International Campaign to Protect Those Disappeared In Turkmen Prisons
The Goal of the Campaign Prove They Are Alive! is to uncover the truth about the fate of hundreds of people who have disappeared in Turkmen prisons as the result of massive repression that took place in the 2000s. Uncovering the truth about gross human rights violations by Turkmenistan’s authorities in the past and today will stop additional violations in the future. By raising the question of the fate of those people who have disappeared in Turkmenistan’s prisons on the international level, we begin to pave the way to addressing the systemic human rights violations committed by one of the most opaque and repressive regimes in the world.
Objectives of the Prove They Are Alive! campaign:
- Understand the fates of all those who have disappeared in Turkmen prisons, and obtain information from the Turkmen authorities about their location, their health and their legal status;
- Obtain access to the imprisoned for their families, lawyers, doctors and representatives of international organizations;
- Prevent further disappearances of people in Turkmenistan’s prisons;
- Help to improve the overall human rights situation in Turkmenistan, including conditions in Turkmenistan’s prisons.
We hope to reach these objectives through cooperation with international organizations and through direct dialogue with the government of Turkmenistan. The resolution of this humanitarian crisis and the disclosure of information about the imprisoned will push the Turkmen authorities to take the first step away from Turkmenistan’s totalitarian past and the legacy of mass repression.
A Brief History of the Issue
Turkmenistan’s first president, Saparmurat Niyazov, completely suppressed dissent and eliminated any political competition, using legal and extralegal forms of harassment. The opposition, the dissident movement, independent journalism and civil society were completely destroyed. The peak of this policy was the mass repression that took place in the first half of the 2000s, when there was widespread use of fabricated criminal cases, confessions obtained through torture, closed court hearings, illegal sentences and long term imprisonment in secret prisons.
In most cases no information about those people who have been imprisoned for long sentences has been available to their relatives or to society. For over ten years the authorities have not allowed relatives to meet with the imprisoned. Correspondence is forbidden. The International Red Cross and other international organizations have been denied access to prisons. Those who are imprisoned have been totally isolated from the outside world.
The complete absence of information about the fate of their loved ones for over ten years amounts to torture of their relatives. Their loved ones were convicted to a prison sentence, but not to death or oblivion. We believe it is very important to bring to light the personal histories of these people and demonstrate that they are not forgotten. Their families have borne this burden for an entire decade. It is time to end their suffering.
A tragic example of those who have disappeared in Turkmen prisons is the fate of dozens of people who were convicted in the criminal cases of alleged involvement in the assassination attempt on President Niyazov in 2002, and the related criminal cases against their relatives and friends. The fate of those convicted in a number of other “high-profile” cases in a series of mass repressions in the 2000s is similar.
The new authorities in Turkmenistan under the leadership of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, just as in the time of Niyazov, continue to hide information about these high profile cases. In the official world of the Turkmen authorities, it is as if these people do not exist. In 2007 President Berdymukhamedov, in a presentation at Columbia University in New York, made the only official mention of the fate of two of these people—out of the enormous number of illegally convicted and disappeared people. Answering a question about the fate of Boris Shikhmuradov and Batyr Berdiev, Berdymukhamedov stated, “…I am sure that these people are alive.”
Furthermore, recently, disturbing information has come from Turkmenistan. Families of relatives who have been imprisoned for more than ten years and whose terms have either expired or are coming to an end, have begun to share information that their relatives were re-sentenced to additional terms. In many cases, this is the first information that the family has received about their loved one since the moment of their arrest and conviction. We have reason to believe that the Turkmenistan authorities want to prevent the emergence of such persons to freedom in order to conceal information about the detention conditions in prisons or falsification of the facts of criminal cases against them.
As difficult as it is to admit, it is possible that many of these people may have died in custody, and the authorities do not wish to disclose this information. By doing so, the current Turkmen authorities would accept responsibility for the repression committed by the previous regime. As a result of injustice, tyranny and lawlessness continue to this day.
The continued blatant disregard by the Turkmen government for its international obligations in the field of human rights, and even its own national legislation in respect of the above cases, suggests a critical need to renew pressure on the government of Turkmenistan to ensure that the situation has changed.
The international nongovernmental organizations Crude Accountability (USA), the Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights (Russia), the human rights organization Freedom Files (Russia) and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee created the Turkmenistan Civic Solidarity Group in 2013 with the goal of promoting work to defend human rights in Turkmenistan. The group was created as part of and with the support of the international human rights coalition, Civic Solidarity Platform. Our campaign partners include the leading human rights organizations Human Rights Center Memorial and Human Rights Watch, independent experts and civil society activists of Turkmenistan.
Within the campaign, we work with intergovernmental organizations including the United Nations, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe and the European Union, as well as with governments and parliaments of various countries. We work with broad international civil society in order to influence public opinion about the unacceptability of, and to categorically reject, disappearance in prisons, which is a characteristic feature of regimes such as Turkmenistan.
We invite all those who have information about the fate of those who have disappeared in Turkmen prisons to contact us. If you are interested in working with us on the campaign, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, plese refer to provetheyarealive.org
1 Deirdre Tynan and David Trilling, Visits of Turkmen, Iranian Leaders Put Columbia University in the Spotlight, Eurasianet.org, September 24, 2007, http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav092507.shtml, accessed May 28, 2013.
2The report of the OSCE rapporteur on Turkmenistan, Professor Emmanuel Decaux: http://www.osce.org/ru/odihr/18373.
3The international Civic Solidarity Platform is a coalition of 54 civil society organizations working on human rights issues in the OSCE region (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe). http://www.civicsolidarity.org.