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Number of People Disappearing in Turkmen Prisons Increases

Meanwhile, Kazakhstan almost sees a rare opposition protest.

27 June 2018

Despite efforts to raise awareness, human rights-related incidents show no sign of abating in Turkmenistan, further cementing the Central Asian country’s reputation as one of the most repressive in the world. One of the most prominent is the case of Omriuzak Omarkulyev, a Turkmen student enrolled at a university in Turkey, where he founded a "community of Turkmen students,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reports.


The Turkmen Embassy contacted Omarkulyev in January to say officials were impressed by his activism, and wished to offer support. However, upon his return to his homeland, he found himself detained and sent off to Turkmenistan’s Ovadan-Depe prison. The month of March was the last time that Omarkulyev was heard from, according to RFE/RL.


Far from being a singular case, Omarkulyev’s incarceration is part of a wider trend, according to a February 2018 report published by Prove They Are Alive, an alliance of human rights organizations working to protect people in Turkmen prisons. “Turkmen criminal legislation does not permit full isolation of prisoners, regardless of the crime committed,” the report says, but the authorities “impose this cruel and illegal punishment on anyone they consider to be a political threat to their power due to their opinions, influence, or visibility.”


As of its publication date, the report cites 113 people who have disappeared in Turkmen prisons. None of them have had any contact with their families, meaning there is no available information about their detention. Furthermore, none of them have had access to any form of legal representation.


The report includes details about prison conditions, saying “Beatings are a regular occurrence, sometimes as a mass occurrence, sometimes as an initiation of new inmates, and other times on a whim or an order from above.”


Earlier this month, RFE/RL correspondent Soltan Achilova was physically and verbally assaulted for her journalism work, one incident in a long string of such events. The 69-year-old Achilova has been targeted by authorities many times in the past, including a 9 May incident when she was detained and threatened by security officers while taking pictures of a flower-laying ceremony in honor of war victims in Ashgabat. That happened days after Deputy Foreign Minister Vepa Hajiyev said during a hearing of the UN Human Rights Council on Turkmenistan in Geneva that "the fact that Radio Liberty correspondents work freely in the country" proves that there is media freedom in Turkmenistan.



The Diplomat reports how Turkmenistan has been systematically denying that human right abuses and torture take place on its territory, despite evidence to the contrary. Ivar Dale, senior adviser at the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, said in 2016 that all available information from former prisoners indicates that torture is widespread and systematic in Turkmenistan. “The same can be said of the situation surrounding enforced disappearances – people who have been jailed for political reasons, and where their families have to live without knowing anything about their fate, even if they are alive or dead. This is a form of psychological torture against relatives,” Ivar Dale told The Diplomat following the committee session. 



  • In Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, dozens of protestors in opposition to long-time leader Nursultan Nazarbaev were detained on 23 June as they congregated for a demonstration organized through social media by exiled oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov, considered Nazarbaev’s longstanding political rival, according to AFP.


  • Ablyazov’s Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement was banned in early March, after being labeled extremist by the Kazakh government, Eurasianet writes. Since then, Ablyazov has been doing most of his activism via Facebook, and also producing videos critical of Nazarbaev, whom he describes as “the chief of a criminal syndicate.”


  • Rallies that are politically motivated are illegal in Kazakhstan unless officially sanctioned by the government, AFP writes.

Compiled by Ioana Caloianu and Tyler Haughn

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