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Activists, Journalists Harassed Ahead Of EU-Turkmen Meeting

Activist Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev in front of his home, tagged with the word 'traitor'

Ahead of an EU-Turkmen meeting on human rights in Ashgabat, civic activists and independent journalists in the country have been reporting widespread harassment, intimidation, and even the detention of government opponents.

On June 23, a day before the first full Human Rights Dialogue between the EU and Turkmenistan, Amnesty International issued a report stating that Turkmens are subject to "widespread and systematic" violations of human rights. Titled "Turkmenistan: No Effective Human Rights Reform," the report states that "impunity pervades for police, security services, and other government authorities despite promises of the government of President [Gurbanguly] Berdymukhammedov to protect human rights."

Amnesty International stated that Turkmen authorities target independent journalists, including RFE/RL correspondents, in an attempt to silence independent voices.

Another human rights group, the Vienna-based Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR), voiced similar concerns. TIHR wrote on June 23 that "public activists, journalists, and some unwanted individuals continue to be repeatedly persecuted," adding that "repressions have recently [been] exacerbated."

TIHR also said that RFE/RL's Turkmen Service correspondents based in the country are subject to persecution by law-enforcement agencies. "The persecution methods used by the special services range from cutting off correspondents' telephones to explicit threats and intimidation of the correspondents and their relatives, including children," the group said.

Amnesty International called on EU delegates to use the June 24 meeting to press Turkmen authorities to honor their international human rights obligations.

Amnesty's EU office director, Nicolas Beger, said in a statement on June 23 that "a fundamental part of the EU-Central Asia strategy is centered on 'Human Rights Dialogues.' To be coherent, the participants of tomorrow's meeting must demonstrate that human rights are an integral part of their interactions -- and not a fig leaf behind which either side is free to privilege economic cooperation."

Detained And Coerced

Turkmenistan-based correspondents and contributors to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, or Radio Azatlyk, say intimidation and harassment have increased in recent days.

Sazak Durdymuradov, a regular contributor to RFE/RL's Turkmen programs, was detained and reportedly ill-treated in prison. His relatives say police detained Durdymuradov at his house in the town of Baharden, some 200 kilometers west of Ashgabat, on June 20.

He was first taken to a psychiatric clinic in the town of Bezmein near Ashgabat. But when family members went to Bezmein to visit him on June 21, they did not find him there, and did not learn of his whereabouts until today.

A relative of Durdymuradov's tells Radio Azatlyk that he was held in the Baharden detention center, where his wife visited him early on June 24. She says Durdymuradov was beaten up after he refused to make a written promise not to work for RFE/RL.

“Until today, Sazak Durdymuradov has been kept in the Baharden region's [security service] detention center. He announced a hunger strike. His wife says Sazak was beaten. His health condition is bad," his relative says. She adds that Durdymuradov was subsequently taken to a remote psychiatric clinic in eastern Lebap Province.

Families Affected

Osman Hallyev, Radio Azatlyk's correspondent in Lebap Province, says he has been under virtual house arrest since last week.

"Even though they did not officially tell me, I have been under house arrest," Hallyev says. "My mobile phones were cut off. They have been watching my house for 24 hours from four sides. If I leave the house, they follow me. There are police officers among them. The situation is getting worse hour by hour. Even my grandchildren, who have to go to kindergarten, are afraid to go out."

Hallyev says his son, Umyt, was expelled from university on June 20. The university administration told him several times in the past that he and his father must stop collaborating with RFE/RL.

Umyt, 23, who was studying at the Turkmen State University of World Languages in Ashgabat, was officially dismissed for failing an exam, but said that one of his professors admitted to having been pressured by the authorities.

Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev, a civic activist from the western Turkmen city of Balkanabad and a frequent guest on Radio Azatlyk, has also been targeted by Turkmen authorities.

In the June 23 report, Amnesty wrote that police had visited Durdykuliev at his home and written "recommendations" that he undergo a psychiatric check-up, and that an attempt had been made to burn down the activist's house.

Last week, Durdykuliev's 10-year-old son Aman was forcibly taken from a summer camp near Ashgabat, for which he had been selected because he was a top student. "A young man named Akmurat told me I did not have the proper documents and took me away," Aman says. "He also said that KGB agents did not want me to stay there. He then paid a taxi driver to drive me home."

Durdykuliev sees the incident as part of the authorities' attempt to intimidate and silence him. "The Turkmen authorities have turned a 10-year-old boy into their enemy," he says.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service correspondent Rozynazar Khudaiberdiev contributed to this report