2 January 2003
Human Rights Group Critical of Turkmen Trial, Sentence
31 December 2002
New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) says a life sentence given yesterday by the Turkmen Supreme Court to former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov was unfair, AFP reported on 31 December.
The international human rights group has said the proceedings could be compared to Stalinist trials of the 1930s and were designed to eliminate opposition to the Turkmen regime.
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov announced Shikhmuradov's sentence on state television on 30 December. The president said demands that Shikhmuradov be executed had been rejected because only Allah can decide such a punishment.
Shikhmuradov, who was detained by Turkmen authorities last week, was shown on state television on 29 December saying he had plotted with others to kill the president while under the influence of drugs. He also denounced the political opposition to Niyazov, calling it a criminal gang.
Elizabeth Andersen, HRW's executive director for Europe and Central Asia, said there is "little doubt" that Shikhmuradov's confession was dictated to him. Andersen said that past political cases in Turkmenistan emerged as "show trials." (AFP)
Shikhmuradov Sentenced To Life For Plot Against President
30 December 2002
Former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov has been sentenced to life in prison for plotting to kill President Niyazov, whose motorcade came under fire last month, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported on 30 December.
The National Assembly, the country's highest legislative body, approved the life sentences for Shikhmuradov and his two alleged accomplices, Nurmukhammed Khanamov and Khoudaiberdy Orazov, at a session in Ashgabat on 30 December. Shikhmuradov publicly broke with Niyazov's administration in 2001, pronouncing himself an opposition leader and living in exile. He was shown on state television on 29 December confessing to masterminding a coup attempt.
"When we lived in Russia, we took drugs and, while in a state of intoxication, prepared people and recruited mercenaries to carry out a terrorist attack. Being part of a criminal conspiracy, we were making promises to those who agreed to carry out our order, which was to destabilize the situation in Turkmenistan, to undermine the constitutional order, and to carry out an assassination attempt against the president of Turkmenistan." Shikhmuradov said he was making his confession voluntarily. Human rights groups have criticized Turkmen authorities' investigation of the attack, citing reports of torture. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service, RTR)
Turkmen Police Say Shikhmuradov Treated 'Appropriately'
28 December 2002
Boris Shikhmuradov, who was arrested in connection with a failed coup, is being treated appropriately, Interfax reported on 28 December, citing sources in the Turkmen law-enforcement agencies. Shikhmuradov has been treated very correctly, he has not been harmed physically, the sources said.
Shikhmuradov is suspected of organizing the alleged coup d'etat that was thwarted in Turkmenistan on 25 November. Shikhmuradov was arrested by special-services officers on 25 December. During the arrest, Shikhmuradov was alone in the apartment and did not stage resistance, they sources said. (Interfax)
Turkmen Embassy In Uzbekistan Working Normally
26 December 2002
The Turkmen Embassy in the Uzbek capital Tashkent is working normally, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 December, citing Turkmen Ambassador Soltan Pirmukhamedov. On 21 December Turkmenistan declared Uzbek Ambassador Abdurashid Qodyrov persona non grata.
However, Uzbek Deputy Foreign Minister Ilkhom Negmatov claimed that "our ambassador has been recalled to Tashkent for consultations." Foreign news reports have recently said Uzbekistan responded by announcing Turkmenistan's ambassador a persona non grata and Pirmukhamedov left. He denied the reports.
"The Embassy of Turkmenistan is continuing to receive visitors, its consular department is working in normally. Thus 95 visas have been issued in the past few days," he said.
Pirmukhamedov said, "Nothing will cloud our bilateral friendly relations, and the Uzbek and Turkmen people will value their many-century friendship forever." (ITAR-TASS)
Turkmen Activist Arrested For Attending Moscow Meeting
24 December 2002
Two leading human rights groups say a civil-society activist has been arrested in Turkmenistan, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported on 24 December. The groups -- the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and Russia's Memorial Human Rights Center -- say Fahrid Tukhbatullin was arrested on 23 December in the Turkmen city of Dashoguz and transferred to Ashgabat.
He is thought to be accused of participating in a meeting organized by the Helsinki Federation held in Moscow in November 2002. At the meeting, human rights activists discussed the current human rights situation in Turkmenistan.
The Helsinki Federation says Tukhbatullin's arrest is "totally unjustified" and is appealing to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Turkmen authorities to release him. It says Tukhbatullin's detention is part of an ongoing wave of arbitrary arrests in Turkmenistan. (RFE/RL Turkmen Service)
Security Council Gives Backing To Kabul Declaration
24 December 2002
The UN Security Council on 24 December gave its unanimous backing to a nonaggression pact signed by Afghanistan and its neighbors, AP reported the same day.
The so-called Kabul Declaration was signed on 22 December, one year after President Hamid Karzai came to power as head of an interim government established after U.S.-led forces toppled Afghanistan's Taliban rulers. Afghanistan's UN ambassador, Ravan Farhadi, said the Security Council's support is important because it confirms the declaration's key point of nonintervention.
Afghanistan hopes the pact will bring an end to years of foreign interference that have contributed to more than two decades of fighting. China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan's transitional government signed the declaration. (AP)
Is There A Tashkent Connection?
30 December 2002
By Adam Albion
The manhunt for the alleged mastermind behind the 25 November attempt to assassinate Turkmenistan's President Saparmurat Niyazov, which began with a raid on the Uzbek Embassy in Ashgabat, had all the hallmarks of a wild-goose chase. One week later, with Turkmen authorities crowing that they had captured public enemy No. 1, former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, it looks as if there might have been a method to the madness.
On 16 December, more than a dozen Turkmen special-services officers forcibly entered the Uzbek Embassy and searched the ambassador's residence, claiming to have information that Turkmen nationals involved in the bid to kill Niyazov had taken refuge in the building. When they failed to find anyone, the officers allegedly filmed a Turkmen who had accompanied them into the building and who testified on camera that he had been living in the embassy for some time. The following day, the Uzbek Foreign Ministry issued a protest note, calling the incident a gross violation of the norms and principles of international law and demanding an immediate explanation, as well as immunity for its diplomatic mission.
Speaking on Turkmen Television on 18 December, Prosecutor-General Kurbanbibi Atajanova made two sensational allegations that nonetheless shed light on the police's precipitous actions. First, she alleged that Shikhmuradov, assumed still to be in self-imposed exile in Moscow, was in fact in Turkmenistan. She said he arrived in the Uzbek town of Qarshi on 23 November and slipped across the border that night in order to be on hand to seize power after the planned assassination of Niyazov. Atajanova substantiated that allegation with a wealth of purported detail. She described the model Volvo that Shikhmuradov traveled in, his exact movements, the times and addresses of his meetings with alleged co-conspirators, and the roles of his accomplices in the plot.
Second, Atajanova accused Uzbekistan's ambassador in Ashgabat, Abdurashid Qodyrov, of hiding Shikhmuradov and an accomplice in the embassy after the attack failed. She said the plotters hid out in the building from 26 November until 7 December. Shikhmuradov, she said, had disappeared, but his accomplice, Nurmuhammed Orazgeldyev, was arrested on 14 December at a bus station in the town of Mary dressed in women's clothes.
On 19 December, Uzbek Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov dismissed these charges as groundless. But he did add a rider to his denials, one that was little noticed at the time but that seems more significant in the light of subsequent events. Komilov was quoted by Interfax as saying, "Uzbekistan thinks it expedient to note that Boris Shikhmuradov, who was the foreign minister of Turkmenistan for many years, has visited the republic many times and, naturally, has numerous acquaintances and persons he maintains contacts with in Uzbekistan." For anyone suspicious enough to wonder whether Uzbekistan might really have assisted Shikhmuradov after all, Komilov's caveat sounds like a clever hedge designed to give government figures "deniability" in case compromising revelations ever came out about Uzbek collusion.
Meanwhile, Turkmen authorities offered neither apologies nor explanations for raiding the Uzbek Embassy. The Foreign Ministry in Ashgabat ratcheted up the diplomatic tension on 21 December by issuing a statement declaring Qodyrov persona non grata "for committing acts incompatible with the status of a diplomat" and demanding that he leave the country within 24 hours. Qodyrov duly left the next day.
The Turkmen special services maintained that Shikhmuradov and an accomplice, businessman Iklym Iklymov, were still in the country, and they intensified the search. Turkmen Television called on citizens to assist in the manhunt, showing photographs of the two men and urging viewers to report any information about their whereabouts to police.
At this point, one might have expected Shikhmuradov to prove the Turkmen government to be liars by the simple expedient of showing himself on Russian television. The fact that he did not might have sown seeds of doubt among observers who had been inclined to dismiss Ashgabat's allegations out of hand as wild posturing or pretexts for a purge. Then, on 26 December, presidential spokesman Serdar Durdyev announced that Shikhmuradov had been captured by police at an undisclosed location within Turkmenistan. Prosecutor-General Atajanova confirmed the news on television, saying that Shikhmuradov had been captured together with Iklymov.
Meanwhile, Shikhmuradov posted a statement on his opposition website (http://www.gundogar.com) dated 24 December and allegedly written while he was still at liberty, in which he announced that he would give himself up to the Turkmen National Security Ministry voluntarily. This was the first hint from his side that he really was in Turkmenistan. Shikhmuradov claimed on the website that he had been hiding in the country since September, organizing a series of rallies in Ashgabat and elsewhere that were scheduled to take place in late November. After the assassination attempt -- and he was silent on the all-important question of whether he was involved in it or had prior knowledge of it -- he felt obliged, he said, to surrender in order to stop the police from arresting and torturing innocent people to make them reveal his whereabouts.
Is this likely, given that by delivering himself into Niyazov's hands, Shikhmuradov is almost certainly condemning himself to death? Over the weekend, Shikhmuradov confessed on Turkmen State Television that he masterminded the conspiracy to kill Niyazov.
Or is it more probable that his letter on the website was backdated and posted by someone as prearranged in case he was caught -- part of a face-saving contingency plan creating the impression of a noble martyrdom for the cause of democracy?
Is it likely that Turkmen law-enforcement officials are so reckless and incompetent that they would provoke an international incident by making wild charges against Uzbekistan? Or is it more probable, given the apparent detail with which they had tracked Shikhmuradov's moves in the run-up to the assassination attempt, that they actually had collected enough evidence to substantiate their accusations of Uzbek complicity?
Is it likely that Tashkent might actually have colluded -- albeit at a suitable remove to ensure that all top officials had deniability -- in a plot to eliminate Niyazov? Could the fact that Niyazov recently refused Uzbekistan permission to use its Caspian ports and railways to export goods; or the fact that Uzbekistan has various outstanding land, water, and energy disputes with its neighbor; or the fact that Central Asia would simply be a more stable and predictable place without the erratic Niyazov in power, be relevant in this regard? In that context, it is worth recalling that Tashkent has a history of trying to undermine neighboring regimes: It supported the failed coup in Tajikistan in November 1998 headed by former Tajik Army Colonel Mahmud Khudaiberdiev.