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U.S. Lawmakers Urge Turkmen President To Release Political Prisoners

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov attends a summit of the Organization of Turkic States in Istanbul on November 12.
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov attends a summit of the Organization of Turkic States in Istanbul on November 12.

A group of U.S. lawmakers have urged Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, the authoritarian president of Turkmenistan, to release political prisoners in the tightly controlled former Soviet republic.

U.S. Senators Dick Durbin, Patrick Leahy, and Sherrod Brown and U.S. Representative Tom Malinowski sent the letter to Berdymukhammedov calling on him to release journalist Nurgeldy Halykov, physician Khursanai Ismatullaeva, and activist Gulgeldy Annaniyazov.

"We write with interest as Turkmenistan pursues an ambitious agenda under your administration to join international institutions, including the WTO, and highlight its economy to the world. Such welcome efforts to participate further in the global economy will undoubtedly be strengthened by further attention to your country’s human rights record," the lawmakers wrote in the letter, dated November 16.

The authors of the letter emphasized that although Annaniyazov was released from prison recently after serving 13 years, "he remains in remote and poor conditions, and his full unconditional release seems long overdue."

The lawmakers also wrote that journalist Halykov's arrest and sentencing to four years in prison last year for reposting a photo of a visiting World Health Organization mission "reinforces the image that people in Turkmenistan do not have freedom of expression."

The letter also calls on Berdymukhammedov to release Ismatullaeva, a noted physician who was dismissed in 2017 and then handed a lengthy prison term on corruption charges the day after the case of her dismissal following a sick leave was discussed in the European Parliament.

Berdymukhammedov has ruled the extremely isolated and secretive Central Asian state with an iron hand, tolerating little dissent, since he came to power after the death of autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006.

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