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Rights group condemns assault on opposition figure

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The International Helsinki Federation has strongly condemned the brutal beating in Moscow this week of Avdy Kuliev, a former foreign minister and founder of the United Democratic Opposition of Turkmenistan (UDOT). "The incident raises serious questions about the security in Russia for Kuliev and others like him who are lawfully promoting reform in Turkmenistan and elsewhere," Aaron Rhodes, the executive director of the rights group, told IRIN from Vienna, viewing the case in the context of a number of other recent incidents in the Russian capital. According to the prominent activist, police appeared apathetic in gathering details about the assailant or investigating the matter further. Moreover, speculation exists that the incident could be the work of Turkmen agents working abroad to silence opposition to Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, who has ruled the country for over a decade. Rhodes's comments follow Wednesday's beating of Kuliev, who fled his country over 10 years ago to found the UDOT against the country's leader. Niyazov, who has developed a unique personality cult around himself, has successfully resisted all attempts to introduce democratic reforms, stamping out dissent ever since the gas-rich nation gained its independence in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union. According to Amnesty International, the human rights situation in Turkmenistan has been appalling for years, but further deteriorated following an alleged armed attack on the president's motorcade in November 2002, which triggered a new wave of repression. For the past decade, the government has tolerated no dissent, tightly controlled the media and curtailed freedom of expression. Meanwhile, Vitaliy Ponomarev, head of the Central Asia Programme for the Memorial human rights centre, a group closely following events in Turkmenistan, told IRIN from Moscow that the incident had not surprised him, saying Turkmen security forces had been working to make contact with criminal elements to carry out the attack. Such an assertion might not be far from the truth. Three months earlier, Kuliev was publicly threatened by Niyazov, who reportedly said: "Everybody is sick of Kuliev... It's time to send him to another world." Kuliev's wife, Tatiana, told IRIN from Moscow that her 67-year-old husband had been about to board a bus near their home when a well-built young man, most likely of Slavic or Ukrainian origin, approached and punched him in the face before fleeing. After returning to his home,Kuliev was confronted by the same young man, who again attacked him, kicking him twice in the head. As a result, Kuliev has been requested to stay in bed for more than 10 days. "The doctor that examined him today wanted him to go to the hospital, but he was afraid," Tatiana said. "Who knows what might happen at a hospital. There are hardly any guards there," she added. Commenting on the incident, Rhodes called on Russian political and governmental authorities to condemn the incident and take all measures to bring the perpetrator to justice.

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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