October 26, 2021
Dr Savaş Ünlü
General Director, Directorate General of Migration Management
Çamlıca Mahallesi 122. Cadde No:4 Yenimahalle/ANKARA
Dear Dr. Ünlü,
I am writing with an urgent request to prevent the possible deportation to Turkmenistan of three Turkmen nationals, and to ensure their immediate release from deportation custody.
Human Rights Watch is an international, nongovernmental organization that works to protect human rights in more than 90 countries around the world, including Turkmenistan. We are convinced that if returned to Turkmenistan, the three men, will be at grave risk of persecution that would include risk of torture and other ill-treatment, and enforced disappearance.
All three men have been involved in criticizing certain policies of the government of Turkmenistan, including the refusal to renew passports through consular services abroad, the government’s refusal to acknowledge the presence of Covid-19 infections in Turkmenistan, policies dealing with the country’s economic crisis, and the like.
I am writing as a matter of urgency, as there has been unconfirmed information about plans to remove the three men imminently. The three detained activists at risk are:
- Akhmed Rakhmanov, 47, who is the administrator of an online chat group for a Turkmen political opposition group-in-exile, Democratic Choice of Turkmenistan. Rakhmanov was detained on 18 October in Antalya and on 19 October was brought to the Tuzla deportation center in Istanbul. Rakhmanov’s Turkish residence permit expired 18 months ago, and he was unable to renew it because his Turkmen passport had expired. Turkmen consulates systematically refuse to renew the passports of Turkmen nationals abroad. Rakhmanov only recently was able to extend his passport through December 2022 and he had intended to proceed with renewing his Turkish residence permit. Rakhmonov’s lawyer now intends to file a request for refugee status on his behalf.
- Kamil Abulov, 35, in August tried to participate in a small rally outside the Turkmen consulate in Istanbul. Police in Istanbul detained him on 18 October and transferred him to the Tuzla deportation center. He has a valid Turkish residence permit and has not applied for refugee status.
- Bayram Allaliyev, 34, was detained on October 22 in Istanbul at the Fatih migration office to which he had been summoned to file for a renewal of his residence permit, which expired in 2020. He has been active in Turkmen dissident online chat groups. Allaliyev’s Turkmen passport has expired. He has not applied for refugee status. He was held several days at the Fatih District Security Directorate Motorcycle Team Headquarters (Fatih İlçe Emniyet Müdürlüğu Motorsikletli Timler Amirliği (Yunuslar)) , and is believed to be currently held either at Tuzla or Pendik deportation centers.
As of this writing, Rakhmanov, Abulov, and Allaliyev have not had access to a lawyer. There is no information indicating that Turkmenistan is accusing these men of a crime. They are not on a wanted list.
Turkmen authorities severely punish peaceful critics of the government. They allow no independent media or human rights scrutiny. The authorities suppress any indication of dissent and political expression and have driven into exile or imprisoned political opposition members, human rights defenders and activists, and independent journalists. The justice system completely lacks independence and transparency. Torture is widespread and dozens of people have been forcibly disappeared in Turkmen prisons, some for more than 19 years. The Turkmen government routinely imposes informal and arbitrary travel bans on various groups, including activists and relatives of exiled dissidents.
The involvement of Rakhmanov, Abulov, and Allaliyev in online chat groups and the like in Turkey puts them at immediate risk of persecution and ill-treatment upon return to Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan routinely harasses and intimidates families of peaceful critics and dissidents abroad, including with physical violence and arbitrary detention, and the case of these three men is no exception. In recent weeks law enforcement and security officials in Turkmenistan have pressed family members of Rakhmanov, Abulov, and Allaliyev to convince the men to halt their involvement in chat groups, online criticism, and the like.
As you know, Turkey is one of very few countries to which Turkmen citizens can travel without a visa for up to 30 days and where they may apply and obtain a residence permit renewal on an annual basis. In recent years, the renewal of Turkmen passports for citizens living abroad has become a serious problem, including for Rakhmonov and Allaliyev. Although international law mandates that states renew passports overseas via respective embassies and consular services, Turkmen diplomats often refuse, telling Turkmen citizens that the new passports can only be issued at their place of residence in Turkmenistan, to compel them to return. In June 2021, Turkmenistan adopted amendments to migration law allowing the extension, through December 30, 2022, of the validity of passports with an expiration date of January 1, 2020. The extension applies mainly to people stranded due to the Covid-19 pandemic and does not address the needs of many Turkmen citizens living abroad whose passports have expired.
Sending people to a country where they face a real risk of persecution, including torture, is prohibited under international law and within international refugee law the prohibition on returning a person to a country in which they may face persecution is known as the principle of nonrefoulement. Turkey is bound by these prohibitions both as a matter of customary international law and treaty law.
Turkey is a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, and even though it retains a geographic limitation that excludes anyone not originally from a European country from full refugee recognition, this geographic limitation does not absolve Turkey from abiding at all times with the fundamental principle of nonrefoulement.
Turkey also acceded to the United Nations Convention Against Torture in 1998, which obliges states to ensure that they do not send anyone to a place where they face a real risk of torture or other ill-treatment.
We urge you to ensure that Rakhmanov, Abulov, and Allaliyev are not forcibly returned to Turkmenistan, that they have access to a lawyer, and that they are promptly released from custody and allowed to continue with their steps to regularize their status in Turkey.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.
Europe and Central Asia division
Human Rights Watch