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Central Asia news

The European Parliament views Turkmen gas as more important than political prisoners

02.10.2006 14:32 msk

Alexander Podrabinek

Human Rights Turkmenistan

Ogulsapar Muradova of RL Kyrgyz Service was arrested in Ashkhabad on June 18 when officers of the Turkmen National Security Service turned up at her door with the invitation for "a chat". Muradova, 58, never returned from the chat. Neither has she been seen alive, for that matter. Yelena Ovezova (41) was arrested that same day, and Annakurban Amanklychev, 35, a day before. Those who saw Amanklychev's arrest with their own eyes claimed that state security had planted something in his car prior to the arrest.

All three arrestees were associated with the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation, a human rights organization from Bulgaria. Ovezova and Amanklychev are its active officials now, and Muradova used to work for it in the past. Four relatives of the arrestees were detained as well.

State security chose the time to make the arrests with care. A delegation of the European Parliament came to Ashkhabad on June 19 to evaluate expediency of a new provisional trade accord between the EU and Turkmenistan. In March, its committees for international affairs and international trade had backed the idea of a provisional trade accord with Turkmenistan as a gas exporter. Overly talkative Turkmen human rights activists could spoil the amiable atmosphere of gas talks.

"The very intention on the part of the European Parliament to even contemplate a trade accord with so odious a regime is shocking in itself," Holly Carnter, Human Rights Watch Director for Europe and Central Asia, said then. "It is the release of all seven arrestees that should become the priority of the European parliamentarians' agenda in Ashkhabad."

Gas took precedence over political prisoners. Nobody was released. National Security Minister G. Ashirmuhamedov said in a TV interview that Amanklychev had gone to Ukraine to meet with the Turkmen opposition there. The minister accused Amanklychev of "organization of subversive activities" and said that weapons and munition had been found in his car. Amanklychev and Ovezova took the human rights courses at the summer school organized by the Polish Helsinki Foundation and attended the human rights seminar in Donetsk organized by the local Memorial. Ashirmuhamedov accused them of making preparations for an orange revolution in Turkmenistan.

Turkmen news services reported that Amanklychev had been used by "foreign secret services and subversive centers". The human rights activist's meetings with British and French journalists were referred to as evidence of his subversive activities.

Human Rights Watch reports that Muradova's daughters Sona and Maral spent the whole night following her arrest in front of the building where they knew their mother was. The officer who finally deigned to talk to them demanded Muradova's computer, fax, and cell phone. Sona and Maral said they were not going to bring anything without a court warrant. The officer left them then and returned after a while with a message allegedly from Muradova herself where she wrote that her daughters were to do whatever the police would tell them. The daughters would not do it all the same and the officer permitted them to talk to the mother on the radio. Muradova told the daughters to bring whatever they had been told to but there was something to her voice that made the family wary. The daughters thought that Muradova had been given some injection.

Muradova was not permitted to meet with her lawyers or relatives. In August, she was sentenced to six years imprisonment for illegal possession of munitions. Even sentenced to imprisonment, she was denied a meeting with her family. The family was told of her death on September 15. No official explanations, no coroner's report followed, just a plain statement of fact. Retrieving the body from the morgue, the children discovered a large wound in the forehead as though made with an axe and bruises on the neck as though made by strangler or stranglers.

"The authorities' every action indicates that Muradova was murdered," Tadjigul Begmedova of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation said. "We have every reason in the world to maintain that Muradova died a violent death, after torture."

International journalist and human rights organizations expressed their concern over the Turkmen RL correspondent's death in prison. The American RL board of directors demanded from the authorities of Turkmenistan a thorough and impartial investigation.яJose Louis Diaz, Press Secretary of the Directorate of UN High Commissar for Human Rights, urged the Turkmen regime to conduct an immediate and independent investigation of the death including examination by an independent coroner and asked official Ashkhabad to make the investigation's findings public.

The provisional trade accord between the European Union and Turkmenistan is to be ratified by the European Parliament now. Ovezova and Amanklychev remain in jail.

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Novaya Gazeta, October 2, 2006, p. 10

© Translated by Ferghana.Ru