1. Home
  2. Asia
  3. Turkmenistan

Ashgabat intimidating those linked with exiled activists say rights NGOs

Country Map - Turkmenistan IRIN
Rights activists living outside Turkmenistan say the Turkmen government has been intimidating their relatives and friends in Turkmenistan because of their own efforts from abroad to highlight the desert nation's poor human rights record. "There has been systematic pressure on us since we established the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation [THF] in 2003," Tajigul Begmedova, head of THF, said on Thursday from the Bulgarian resort city of Varna where the rights group is based. According to Begmedova, the Turkmen authorities have been harassing her relatives, who still live in her homeland, since THF was first established. "My father was beaten by the police and sent into internal exile in the north of the country," Begmedova said. "He has heart problems and he needs to go to [the capital] Ashgabat for treatment but the authorities won't allow him to do that. Moreover, he contracted tuberculosis but they are not doing anything for his treatment," she alleged. She also claimed that her sister had been incarcerated on trumped-up charges and is now serving an eight-year prison sentence. "She is kept under harsh conditions and the prison administration's attitude towards her is much worse compared to other convicts simply because she is my relative," she explained. Begmedova is not the only activist to make such claims. Pressure on dissenters and their associates or families has long been a common factor in Turkmenistan according to Farid Tukhbatulin. He heads the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, another Turkmen rights group. "If the authorities cannot get those who are abroad then their families and relatives who live in the country are harassed," said Tukhbatulin, speaking from Vienna. He added that his brother had been sacked from his job earlier this year. "He was fired because of my rights work although he had nothing to do with my activities and is in no way involved in my work." Begmedova said that the authorities have even harassed her school friends, university fellows, former friends and colleagues, who were not necessarily even aware of her human rights work. "They have also been summoned to the police for 'discussions', which makes their lives uncomfortable," she said. Tukhbatulin explained that there is always an essential conflict between the Turkmen authorities and activists such as himself. "Turkmenistan is such a reclusive country that they [the authorities] are afraid of any leakage of negative information [about the country] and try to block such leaks, while we, as rights activists, do our best to inform the international community about the reality of our country," he said. Meanwhile, the US-based watchdog Amnesty International (AI) expressed serious concerns on Thursday about attempts by the Turkmen authorities to stop THF from carrying out its human rights work. "The targeting of the THF is part of a larger pattern of intimidation by the authorities against civil society activists, their relatives and, more generally, of the clampdown on dissent," AI said. AI has documented cases where family members of dissidents, including those dissidents living in exile, have been summoned before the country's security bodies, dismissed from their jobs or threatened with confiscation of their property. Tukhbatulin urged the international community, including the UN and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to establish a special rapporteur on Turkmenistan to boost the work of protecting human rights in the country while putting pressure on the government to institute reforms.

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

Share this article

Get the day’s top headlines in your inbox every morning

Starting at just $5 a month, you can become a member of The New Humanitarian and receive our premium newsletter, DAWNS Digest.

DAWNS Digest has been the trusted essential morning read for global aid and foreign policy professionals for more than 10 years.

Government, media, global governance organisations, NGOs, academics, and more subscribe to DAWNS to receive the day’s top global headlines of news and analysis in their inboxes every weekday morning.

It’s the perfect way to start your day.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian today and you’ll automatically be subscribed to DAWNS Digest – free of charge.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.