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Merkel: Turkmenistan To Discuss Allowing Foreign Envoys To Visit Its Jails


German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov in Berlin on August 29.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov in Berlin on August 29.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said Turkmenistan has agreed to discuss the possibility of giving foreign diplomats access to its prisons.

Merkel was speaking on August 29 at a joint news conference with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov in Berlin.

"We talked about the fact that it would be desirable having diplomats get access to the prisons in Turkmenistan," she said. "President [Berdymukhammedov] promised that the [German and Turkmen] foreign ministers will talk about [the issue] now and that international diplomats will later be able to have a look there and assess the situation."

International rights group Human Rights Watch has called on Berlin to challenge the Turkmen leader to end its secretive imprisonment of political opponents, free jailed RFE/RL journalist Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, and eliminate arbitrary bans on people leaving the country.

In a statement on August 25, the New York-based rights monitor called on Merkel "to stand up for those in Turkmenistan who cannot engage their own government" during her talks with Berdymukhammedov.

Human Rights Watch said in the statement that Nepeskuliev, a freelance correspondent for RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, had been tried and imprisoned "on bogus drug charges."

It also said that Turkmenistan's government "forced three other Radio Liberty correspondents to cease working for the service."

Berdymukhammedov said after his talks with Merkel that Turkmenistan was working on reforming its constitution and will introduce a human rights ombudsman.

The Turkmen leader also said his country, which has some of the world's largest natural gas reserves, is discussing diversifying its gas exports and selling gas to European Union countries.

Ashgabat has already presented the European Commission with proposals for how to proceed, he added.

Merkel and Berdymukhammedov last met in Berlin in 2008 when the Turkmen leader was visiting Germany and Austria.

Germany is Turkmenistan's principal foreign trading partner in the European Union, with bilateral trade worth $466 million in 2014, the most recent figure available.

Much of the trade focuses on Germany exporting machinery and other industrial products to Turkmenistan, Berlin's third-largest trade partner in the region after Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

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