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In Central Asia this week, Turkmenistan's harsh crackdown on opposition figures in the ongoing probe of the alleged assassination attempt on the authoritarian President Saparmurat Niyazov in November has drawn sharp criticism from the US administration and human rights groups.

"Turkmenistan is one of the most repressive countries in the world," Elizabeth Anderson, the executive director of Human Rights Watch's (HRW) Europe and Central Asia division, said in a statement on the conviction and sentencing of the Turkmen opposition leader and former foreign minister, Boris Shikhmuradov. He was arrested by the Turkmen secret police on 25 December on charges of planning the assassination bid. "Shikhmuradov deserves a fair trail," Anderson added.

According to HRW, his arrest and conviction has demonstrated lack of regard for fundamental due process rights, because the 25-year prison sentence was handed down only four days after Shikhmuradov's arrest. The human rights watchdog was also concerned about the past record of the Turkmen judiciary, with reports of dissidents being tortured and sentenced to long prison terms. Like other government institutions, the judiciary is firmly controlled by the president.

Voicing similar concerns, Washington on Tuesday condemned the move. "While we recognise the government of Turkmenistan's right to apprehend those involved in a violent attack on its president, we cannot condone actions that violate international practice," the department's deputy spokesman, Philip Reeker, reportedly said.

In neighbouring Uzbekistan, the Associated Press reported the release of a prominent human rights defender, Yelena Urlayeva, on Thursday, after being held for four months in a hospital for forcible psychiatric treatment. The police hold a tight reign over rights activists in this Central Asian republic and rare attempts at public protest are usually blocked. Activists maintain that psychiatric treatment is being used as a way to silence dissidents - a common practice in Uzbekistan, which has also come under severe international criticism for its poor human rights record and reluctance to carry out democratic reforms.

A court in the tiny mountainous republic of Kyrgyzstan over the weekend handed down short prison terms on four government officials charged in connection with the country's worst episode of political violence, while acquitting three others. The officials had been accused of exceeding their authority and hindering public protests during a March clash in the southern Asky region in which five people were killed.

Also in Kyrgyzstan, the London-based Economist weekly has reported the use of harshly repressive measures against the country's Islamist parties as part of the "war on terrorism." With a renewed official campaign against the radical but non-violent Islamic movement, Hizb ut-Tahrir [Liberation Party], in the backdrop of an escalating media campaign, the organisation is being identified with Al-Quad and the militant Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). In July, two IMU members were each sentenced to five years in prison for inciting religious hatred.

Meanwhile, in Tajikistan, police killed a wanted Islamic rebel figure, Mukhmadullov Mulloev, on Tuesday, the AFP reported. Mulloev, also known as Sancho, took part in the 1992-1997 civil war on the side of the Islamic insurgents. He refused to recognise peace accords signed with the communist authorities in 1997 and went underground.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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