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The prisoner, Shagildy Atakov, originally arrested in December 1998 and now being held in the town of Seydi in the northeast of the country, has reportedly been viciously beaten by guards and is believed to be close to death.

According to his wife who visited her husband earlier this month, Mr Atakov is being administered the psychotropic drug Aminazin (Chlorpromazine), a major tranquilliser used in the treatment of psychoses, and Prometazin (Promethazine), an antihistamine, usually used in the relief of allergy, nausea and vertigo.

In light of previous allegations of torture of Mr Atakov and with no evidence of his suffering from a psychiatric disorder, Amnesty International fears that the administration of these drugs is a punitive measure.

Dr James Welsh of Amnesty International's Medical Programme said:

'The case of Mr Atakov appears to be a fresh twist in a pattern of persecuting religious minorities in Turkmenistan.'

Mr Atakov, a father-of-five, has been fined the equivalent of US $12,000 and has already spent over two years in various detention centres. While the Turkmenistani authorities have claimed that his arrest was due to a car business fraud, reports indicate that his religious beliefs could be the real reason for Mr Atakov's arrest and imprisonment.

Recent reports also indicate that state officials have harassed members of Mr Atakov's family because of their religious beliefs, including placing his wife and Children's rights under 'village arrest' in Kaakhka, near the Turkmen-Iranian border.

In Turkmenistan there are only two registered religious groups, Russian Orthodox Christians and Sunni Muslims, and unregistered {religious groups} face official harassment, imprisonment as well as internal and external exile when trying to peacefully exercise their right to freedom of religion.

Shagildy Atakov was not released in the latest presidential amnesty, issued on 23 December 2000 to mark the end of Ramadan, because he reportedly refused to swear an oath of loyalty to President Saparmurad Niyazov on religious grounds.

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