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(Moscow) – Turkmen authorities should investigate the suspicious death of the brother of an exiled dissident journalist from Turkmenistan, Human Rights Watch said today. Altymurad Annamuradov died on September 4, 2016, four days after he was kidnapped from his home in Turkmenistan and beaten by unknown men.

Altymurad Annamuradov, 52, was kidnapped while his brother, Chary Annamuradov, was in detention in Belarus under a Turkmen government extradition request in connection with politically motivated criminal fraud charges filed in 2000. On September 14, Belarusian authorities released Chary Annamuradov and allowed him to return to Sweden, where he was granted asylum in 2003. The death of his brother only recently came to the attention of Human Rights Watch.

Chary Annamuradov.  © 2015 Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR)

“The death of Altymurad Annamuradov smacks of targeted retaliation against a political dissident,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Turkmen authorities have a long history of persecuting Chary Annamuradov and his family, and now his brother seems to have paid the price for the international scandal that surrounded the attempt to extradite Chary.”

Three of Chary Annamuradov’s brothers died under very suspicious circumstances within a year after he left the country in 1999. Altymurad Annamuradov, a father-of-five, was his last living brother.

Chary Annamuradov told Human Rights Watch that on August 31, two unidentified men in civilian clothes went to his brother’s house, told his wife they “need to talk to him,” and drove him away without further explanation.

His family had no information about his whereabouts for more than two full days. Late at night on September 2, unidentified men deposited him near his home. Relatives said that when he returned he was weak, had bruises on his face, and was in a fragile emotional state. He told his family that he was questioned about his brother, and had been brutally beaten and humiliated. He did not reveal any details about the beatings, the attackers, or where he was held, but in the hours after he was released, wept extensively because of his ordeal.

Altymurad Annamuradov died on September 4. When his relatives prepared his body for burial, they discovered bruises on other parts of his body.

Turkmen authorities should ensure a prompt, thorough, and effective investigation into the abduction, beating, and death of Altymurad Annamuradov, with a view to holding those responsible to account, Human Rights Watch said. The investigation should examine possible security services’ involvement in his kidnapping and beating and provide information to the family about the findings.

Chary Annamuradov, 58, worked as an independent journalist in the 1990s in Turkmenistan and reported on such issues as Turkmenistan’s political prisoners and ethnic minorities. He and his family faced harassment in retribution for his work, and in 1996, Turkmen police arrested him on bogus smuggling and numerous other trumped-up criminal charges. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 1997, but was released under an amnesty in 1999. He fled the country due to continuous persecution and eventually became a Swedish citizen. He continued to work in exile as a journalist for Radio Liberty’s Turkmen service, Deutsche Welle, and an opposition website, Gundogar, using pseudonyms up until 2008. 

On July 19, 2016, Belarusian border police arrested him in the Minsk airport on the basis of a 10-year-old international arrest warrant. Belarusian authorities held him in custody for nearly two months before declining the Turkmen government’s extradition request.

Chary Annamuradov told Human Rights Watch that Altymurad had cirrhosis of the liver, but no other health problems that could cause an unexpected death.

Turkmenistan is one of the world’s most repressive and closed countries. The government tolerates no dissent, allows no media or political freedoms, and has driven into exile or imprisoned political opposition, human rights defenders, and independent journalists. Dissidents and often their family members are treated as criminals and are subject to internal exile, and thousands are believed to be on an arbitrary “black list” preventing them from leaving the country.

“We are extremely concerned for the safety of Altymurad Annamuradov’s family,” Denber said. “Turkmenistan’s international partners should make clear to the authorities that they will be closely monitoring the situation for the family, and seek government assurances that no further harm will come to them.”

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