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Watchdog Raises Alarm Over Fate Of Missing Turkmen Activist

Turkmen opposition activist Azat Isakov, who has lived in Russia for many years, had publicly criticized Turkmenistan’s “extraordinarily repressive” government.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is urging Turkmenistan to provide information about the whereabouts of a human rights activist who went missing in Russia last month, saying he was likely a victim of an enforced disappearance by the Turkmen security services.

“There were “many unanswered questions around [Azat] Isakov’s removal from Russia to Turkmenistan, but there is no reason to doubt that he is now in Turkmen detention, yet another victim of an enforced disappearance,” meaning that Turkmenistan’s authorities are concealing information about his detention and fate, the New York-based human rights watchdog said in a statement on November 18.

The 37-year-old Isakov, who has resided in Russia for many years, publicly criticized Turkmenistan’s “extraordinarily repressive” government in 2020 over its handling of the aftermath of a disastrous hurricane in his home region.

A Turkmen opposition activist in Moscow, Chemen Ore, raised concern about his fate in early November, saying he had gone missing on October 20 and may have been deported to Turkmenistan where he would face an arbitrary arrest and torture.

Last week, Russia's Interior Ministry denied that Isakov was deported, saying he had left Moscow for Turkmenistan on his own will.

However, HRW cited multiple sources as saying Isakov had lost his passport and had repeatedly said he had no desire to return to the Central Asian country.

The group noted that the Turkmen government “severely punishes all dissent, and there are many grim examples of people being imprisoned for daring to criticize the authorities.”

"Turkmen security services repeatedly threatened Isakov’s family, pressuring them to get him to stop his activism," it also said.

The statement cited Ore as saying she had learned through informal channels that Isakov is in the Turkmen security services’ custody but she had received no further information from these sources over the past three days.

The U.S. administration and the European Union should urge Turkmen authorities to “immediately confirm Isakov’s whereabouts and free him,” said Rachel Denber, deputy director of the HRW's Europe and Central Asia Division.

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