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Turkmenistan: Rights Activist Worried By Journalist's Detention

  • Bruce Pannier

http://gdb.rferl.org/47C62C82-94C9-4111-98D0-8D89AB64EB70_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/47C62C82-94C9-4111-98D0-8D89AB64EB70_mw800_mh600.jpg Tajigul Begmedova (right) at RFE/RL today (RFE/RL) Tajigul Begmedova is the chairwoman of the Bulgaria-based Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights. Forced to leave Turkmenistan in March 2002, the Turkmen authorities have harassed her relatives since she left. Begmedova visited Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty headquarters in Prague today and expressed great concern with the fate of some activists and an RFE/RL journalist that are currently being detained by the government.


PRAGUE, July 21, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- While at RFE/RL headquarters, Begmedova touched on an issue that is close to the organization: the current detention of RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova.


"Ogulsapar Muradova, I think, is a very strong and capable person who chose to work in the difficult conditions of Turkmenistan -- and there are such people in Turkmenistan," she said.

Begmedova said the world's craving for energy resources could be putting the defense of human rights on the back burner, as there are already examples of this in Turkmenistan.

Activists, Journalist Detained


Muradova was detained on June 18, part of series of detentions Turkmen authorities made that also netted rights activists Annagurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiev. Muradova's children were detained one week later but released at the start of July. Muradova still has not been charged with committing any offense but state media in Turkmenistan has said she passed along "slanderous information" in her reporting about social conditions in the country.


Muradova's case has received the attention of international rights organizations that have released a number of statements and appeals on behalf of Muradova and the others detained.


Begmedova credits Muradova with providing an example to the people of Turkmenistan.


"This is a [positive] step because other people are also starting to raise their heads," she said.


But Begmedova expressed some concern for Muradova and the others, saying that once Turkmen authorities detain a person, pressure is put on the detainee.


"In Turkmenistan we are all witnesses to the fact that the Turkmen regime -- as soon as it detains someone -- can force them to sign confessions and such a show or scenario has happened more than once," Begmedova said.


Rays Of Hope


Begmedova noted a positive development in the Muradova case. Begmedova said when Muradova's children were being held they were reportedly shown mercy not usually given to those detained in Turkmenistan.


"There are reports that [detention officials] even helped [Muradova's children]," she said. "Even inside the holding area they helped them and what is especially interesting is that their guards [reportedly] told the children to speak up if they needed to use the toilet although [officially] it is allowed [to detainees] to go [to the toilet] only two times."


Another new development that Begmedova mentioned was the ability of her organization to contact the children after they were released.


"Also in this case, we have an opportunity to have contact with them (the children)," she added.


In another departure from the usual treatment in Turkmenistan, authorities are considering a request from Begmedova's organization and others to provide funding for Muradova's legal defense.


"We are working on this right now and hope that it will be decided positively," she said.


Blind For Energy


Despite some positive signs, Begmedova said the world's craving for energy resources could be putting the defense of human rights on the back burner, as there are already examples of this in Turkmenistan.


"This has happened several times and a vivid example was in 2003 when there was the so-called gas agreement between Russia and Turkmenistan and more than 100,000 Russian citizens living in Turkmenistan were forgotten," Begmedova said. "Also, the attempts to reach a trade agreement that are under way between Europe and Turkmenistan, which rights organizations are condemning -- for example Human Rights Watch -- is another example."


Many of those 100,000 Russians eventually made their way to Russia after Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov unilaterally cancelled a dual citizenship agreement with Russia and ordered his country's citizens to choose which country they would live in. The European Union is currently debating the signing of a trade agreement with Turkmenistan. The potential agreement has divided those who would see the EU promote human rights and those interested in buying oil and gas from resource rich Turkmenistan for use in Europe.


The world's increasing need for energy has led to criticism that many nations are turning a blind eye to rights violations in countries like Turkmenistan, as these countries place a priority on meeting their nations' energy requirements.

Human Rights In Turkmenistan
Tajigul Begmedova speaking at RFE/RL in Prague on July 21 (RFE/RL)

LIFE UNDER NIYAZOV: On July 21, RFE/RL's Prague broadcasting center hosted a presentation by TAJIGUL BEGMEDOVA, chairwoman of the Bulgaria-based Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (THF). Begmedova discussed the human rights situation in Turkmenistan under President Saparmural Niyazov, focusing on the arrests in June of THF activists and RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova. Begmedova, who graduated from the Institute of Economy in Moscow in 1987, fled Turkmenistan in 2002 and lives in exile in Sofia.


LISTEN

Listen to the complete presentation (36 minutes; presentation in Russian with consecutive translation into English):
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Some RFE/RL Coverage Of Human Rights In Turkmenistan:

Media Coverage Of Leader Distracts From Real Problems

Authorities Cast Wide Net In Conspiracy Allegations

Embattled Turkmen Writer Honored Abroad

RFE/RL Correspondent Recounts Arrest


ARCHIVE

RFE/RL coverage of Turkmenistan.


THE COMPLETE STORY: Click on the icon to view a dedicated webpage bringing together all of RFE/RL's coverage of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

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