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Turkmen Lawyer Arrested After Protests Abroad, Rights Groups Say

Protesters rally outside the Turkmen Embassy in Washington against the regime of Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov on September 1.
Protesters rally outside the Turkmen Embassy in Washington against the regime of Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov on September 1.

Rights groups say a Turkmen lawyer has been arrested and accused of having links to Turkmen activists residing abroad who recently staged a number of rallies in the United States, Turkey, and Northern Cyprus to protest against constitutional amendments in the tightly controlled Central Asian state.

The Moscow-based Memorial human rights center and the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation (THF) said in a joint statement dated September 7 that police detained 48-year-old Pygamberdy Allaberdyev, a lawyer at a state oil company, after a man attacked him near a grocery store in the western city of Balkanabat.

Police initially accused Allaberdyev of hooliganism, but later officers for the National Security Ministry took over the case and charged him with having ties with the activists abroad.

According to the statement, a source in Turkmenistan's law enforcement told Memorial that the case against Allaberdyev was initiated by national security officials and is now considered a terrorism case.

Allaberdyev was interrogated without a lawyer and denied any links with the protesters abroad, while attempts by his relatives to pass him water, food, medicine, and other necessities were rejected by the authorities.

Memorial and THK cited a witness as saying that Allaberdyev's house was cordoned off by police on September 6.

"Allaberdyev's arrest is part of the Turkmen authorities' campaign to prevent further spread of protest mood [across the country]," the statement says.

In recent weeks, Turkmen citizens have held rallies in several countries around the world to protest a plan by authoritarian leader Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov to introduce amendments to the constitution.

Berdymukhammedov initiated the changes a year ago and has led a commission he established that prepared a bill of amendments.

Turkmen citizens have yet to be informed about most of the changes to the constitution of the energy-rich country, except that the single-chamber parliament, the Mejlis, will merge with the People's Council and become a two-chamber institution.

Memorial says that the amendments also envision stricter control over the Internet and telephone communication.

The People's Council (Halk Maslahaty) was created in 2017 on the basis of the Council of Elders. Berdymukhammedov is the council's chairman.

On August 19, the commission announced that it had sent the proposed constitutional amendments to the People's Council, which is expected to approve them at its session on September 25.

The protesters in the United States say that Berdymukhammedov plans to use the constitutional amendments to secure his lifetime presidency and its eventual succession to his son and grandchildren.

Turkmen opposition activists based abroad have said they plan to organize peaceful demonstrations against the constitutional amendments inside Turkmenistan.

They have proposed holding the protest on September 14 -- the day when the death of Ogulsapar Muradova, a Turkmen journalist, THF co-founder, and RFE/RL correspondent, was made public 14 years ago. Muradova was tortured to death in custody in 2006.

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.

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