20 october 2018

Central Asia news

Turkmen human rights activists reveal violations during Asian Games

20.11.2017 01:03 msk


Президент Туркмении Гурбангулы Бердымухамедов
The Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) has prepared another review of the human rights situation in Turkmenistan during the September to October period this year.

The fifth Asian Games were held during this period in Ashgabat and their influence on subsequent events has been revealed in the report, which was published by the Chronicle of Turkmenistan news agency.

Reports from human rights activists have repeatedly drawn attention to the fact that preparations for the Asian Games led to an intensification of the repressive regime in the country—state censorship has intensified, additional measures have been introduced at the Ashgabat airport to inspect passengers, which led to yet another arbitrary action by the authorities. In particular, the arriving passengers had the personal information on their mobile phones checked.

Turkmenistan is a closed country, and it is challenging to obtain a visa for entry. In connection with the Asian Games, thousands of foreign guests and journalists were able to come to the country. But only "trusted" journalists, that is, official Turkmenistan does not doubt their loyalty, could get accreditation for the Asian Games. However, even the accredited journalists had restrictions. So, to obtain the right to show competition to foreign TV companies, it was necessary to sign an agreement, which included the obligation not write critical reports about the organisation of the tournament, events, sponsors, and specific persons.

Foreign journalists also complained that they could not freely move around the country and communicate with the residents of Turkmenistan, since they had two "attached" guides accompanying each of them. The guides openly admitted that they had to report to their curators from Committee of National Security three times a day.

The atmosphere of total control and arbitrariness created by the authorities did not stop even after the Asian Games. At the beginning of October, a Turkmen citizen spoke to the TIHR editorial office, who asked for information about the detention of young people returning from Turkey at the Ashgabat airport. One of the returnees was interrogated at the airport for about 12 hours, and after that was detained for seven days, allegedly for violating the rules of stay in Turkey.

During the Asian Games, the authorities practised forced mobilisation of citizens to participate in mass events. As always, employees of the public sector and students were involved in such events. Besides, for extras, enlisted soldiers were employed, disguised as sportsmen. In total, about 40,000 people were selected for participation in mass events.

People were also warned about the need to be present, not only at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Asian Games, but also during the competitions. Despite the fact that the rehearsals began at two o'clock in the afternoon and lasted until midnight, people were forced to come at eight in the morning.

Even during the Asian Games, the Ministry of Education additionally demanded that every school in Ashgabat provide 120 people as spectators for sporting events (for the duration of the Asian Games, from 18 to 28 September, school classes were cancelled, according to Berdymuhamedov's decree).

On 26 September, during the main rehearsal of the Asian Games, a 21-year-old student died. The young man was among the spectators sitting on the sunny side of the stands. People could not leave their places, even to fulfil natural needs. When the student became sick, he was not able to leave the stadium in time. Later, the organisers of the event received an order on non-distribution of information about the tragic incident.

Involvement of employees in budget organisations and students for participating in various events as extras continued everywhere after the Asian Games. Thus, students of Turkmen universities and workers from public sector organisations were obliged to "be spectators" at a concert honouring Vladimir Putin's official visit to Turkmenistan on 2 October. On 7 October, students, state employees and pensioners were invited to the opening ceremony of a new concert hall near Ashgabat with the participation of President Berdymuhamedov. After the opening, the president announced the beginning of a nationwide "subbotnik" (voluntary unpaid work day), in which 365,000 people took part.

On 26 and 27 October, festive events were held in Ashgabat in honour of the 26th anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence. For extras, students, schoolchildren and employees of public sector organisations were selected. In the course of the selection, the children were required to submit an "uch-arka maglumat"—a certificate of relatives from the past three generations.

After the Asian Games in Ashgabat, work on dismantling satellite dishes resumed. A brigade of workers on trucks with cranes who were looking for "extra" equipment was seen cruising around the city. Dismantling was performed without warning. Even the absence of the owner of a flat was not seen as an obstacle; so many learned that their satellite dishes had been dismantled after the departure of the brigades.

The persecution of those who criticise the government has also increased. On the night of 29 October, unknown people in Dashoguz threw stones at the windows of the flat of 76-year-old Khalida Izbastinova, mother of human rights activist Farid Tukhbatullin, who lives in exile.

Meanwhile, officers of the national security agencies visited the house of civil activist Galina Vertyakova on 22 October and charged her with disseminating "false" information. One of them stated that it was very easy for them to kill her. Animal rights defender Galina Kucherenko, activist Natalia Shabunts, and journalist Soltan Achilova have also been placed under close supervision and are being pressured by special services.

The full text of the report is available on the website of the Chronicle of Turkmenistan (in Russian).

Fergana News Agency