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Human Rights Developments
In 1995, illegal arrests of dissidents, elections of parliamentary candidates who ran unopposed, and the brutal dispersal and detention of the hundreds of residents who held the first protest rally in recent years confirmed Turkmenistan as one of the most repressive governments in the world. The campaign to discredit dissent took on theatrical proportions when the state charged that leading dissidents plotted to kill President Saparmurad Niyazov and labeled peaceful marchers "drug addicts."

President Niyazov, enjoying an uncontestable presidency until the year 2002, continued to rule his one-party state under the strict control of security forces and to suppress nearly all dissenting speech. In late 1994, four men reportedly associated with his political archrival, Avdy Kuliev, were charged with plotting a presidential assassination: Mukhammetkuli Aimuradov, Murat Esenov, Khoshaly Garaev and Khalmurat Soiunov. Esenov and Soiunov, who were arrested in Moscow on November 24 and 25, 1994, respectively, were cleared of charges for lack of evidence by the Russian Procuracy General on December 21, 1995. Garaev and Aimuradov, however, were extradited from Uzbekistan without due judicial review on October 28, 1994; on June 21, 1995, a Turkmenistan court sentenced them to twelve and fifteen years, respectively, in a strict-regime labor colony.

In early December 1994, Dyrdymurat Khodzhamukhammetov, co-chairman of Agzybirlik, a banned dissident political group, disappeared. It is not clear whether he was arrested or went into hiding. On August 10, 1995, the other Agzybirlik co-chairman, Khudaiberdy Khallyev, reportedly was kidnaped, severely beaten and abandoned outside Ashgabat in a politically motivated attack.

On December 11, 1994, at the height of the political manhunt, the Turkmenistan government conducted elections for its parliament. Since all candidates were nominated by the president, the results, as reported by Agence France-Presse, were not surprising: 99.8 percent of the electorate voted, and all of the candidates won.

On July 12, 1995, a group of between several hundred and 1,000 residents held a peaceful march in the capital, Ashgabat, during which they distributed flyers calling for new popular elections and urging the police not to oppose them. According to one eyewitness, the protestors, surrounded by nearly as many police and secret service agents as there were demonstrators, proceeded for about an hour toward the presidential palace before the police began to beat them and carry them off in cars. In all, some 200 protestors reportedly were detained; roughly fifteen of them are believed to remain in custody four months later. The Turkmenistan authorities have not responded to requests for information about the charges against these individuals.

Abuses abounded in the wake of the rally. One protestor, Sukhanberdi Ishanov, approximately twenty years old, reportedly was badly beaten during interrogation, during which he incriminated at least one person as a rally organizer and apologized in a television appearance. Upon his release, Ishanov reportedly hanged himself; relatives who prepared his body for burial reported that it was covered with bruises, presumably from blows suffered during detention. Relatives who protested his death reportedly were themselves detained, interrogated and threatened.

Vladimir Kuleshov, for the last ten years the Ashgabat correspondent for the Moscow-based daily newspaper Izvestia, reportedly was interrogated and threatened with criminal charges by the Turkmenistan Procurator's office in the days following the march. In his coverage, he described the rally as a "protest march." (According to an Izvestia report of July 29, his interrogator objected, "We never had and never will have 'protest marches'.") On July 20, authorities reportedly sealed his office without a court order, and Kuleshov was forced to leave Turkmenistan. On July 18 and 25, respectively, journalists Mukhammet Myratly and Yovshan Annagurban reportedly were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the march, although authorities have failed to reveal the charges against them.

The Right to Monitor
The government finally registered the Russian community's independent advocacy group. However, it did so only on condition that the group become part of a government structure, thus depriving it of independence. Otherwise, there was no known attempt by local residents to monitor the human rights situation. On the contrary, some activists who previously had been willing to serve as sources of information asked not to be contacted in 1995 for fear of government retaliation.

The U.S. government's Helsinki Commission monitored the elections in December 1994, and the OSCE hosted a human rights legislation seminar in Ashgabat in September 1995, both without reported interference.

The Role of the International Community
The OSCE's September seminar in Ashgabat offered a rare forum for international concern about human rights in Turkmenistan and the region, which Amb. Audrey F. Glover, Director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, used to advantage by raising concern over specific violations. However, the seminar suffered from a poorly chosen topic: "Central Asian human rights legislation" attracted almost exclusively mid-level officials and deflected attention from the point that in Turkmenistan abuses occur not because of inadequate legislative protections but because laws are inadequately enforced.

The U.S. remained the only country known to build human rights concerns into its bilateral agenda. However, it persisted in expressing concern only behind closed doors; thus, to the people of Turkmenistan, it seemed the U.S. tolerated widespread abuse as silently as did the rest of the international community. According to the State Department's April-June 1995 quarterly report on assistance, the U.S. kept assistance "moderate" because of "Turkmenistan's general lack of movement on political and economic reform." The State Department's failure to make its disappointment public, however_including shying from high-level diplomatic sanctions even when peaceful marchers were beaten and illegally arrested as they passed near the very gates of the U.S. Embassy in July_undermined the impact of limiting aid.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki
In 1995, we worked to break the silence on abuse created by censorship and nearly uniform international tolerance of human rights abuse in Turkmenistan. We held two joint press conferences in Moscow on political arrests, sent two letters of inquiry or protest to President Niyazov, raised concern in person about the welfare of specific victims at the OSCE seminar, and helped secure third-country asylum for persecuted dissidents.

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