospital for treatment, only to be sent back to a psychiatric institution where he remains today.
It is this latest development – Mr. Tedjenov’s return to a psychiatric ward following medical treatment – though only recently uncovered, that leads the IHF to appeal directly to you as the OSCE Chairman-in-Office. This move, on top of his now seven-month long detention and the refusal of the Turkmen OSCE delegation to acknowledge it, charges Mr. Tedjenov’s case with renewed urgency.
The IHF therefore calls upon the OSCE Chairman-in-Office to take up the Tedjenov case bilaterally with the relevant Turkmen authorities and to push for making information on the case more readily accessible. Mr. Tedjenov was a politically-active pensioner speaking out against the failings of his government, exercising a fundamental right of the human dimension, before he was wrongfully silenced by government authorities.
His silenced voice speaks volumes about the current state of the freedom of expression in Turkmenistan, and we hope that the OSCE Chairman-in-Office can give voice to the concerns of the international community by addressing this case.
Aaron Rhodes, IHF Executive Director
Cc: OSCE Delegations OSCE Secretary General OSCE Centre in Ashgabad ODIHR United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights National Helsinki Committees Amnesty International Memorial Open Society Institute