Turkmenistan's capital city Ashgabat.

© 2015 Bjørn Christian Tørrissen (Wikimedia Commons)

Gulgeldy Annaniyazov’s long spell in prison was supposed to end this year, but without concerted international action his ordeal will drag on.

Annaniyazov is a dissident from Turkmenistan. He was arrested in 1995 for helping to organize a peaceful demonstration in Ashgabat, the capital, demanding democratic elections and protesting economic hardships. Police crushed the protest because – and this remains true today – Turkmenistan does not tolerate dissent of any kind. Annaniyazov was handed a 15-year sentence.

He was released under an amnesty four years into his sentence, but in 2002, after years of living under constant surveillance, Annaniyazov fled to Kazakhstan, only to be arrested for allegedly traveling on a false passport. Following calls by Human Rights Watch and requests by foreign governments, Kazakhstan released Annaniyazov. He was granted refugee status and resettled in Norway in 2002 with his wife and son.

In 2008, more than a year after the death of Turkmenistan’s autocratic first president, Annaniyazov returned to Ashgabat and was arrested shortly thereafter.

Police didn’t tell his family where they took him, and no official information about the charges, his trial, sentence, or whereabouts were known for many years. Annaniyazov was featured on the ‘Prove They Are Alive’ campaign, which seeks to end enforced disappearances in Turkmenistan. Reliable information suggests he was held for some time at the notorious Ovadan-Depe prison.

In 2015, a Turkmen official told the UN Human Rights Council that Annaniyazov was serving an 11-year sentence for illegal border crossing and document theft.  

That means Annaniyazov’s sentence should expire in 2019.

But, as often happens in political cases, new charges are used to extend a person’s sentence, and Turkmen authorities extended Annaniyazov’s sentence by five more years as it neared completion. We don’t know why. The Prove campaign learned that he’s being held in a Caspian coastal area where the salted air makes breathing difficult, and which takes days for visitors, including, family members in Ashgabat, to travel to visit.  

Annaniyazov’s already spent 15 years in Turkmen prisons. Enough is enough. The UN, the EU, and the governments that successfully intervened on his behalf in 2002 should swing into action and persuade the Turkmen government to set him free, let him return to Norway, and end his terrible and unjust ordeal.