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Rights Watchdog Urges Turkey Not To Deport Turkmen Activists


Critics and human rights groups say Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has suppressed dissent and made few changes in the restrictive country since he came to power after the death of autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Turkey to halt moves to send two Turkmen activists back to Turkmenistan, warning that they are in serious danger of being detained and tortured.

Turkish authorities detained three activists -- Akhmet Rahmanov, Kamil Abulov, and Bayram Allaliyev -- between October 18-22, placing them in immigration custody in Istanbul. HRW said that, according to unconfirmed reports, they were at imminent risk of being deported.

HRW said that on the evening of October 26, the authorities released Rahmanov, who according to the Bulgaria-based rights group Turkmen Helsinki Foundation (THF) had been on a hunger strike for several days.

The release of Rahmanov came after HRW had urged Turkish migration authorities in a letter to ensure that the three are not forcibly returned to Turkmenistan, that they have access to a lawyer, and that they are promptly released from custody and allowed to legalize their status in Turkey.

After Rahmanov's reported release, the New York-based watchdog called on the Turkish authorities to also immediately release the other two activists and not to deport them.

"The Turkish government should halt any plans to deport two detained Turkmen activists to Turkmenistan, where they will be at grave risk of arbitrary arrest and torture," HRW said in a statement on October 27. "Turkish authorities should immediately release them from deportation custody."

Turkmen activists residing in Turkey have faced increased pressure from Turkish law enforcement officials in recent months, while their families at home have also come under close scrutiny from local authorities.

Since last year, protests against authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov have been staged by Turkmen citizens residing in Turkey, the United States, and Northern Cyprus.

Government critics and human rights groups say Berdymukhammedov has suppressed dissent and made few changes in the restrictive country since he came to power after the death of autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006.

“Turkmenistan has a long record of severely punishing peaceful critics of the government,” said Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Returning activists to Turkmenistan would place them at grave risk of persecution, including risk of torture and other ill-treatment, and enforced disappearance. Turkey should abide by its international obligations not to send the men anywhere they could face ill-treatment,” she said.

Bulgaria-based THF said that several sources told it that Turkish authorities have a list of 25 names of Turkmen activists who reside in Turkey.

The group says it has reasons to believe that those on the list are at risk of detention or deportation, at the behest of the Turkmen government.

Abulov and Allaliyev were on the list, which was in alphabetical order by last name, according to the sources, who said they were not able to get to the bottom of the list and therefore could not confirm whether Rahmanov was also on it.

Rahmanov has been a longtime administrator of the opposition Democratic Choice of Turkmenistan movement's online chat page.

He has also been critical of Berdymukhammedov and his government on YouTube and programs aired by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service.

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