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Tokar Tugurov
An art exhibit in Ashgabat for a well-known Turkmen artist has been canceled by Turkmen authorities without explanation, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports.

Culture Minister Gulmyrat Muradov nixed the plan to show works by Tokar Tugurov on May 28 in the hall of the Union of Artists of Turkmenistan, but gave no reason for the order.

The exhibit was planned last year by friends and relatives of the artist, who died in 2008 at the age of 64. It had previously been postponed several times by authorities.

Berdimyrat Batyrov, a Turkmen intellectual who had gone to the museum to attend the event, told RFE/RL that those who gathered for the exhibit were shocked that authorities prevented it from opening.

"The authorities tried to explain by saying there were lots of other events organized in the city," he said. But he said the authorities are "afraid of gatherings of intelligentsia in the [Ashgabat] city center."

Tugurov, who had been honored as Turkmenistan's top artist and was a member of the International Federation of Artists and the Union of Artists in Russia, has had his art exhibited in many countries, including Britain, Japan, Bangladesh, Russia, and Kazakhstan.

A memorial event was held in honor of Tugurov at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ashgabat on May 26. That event was attended by the artist's friends and colleagues, as well as by representatives from the U.S. Embassy.
Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi
Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi says a recently released report underscores Iran's weakening human rights situation, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reports.

Ebadi spoke to Radio Farda after Amnesty International (AI) released its annual human rights report on May 27, in which the group scathingly criticizes the Iranian government.

"Unfortunately, what is in the report is true," said Ebadi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003 for her efforts to promote democracy and human rights in Iran. "The human rights situation in Iran is deteriorating. [The government] is executing political prisoners, denying their families the dead bodies and the right to hold funeral ceremonies. The conditions in the prisons are also grave."

The AI report highlighted ongoing violations of women's rights in Iran.

Ebadi said that Iran's failure to sign the 1979 UN convention on the "Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women" contradicts its recent election to a seat on the UN's Commission on the Status of Women.

The AI report also criticized Iran's widespread use of harsh punishment, particularly execution.

Ebadi, a lawyer and former judge, strongly criticized the practice of execution by stoning, which still exists under Iranian law. She called it the "weakest point in Iran's judicial system."

She also said the situation facing political prisoners is very bad, "even worse than [that facing] ordinary prisoners.”

Drewery Dyke, an Amnesty International researcher on Iran, told Radio Farda on May 27 that the handling of the case of Neda Agha Soltan, a young Iranian shot dead during the June postelection protests in Tehran, is in indication of the lack of transparency and rule of law in the country.

The video of Soltan’s death, posted on YouTube, has been watched by millions of people and became a symbol of the postelection violence.

"All of us witnessed the killing of Neda Agha Soltan," said Dyke, "but what was the reaction shown by the Iranian officials? Did they start any transparent investigation? Did they invite any family member to participate in the investigation? No they did not."

Dyke called for UN experts to be allowed to visit Iran to monitor the country's human rights situation. Dyke told Radio Farda that Iran "is not responding positively" to that proposal.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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