Human Rights Watch condemned the arrest of Turkmen dissident Nurberdi Nurmamedov who is one of the only remaining Turkmen opposition figures not in jail or exile.
"Turkmenistan has once again proven that it is one of the world's most repressive states," said Holly Cartner, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division. "The price for speaking out there is jail, exile, or worse."
On January 5 at approximately 4:00 pm, district police came to Nurmamedov's home in northern Ashgabad, the capital, and took him into custody, according to the Moscow-based Information Center for Human Rights in Central Asia, which obtained the information from Nurmamedov's family. Police reportedly told family members that they were looking for "possible stores of weapons and narcotics." Family inquiries to the Ministry of Internal Affairs yielded no information on Nurmamedov's whereabouts; he is presumed to be in the custody of the State Security Service (KNB, formerly the KGB). No formal charges against Nurmamedov have yet been announced.
Last month, Nurmamedov gave at least three interviews to Radio Liberty's Turkmen Service, the only source of non-governmental information for most Turkmen citizens. He criticized the December 12 parliamentary elections, in which the government allowed no independent or opposition candidates to participate, and called the decision of the parliament to effectively make President Niazov president-for-life both anti-democratic and unconstitutional. Nurmamedov also had contacts with foreign diplomats, meeting with a visiting U.S. Congressional delegation and attending the U.S. Ambassador's Christmas party in late December. Nurmamedov helped to found the never-registered Turkmen opposition party Agzybirlik (Unity) in 1989, and had been repeatedly detained and fined in the past for his political activity.
"When I met Nurmamedov last year in Ashgabad, he was extraordinarily courageous despite the constant surveillance which kept him a virtual prisoner in his own home," said Cartner. "His arrest shows that President Niazov has no intention of lessening the brutal repression, which only intensified in 1999."
On September 9 of that year, political prisoner Khoshali Garaev, aged 37, died under extremely suspicious circumstances. In August, Turkmenistan imprisoned two figures critical of the government who had indicated interest in participating in the upcoming parliamentary elections. One received a five-year sentence but was amnestied; the other, Dr. Pirikuli Tangrykuliev is serving his eight-year sentence. Also in August Baptist pastor Shagildy Atakov was sentenced to four years in prison for his religious activity. Turkmenistan, which has effectively outlawed all religious groups organized by those other than Russian Orthodox Christians or Sunni Muslims, continues to wage war on unregistered religious congregations. In August, Turkmen security forces bulldozed a privately-built Hare Krishna temple and deported the group's leaders in August. In November, they demolished a Seventh-Day Adventist temple; the next month they forcibly deported four leading Baptists. International organizations dismissed parliamentary elections on December 12 as an empty exercise. Niazov himself told the parliament in late December that he will allow no alternatives to his ruling party for at least a decade.
"The recent declaration of Niazov as president for life, his wiping out of any and all potential opponents, the total repression of religious freedom--all of this should make Turkmenistan a pariah state," said Ms. Cartner. She called on the government of Turkmenistan to immediately and unconditionally release Nurmamedov, and on international financial institutions, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the U.S. Export-Import Bank, to immediately halt all lending to the government of Turkmenistan.
For more information:
In New York, Cassandra Cavanaugh: +1-212-216-1271
In Moscow, Sasha Petrov: +7 095-902-692-2911