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Step Forward, Step Back For Turkmenistan At Warsaw Conference

Tajigul Begmedova

Tajigul Begmedova

The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has begun a 10-day annual conference in Warsaw that's focusing on human rights and democracy issues in the OSCE's 56 member states. The meeting is expected to attract some 1,000 representatives of governments, NGOs, and human rights groups from across Europe and Central Asia.

Some nations, although members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, have decided not to send official representation. One of those countries is Turkmenistan, which has seen some small signs of liberalization since the death of authoritarian leader Saparmurat Niyazov in late 2006 and the rule of current President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

Tajigul Begmedova, chairwoman of the Bulgaria-based Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, is in Warsaw, however, and in a speech on the first day of the session urged Turkmen officials to institute real reforms, to allow the Red Cross to visit Turkmen prisons, and to permit independent lawyers to review the cases of those imprisoned under false accusations during Niyazov's regime.

She also addressed the persecution of independent journalists in the country, including RFE/RL correspondents.

"Turkmen officials could expect inconvenient questions" if they came to Warsaw, Begmedova told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service. "Perhaps this is one of the reasons why they are not participating. Maybe Turkmen officials are not ready to answer our questions."

In one small sign, perhaps, of Turkmenistan's slow thaw, Jens-Hagen Eschenbaecher, an ODIHR spokesman, confirms that Turkmenistan has expressed interest in allowing international observers to monitor parliamentary elections on December 14.

"We have a needs assessment mission in the country at the moment, this week," Eschenbaecher told RFE/RL. "The mission will look at the electoral framework in place and then make a recommendation as to whether the OSCE -- ODIHR -- should observe the elections or not."

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