Turkmenistan: New report condemns 'appalling' abuses amid president's personality cult

According to the Turkmen authorities, on 25 November 2002 opposition supporters attacked the president's motorcade in an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate President Niyazov. Subsequent investigations into the alleged attack and subsequent trials have been marred by serious human rights violations.

After 25 November a serious crackdown occurred, with the detention of scores of relatives of known or perceived government critics implicated by the authorities in the attack. Many of these were reportedly subjected to torture, ill-treatment and psychological pressure by law enforcement officers to force them to incriminate their relatives or others or to disclose their relative's whereabouts. People were evicted from homes and property was confiscated.

After unfair trials in December 2002 and January 2003, 59 individuals were sentenced to long prison terms, while relatives were targeted by the authorities.

Little detailed information on the trials or alleged incidents of torture has emerged, not least as Turkmenistan is a tightly controlled country, highly repressive, with limited outside access and a powerful political personality cult surrounding the president.

In August 2002 President Niyazov renamed the days, weeks and months of the year, with many being named after himself or his family members. A presidential text, a 'Book of the Soul', supposedly 'born' in the 'heart' of the president, has been a core element of the personality cult. Prisoners who have refused to swear an oath on the book have faced beatings and in many cases have been denied release on completion of their sentences.

Meanwhile the authorities have banned the circus, opera, and philharmonic orchestra and have closed the Academy of Sciences, and freedom of movement has been severely restricted.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

'The domination by President Niyazov of all aspects of life and the stifling personality cult around him are key to a failure to address impunity or counter the appalling abuse of human rights in Turkmenistan.

'There need to be full investigations into the allegations of torture of those held after the alleged assassination attempt on the president last year, as well as retrials for those subjected to unfair trials and long sentences.

'The Red Cross should be granted access to all political prisoners in Turkmenistan and prisoners of conscience should be immediately released.'

Amnesty International's report details cases of alleged torture of some of the 59 individuals who were sentenced to long prison terms (three in absentia) for their alleged part in the assassination, including the case of a man who suffered the loss of sight in his left eye, hearing in his left ear and had his left arm broken. This man was reportedly also tortured by having a gas mask and plastic bag used to restrict his breathing.

There are very serious concerns that some or all of the more than 50 imprisoned individuals received unfair trials in closed sessions from which international observers were barred. None of the defendants at the December 2002 and January 2003 trials was represented by independent lawyers, and defendants and their families were given little or no notice before the court hearings began.

Even now many of the relatives of those imprisoned do not know where the prisoners are being held and they have been refused permission to pass on food parcels and medicines. Amnesty International is concerned that with prisoners' whereabouts unknown detainees may be at risk of torture or ill-treatment.

Amnesty International's report shows that Turkmenistan is a country extremely intolerant of dissent, where political and civil liberties are tightly restricted and there is recurring imprisonment of conscientious objectors and persecution of religious minorities.

Case studies

Torture of 25 November suspects:

Amanmukhammet Yklymov is said to have been tortured in the Ashgabat city police building following his arrest on 25 November. His family claim that as a result of the torture, he lost sight in his left eye and the hearing in his left ear. His left arm was reportedly broken and he was hardly able to move. Sources allege that a plastic bag was put over his head to restrict his breathing, and that he was suspended by his arms, and forced to wear a gas mask, to which the air supply was cut off. The court reportedly ignored Amanmukhammet Yklymov's allegations that he was tortured in custody. His brother Saparmurat Yklymov told Amnesty International from exile in Sweden: 'Amanmukhammet was already ill before they arrested him. I'm afraid he may not survive.'

Punishing the relatives:

Svetlana Prokofyeva and her mother were reportedly tortured using electric shocks and beaten with rubber truncheons and plastic bottles filled with water in an attempt to force them to disclose the whereabouts of Yklym Yklymov, the boyfriend of Svetlana's sister Olga Prokofyeva. Yklym Yklymov had gone into hiding following 25 November. Svetlana Prokofyeva and her mother were reportedly released when law enforcement officers succeeded in detaining Yklym Yklymov.

Further information

Read the report online at: www.amnesty.org

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