The newly established Turkmen Helsinki Foundation is set to tackle human rights issues in Turkmenistan, Central Asia's most reclusive state, with the ultimate goal of placing them on the international agenda.
"There is a huge information gap in Turkmenistan now. Many Turkmen citizens don't know where and whom to apply to," Kajigul Bekmetova, the head of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation on Human Rights (THFHR), told IRIN from Varna, eastern Bulgaria.
THFHR was established in July 2003 to deal with rights issues in Turkmenistan, such as dual nationality, ethnic and religious minorities, and the protection of women's and children's rights.
Asked how THFHR would operate from Bulgaria, Bekmetova said the organisation was being supported by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee and that it was in close contact with its counterparts in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia.
She also explained that the 16 members of the THFHR included nine Turkmen nationals, of whom some were resident in Turkmenistan and some expatriates, who would help the organisation obtain up-to-date information about Turkmenistan, which would then be channelled to the international community.
Bekmetova stressed the need for more action being taken on human rights issues in Turkmenistan. "Till now, everybody was looking at Turkmenistan as an exotic country, where golden statues were being erected, but neglecting other things," she said, describing the situation on the ground was very serious.
Bekmetova also emphasised the importance of gaining access to precise facts and figures in order to arrive at a real picture of that situation. For example, in the context of political prisoners, she said, it was necessary to establish how many of these were now in detention.
She also touched on the problem of education, stating that many skilled and qualified people were leaving the country, paving the way to a desperate decrease in education level. Education, she said, was being damaged by the "Ruhnama", a book written by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov as a spiritual guide for all his citizens under his "golden age".
This book has been made a compulsory textbook in all educational institutions for students from the age of eight up to university - to the detriment of most other disciplines offered by those institutions.
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