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Dissident Fears Payback Upon Deportation To Turkmenistan

  • Bruce Pannier

Keymir Berdiev says that even though Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (pictured) has taken over as Turkmenistan's president, the attitude of the authorities toward those who challenge the system remains the same.

Keymir Berdiev says that even though Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (pictured) has taken over as Turkmenistan's president, the attitude of the authorities toward those who challenge the system remains the same.

Upon reaching Sweden after living illegally in Russia for nearly a decade, 32-year-old Keymir Berdiev hoped his days of running had come to end.

But after failing to provide sufficient documentation to prove to Swedish authorities that returning to his native Turkmenistan would place him in danger, he was due to be deported there on May 20. He had not been expelled by late afternoon, however.

Berdiev has bounced around from one country to another trying to avoid being returned to Turkmenistan -- and for good reason.

His father and brother are linked to Turkmen opposition groups and, in the latter part of the 1990s, also worked for RFE/RL's Turkmen Service. The Turkmen government has never been tolerant of, or kind to, political opponents or their family members.

Berdiev fears returning to the land where he was born to the point that he attempted suicide upon learning he would be deported to Turkmenistan.

But speaking from a psychiatric hospital in Sundsvald, Sweden, where was taken after his suicide attempt, Berdiev explained to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service that Swedish immigration authorities were confident he would face no harm in Turkmenistan.

According to Berdiev, the Swedish officials told him, "You haven't been active [in politics] since 2002 and time has passed in Turkmenistan, there is a different government and there is no danger in deporting you to Turkmenistan."

No Country For Dissidents

Berdiev rejects that notion. He says that while the president of Turkmenistan has changed -- Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov took office in 2006 -- the attitude of authorities toward those who challenge the Turkmen system remains the same.

Berdiev believes his prospects in Turkmenistan are not promising.

"In Turkmenistan my father and brother are on the blacklist as traitors to the nation for their work with Radio Liberty. We were watched there and in Moscow, and even though the president has changed, the authorities are the same as they were previously," Berdiev said.

"They follow people who think differently and they put them in jail as dissidents. That is what I face. I don't have a home there and for all I know I don't even have citizenship there anymore. I haven't been there since 1999."

Speaking from Ukraine, Berdiev's brother Shanazar agreed that the Berdiev family was well-known and unwelcome in Turkmenistan, and had been for some time now.

"Starting with my father, because he was the first in the family to connect with the opposition -- he was an active member of the opposition already at the end of the 1980s, since 1989, before the Soviet Union collapsed," Shanazar Berdiev said.

'There's Nothing We Can Do'

Keymir Berdiev admitted that when a Swedish immigration court ruled against his request in April, he fled and hid. He was later detained when, homeless, police found him sleeping on a park bench.

Berdiev said he had difficulty convincing the Swedish authorities that he had family in Europe (his father Muhammet lives in The Netherlands) but that even after officials accepted this they were still unwilling to grant the asylum request without further documentation.

Berdiev said he did not have the necessary proof to convince officials he would be persecuted if deported to Turkmenistan.

Berdiev's doctor at the psychiatric clinic, Ann-Sofie Otterstrom, sympathized with her patient's situation in an interview with RFE/RL, but said there was nothing she or her clinic could do to help.

"He needs some new information. He needs some new papers that can put extra force on his appeal in some way because what we have now is not enough for them to let him stay here and I can't really do anything," Otterstrom said.

"If you have some papers or if you have something you can send us I can forward it to [the Ministry of Migration] but we can't help him. We can't do anything to affect the decision. We can't do anything to make them [the Migration Ministry] change the decision."

Otterstrom said she feared the worst if Berdiev were to be sent back.

"They will send him anyway even though he's feeling really, really, bad; even though he will commit suicide. It's actually really, really sad."

RFE/RL contacted Sweden's Migration Ministry but was told that the ministry could not legally comment on asylum cases.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service contributed to this report

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