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Turkmenistan's new two-chamber parliament, known as the Milli Genes, or National Council, will be made up of 56 senators and 125 deputies. (file photo)

Turkmenistan held its first elections to a newly created senate on March 28 with 112 candidates contesting 48 senate seats.

There were no opposition candidates on the ballot in the Central Asian former Soviet republic, which is considered one of the most repressive countries in the world.

With a cult of personality around the 63-year-old authoritarian ruler, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, dissent is not tolerated in Turkmenistan and all media is under strict state control.

Voters on March 28 had only two hours to cast ballots, between the hours of 10 a.m. and noon local time, at one of six polling stations across the country -- one in the capital Ashgabat and five in other regions.

Turkmen authorities declared within hours of the vote that turnout in the country of 5.8 million people was 98.7 percent of eligible voters.

Foreign observers were not allowed to monitor the polling stations.

Profiles of candidates published by the government newspaper, Netralny Turkmenistan, indicated that most of the candidates in the March 28 vote were civil servants.

Turkmenistan's new two-chamber parliament, known as the Milli Genes, or National Council, will be made up of 56 senators and 125 deputies.

In addition to the 48 candidates to be declared as the winners of senate seats during the next week, Berdymukhammedov also will designate his own choices for eight other senate seats.

With reporting by AFP
Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny (file photo)

Members of the Public Oversight Commission in the Vladimir Region have met with jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny following his complaints about his declining health and poor medical treatment in Correctional Colony No. 2.

The commission's chairman Vyacheslav Kulikov said in a statement on March 28 that the team "visited the colony and met with Aleksei Navalny in order to learn about problems with his health and the provision of medical treatment."

"During the discussion, Navalny complained about pain in his leg and asked for assistance in getting injections to treat this pain," Kulikov said.

Kulikov also said Navalny was able to walk and did not voice any other complaints. He said Navalny's request for injections had been officially registered.

"We asked doctors to pay attention to this and, in case it is necessary, to carry out an additional medical checkup," Kulikov said.

Meanwhile, a statement issued on Navalny's Twitter page on March 28 said the visit by the team from the Public Oversight Commission had taken place on the morning of March 26.

"What prevented them from telling about this immediately after the visit, and not being silent for two days?" the Twitter statement on Navalny's page said.

The United States and the European Union have called for Russia to immediately release Navalny after he said he was suffering from severe back pains and that "nothing" was being done by prison authorities to solve the problem.

In a message posted on his Instagram account on March 26, Navalny also said he had been warned by prominent past prisoners that getting sick in prison was potentially fatal.

Correctional Colony No. 2, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Moscow, is known as one of the toughest penitentiaries in Russia.

"We have seen the disturbing reports about Aleksei Navalny's worsening health in prison. We urge continued access for his lawyers and that he receive medical care," U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted on March 26, adding: "We reiterate our call for Russia to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Navalny."

'Personal Revenge'

Nabila Massrali, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, has issued a similar call, saying Russian authorities "must give @navalny access to medical care & give his lawyers access to him."

Navalny's health became an issue on March 24 after his allies said they were concerned about his deteriorating condition and called on prison authorities to clarify the situation.

On March 25, Navalny’s wife issued a plea to the Kremlin to free her husband so that he could be treated by doctors "he trusts" and called his imprisonment the "personal revenge" of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The same day Navalny's lawyers were finally able to see him and reported that the anti-corruption campaigner was in an "extremely unfavorable" condition, suffering from back pains and issues with his right leg that has made it "practically nonfunctional."

The message on Instagram said that "getting out of bed is hard and very painful" but that "a week ago, the prison doctor examined me and prescribed two tablets of ibuprofen [a day], but I still don't know the diagnosis."

"Apparently a nerve was pinched from constantly sitting in police wagons and in 'pencil cases' crookedly," he said in reference to the cramped cages defendants are placed in during court hearings.

'Deliberate Strategy'

Putin’s spokesman has said the Kremlin would not react to appeals for Navalny's release because the Kremlin "has no role in the matter."

"At the moment, in a situation when a citizen is a convict incarcerated in a penal colony, the address for such appeals is the FSIN (Federal Penitentiary Service)," Dmitry Peskov said.

Lawyer Vadim Kobzev said that, after "finally" getting to see Navalny, the situation quickly became clear that he was not only not being treated properly, "but a deliberate strategy is under way to undermine his health."

In a statement on his website, Navalny also accused the prison of torturing him through sleep deprivation.

Peskov rejected the allegation saying Navalny, like other prisoners, is woken up every hour as a way "of maintaining order and discipline in penitentiaries" and that stricter measures are often used in prisons abroad.

Such comments show "these people are the enemies of our own country," Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) said on Twitter in response to Peskov's statements.

Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport in January immediately upon returning from Berlin, where he was recovering from what several Western laboratories determined was a poisoning attempt using a Novichok-type nerve agent that saw him fall seriously ill on a flight in Siberia in August 2020.

Navalny has said the assassination attempt was ordered by Putin -- an allegation rejected by the Kremlin.

A Moscow court in February ruled that while in Germany, Navalny had violated the terms of parole from an older embezzlement case, which is widely considered to be politically motivated.

His suspended 3 1/2-year sentence was converted into jail time, though the court reduced that amount to 2 1/2 years for time already served in detention.

Navalny’s incarceration set off a wave of national protests and a crackdown against his supporters.

The European Union, the United States, and Canada have imposed a series of sanctions against Russia over the Navalny case.

With reporting by AFP, Interfax, and TASS

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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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