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Central Asia news

The European Union severs economic ties with Ashkhabad

09.10.2006 14:55 msk

Mehman Gafarly

Human Rights Turkmenistan

The European Parliament's Committee for International Trade put on hold ratification of the provisional trade accord between the EU and Turkmenistan. The European Union will sign trade and economic treaties with Ashkhabad only when the latter has made "apparent, discernible, and consistent progress in the sphere of human rights."

The European Parliament's patience ran out with arrests of human rights activists Yelena Ovezova and Annakurban Amanklychev and the death of RL correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova in jail. Muradova was arrested in Ashkhabad on June 18 when several officers of the National Security Ministry took her away "for a chat". Muradova never returned home afterwards, and neither was she seen alive. Ovezova and Amanklychev were picked up that day too. All three were involved with the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation, a human rights organization based in Bulgaria (Ovezova and Amanklychev work for it now, Muradova worked there in the past).

The arrests were perfectly timed. A delegation of the European Parliament was coming to Ashkhabad on June 19 to gauge expediency of the provisional trade accord (a document on import of the Turkmen gas). The authorities feared that human rights activists would spoil the atmosphere of the talks with the West. National Security Minister Geldymuhammed Ashirmuhammedov accused the arrestees of organization of an "orange revolution" in Turkmenistan. Substantiating the claim, the minister referred to their meetings with British and French journalists.

The visiting Europeans were not permitted to meet with Muradova's family and lawyers. The journalist, 58, was sentenced to six years imprisonment for "illegal possession of munitions", in August. On September 15, the Muradovs were informed of her death. Retrieving the body from the morgue, Muradova's children saw a large wound on her forehead and bruises on the neck. "Actions of the Turkmen authorities indicate that Muradova was murdered," Tadjigul Megdmedova of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation said. "We believe that Muradova died a violent death, under torture."

International journalist and human rights organizations expressed their grave concerns. Jose Louis Diaz, Press Secretary of the UN Supreme Commissar for Human Rights, urged Ashkhabad to run a thorough and independent investigation including postmortem and make its findings public. The European Parliament tabled the provisional trade accord with Turkmenistan. European parliamentarians demand from the Turkmen authorities the release of all political prisoners and registration of non-governmental organizations. They urge Ashkhabad to open the country for the Red Cross and UN monitoring structures.

Novye Izvestia, October 9, 2006, p. 4

© Translated by Ferghana.Ru