Turkmenistan Refuses to Reveal the Truth About its Political PrisonersWashington, DC May 7, 2014
The National Endowment for Democracy hosted a panel discussion on “Political Prisoners in Turkmenistan: The “Prove They Are Alive!” Campaign on May 2, 2014. As the speakers detailed in their remarks,the government of Turkmenistan refuses to reveal the truth about dozens, perhaps hundreds, of prisoners who have disappeared in the country’s prison system. The silence on this fundamentally humanitarian issue can no longer be condoned.
Tatiana Shikhmuradova, journalist and wife of imprisoned former Minister of Foreign Affairs Boris Shikhmuradov, who was given a life sentence and disappeared into Turkmenistan’s prisons, spoke about her family’s ordeal and presented two critical facts. First, she discussed the unconstitutionality of the life sentences that the six people accused of participating in an alleged coup and assassination attempt on the life of then President Niyazov are serving, if they are still alive. On December 30, 2002, the National Council of Turkmenistan unanimously adopted a resolution changing the given 25 year sentences to life sentences for the ‘traitors of the nation’. However, this resolution did not enter into force until February 3, 2003, making the sentence unlawful until that time. Further, the National Council is a representative body, and constitutional law granting it powers to declare ‘traitors of the nation’ and give out special sentences to them was adopted only on August 15, 2003, almost 8 months after the body executed life sentences for the so-called ‘traitors’. Thus, there was a gross violation of the principle that a law, worsening the situation of a citizen cannot have retroactive power. This was also a violation of separation of powers in the government
Shikhmuradova also brought to light a letter sent by the Permanent Representative of Turkmenistan to the UN General Assembly, stating that access to ‘convicted terrorists’ in Turkmenistan is forbidden for the first five years of their term. Twelve years have passed, and no family member, the International Red Cross, or any other international organization or government has ever seen these prisoners.
Another speaker, Rachel Denber (Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia of Human Rights Watch) argued that while there has been greater engagement with international institutions under the current President Berdymukhamedov, the country is still ruled with the same censorship, gross cult of personality and limits on fundamental freedoms as during Niyazov’s time. Kate Watters (Executive Director of Crude Accountability) presented the Prove They Are Alive Campaign, and discussed recommendations to the OSCE, including the creation of a working group on Turkmenistan and the adoption of a Resolution on Enforced Disappearances by the Parliamentary Assembly of the organization. Janice Helwig (Policy Advisor to the U.S. Helsinki Commission) and James Bigus (Office Director for South and Central Asia at the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the US Department of State) spoke about ongoing US government inquiries, appeals and requests to the authorities of Turkmenistan for information on, access to, and amnesty for political prisoners. Unfortunately, the Turkmenistan government has not responded to these inquiries. However, in 2005, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, Rashid Meredov, replied to the US government, “The Turkmen side officially informs that all places of detention are open to visits by the Representatives of International Organizations and foreign diplomats and they are given free access to all convicted persons in accordance with international rules. Those who were convicted in connection with the November 25, 2002 events would have to have the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan accompany any visits.” Contrary to Meredov’s statement, the US government has not been able to obtain access to political prisoners in the country.
Minister Meredov and President Berdymukhammedov must live up to their international promises and at the very least, answer the fundamental question of the Prove They Are Alive campaign: Are They Alive? If they refuse to answer, the international community can only assume their silence stems from fear that their entire system of lies, corruption, and continued violations of the fundamental freedoms of Turkmen people will begin to unravel at the seams.
For more information contact:Sonia Zilberman, Advocacy: Sonia@nullcrudeaccountability.org, +1.202.320.6225 Kate Watters, Executive Director: firstname.lastname@example.org