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Monday 2 December 2019

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Turkmen cardiologist Kasymberdy Garayev (file photo)

Mystery continues to surround a 24-year-old doctor from Ashgabat since he came out as gay in an interview with RFE/RL in October and later retracted his claim after vanishing while in police custody.

Kasymberdy Garayev has twice "disappeared" -- or was apparently incommunicado for long periods of time -- and then resurfaced to recant claims he made that he was a homosexual.

The unusual behavior is sparking fears he might be under pressure by Turkmen authorities or his own family.

Homosexuality is a criminal offense in Turkmenistan and a social taboo in the tightly-controlled Central Asian nation.

The independent news site Turkmen.news quoted Garayev's friends abroad as saying they had not been able to contact the doctor since early November.

The friends, whose names weren't published, told the news agency they were concerned Garayev might have once again been detained by police.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service established that Garayev had been at work in the cardiology department at an Ashgabat clinic as recently as November 14 but was then absent for several days after that.

RFE/RL was able to speak by phone with Garayev and his father on December 2, a day after the Turkmen.news story about his friends not being able to reach him was published.

Stark Contrast

Garayev told RFE/RL he was "fine" and "at home" in Ashgabat, adding that he had "just returned from work."

"Those stories that were written about me [being a homosexual] has caused the girl I love to have suspicions about me," Garayev said, in stark contrast with his previous accounts discussing his homosexuality with RFE/RL.

During those phone conversations he said, among other things, that he didn't want to marry a woman and had gone to great measures to get out of two arranged marriages with women.

Garayev's father, Maksat, insisted to RFE/RL that his son is not gay. He said the family was unhappy about the stories in foreign media saying his son is a homosexual.

"Everything is fine with us. Please, let us be," Maksat said. "Don't [journalists] have more important stories to write about?"

The father claimed Garayev's social-media accounts had been hacked and suggested that the story of him being homosexual was a false claim made by someone else.

But Garayev made clear to RFE/RL multiple times in discussions held over the course of a few weeks that he was gay and even made a farewell video to his family that he gave to RFE/RL with instructions to release it if he was detained by officials or otherwise disappeared.

Garayev told RFE/RL then that he hoped by telling his story he could help other gay people in Turkmenistan who were in a similar situation, being verbally and physically abused by their family and officials because of their sexual orientation.

Maksat Garayev said his son has recently opened new accounts on social media.

Disappearances

This is the second time Garayev has mysteriously disappeared and reappeared following media reports about him after RFE/RL published his first interview on October 21.

In that interview, Garayev told RFE/RL of his ordeal, which he said included being badly beaten and given electric shocks by police and coming under pressure by his family to get married in order to conceal his sexual identity. Family members also forced him to see psychiatrists and speak with an imam, he said, in attempts to get him to become a heterosexual.

Garayev also said that in Ashgabat only a close family circle was aware of his sexual orientation.

He initially asked RFE/RL not to reveal his real name for security reasons and instead introduce him as "Kamil" in the story.

But after creating the farewell video, he asked RFE/RL to publish it along with his real name if he suddenly went missing, which he did.

'If I Disappear, Forgive Me': Missing Gay Turkmen's Plea
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On October 24, Garayev told RFE/RL he had been summoned by the police.

RFE/RL then lost contact with Garayev about 30 minutes before he was due to appear at an Ashgabat police station.

Surprise Phone Calls

After a few weeks, Garayev contacted RFE/RL's Turkmen Service via a video call on November 6 and retracted his claim of being gay for the first time.

His reappearance came after multiple reports about him and how he had vanished after going to see the police were published as international rights groups also called on the Turkmen government to disclose his whereabouts or announce if he had been charged with a crime.

Garayev's father also spoke to RFE/RL at that time and said the story about his son being a homosexual was false.

It is not known if pressure was applied by officials or if the father and son were directly ordered by authorities to retract Garayev's original account that he was gay.

However, their surprise phone calls and the young doctor's reconnection with RFE/RL came the same day that Italian Senator Monica Cirinna called on Italian authorities to query a visiting government delegation from Turkmenistan -- being led by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov -- about Garayev's disappearance.

Turkmenistan still hasn't dropped a Soviet-era law that criminalizes homosexuality -- something that 13 of the other 14 former republics of the U.S.S.R. have done.

Neighboring Uzbekistan joins Turkmenistan as the only former Soviet republics that still bring criminal charges against homosexuals.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service
Riot police confront protesters in the Iranian city of Urmia on November 16.

At least 208 people are believed to have been killed during last month's crackdown on protests in Iran that followed fuel-price hikes, Amnesty International said on December 2.

"The number of people believed to have been killed during demonstrations in Iran that broke out on 15 November has risen to at least 208, based on credible reports received by the organization," said the London-based rights group, adding that the actual death toll was probably higher.

Protests erupted on November 15 after the government announced a fuel-price hike of up to 200 percent but were quickly stifled by security forces who also imposed a week-long near-total Internet blackout.

Dozens of deaths were recorded in Shahriar, one of the cities with the highest death toll, Amnesty said.

Amnesty last week had put the death toll at 161.

Philip Luther, Amnesty's research and advocacy head for the Middle East, called the number of deaths "evidence that Iran's security forces went on a horrific killing spree," and called on the international community to ensure those responsible are held accountable.

"Extensive video footage verified and analyzed by Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Corps shows security forces shooting at unarmed protesters," the group said.

Amnesty added that, according to collected information, "families of victims have been threatened and warned not to speak to the media or to hold funeral ceremonies for their loved ones.

"Some families are also being forced to make extortionate payments to have the bodies of their loved ones returned to them," the watchdog said.

With reporting by AFP and dpa

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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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