Andrey Zatoka Freed From Prison and Forced to Leave Turkmenistan

Andrey Zatoka, renowned Turkmen environmentalist and civil society activist, was released from prison on November 6, 2009, when his five-year prison sentence was commuted to a $350 fine. Wrongly convicted of assaulting a stranger in a politically motivated arrest and trial in Dashovuz, Turkmenistan, Zatoka was released from prison, but also required to relinquish his Turkmen citizenship and leave Turkmenistan permanently. He boarded a flight from Ashgabat to Moscow on Sunday, November 8, 2009.

“We are relieved that Andrey is free and reunited with his family,” said Kate Watters, Executive Director of Crude Accountability. “However, we are saddened that Andrey was forced to give up his citizenship and home in Turkmenistan. The fact remains that Andrey committed no crime. The Turkmen authorities have forced a respected civil society leader to leave the country. We are concerned for Andrey’s friends and colleagues who remain in Turkmenistan, and we continue to monitor the human rights situation inside the country.”

Andrey Zatoka was arrested on October 20, 2009 as he purchased groceries for his birthday party in the Dashovuz bazaar. He was attacked by a convicted drug addict, and when Zatoka called for help from the police, was himself arrested. In a trial which, according to the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, failed to meet international standards, Zatoka was sentenced to five years in prison for assault.

Zatoka’s arrest and trial were the culmination of a three-year campaign by the Turkmen authorities to discredit him. He was arrested in December 2006 on false charges and imprisoned until January 2007, when the Turkmen authorities released him due to international pressure. Following his release, Zatoka was denied the right to travel outside of Turkmenistan although he held Russian and Turkmen citizenship. His movements were monitored and he was followed, a fact he documented in a letter he wrote in June 2008 when he feared he might be re-arrested.

Andrey Zatoka moved to Turkmenistan in 1982 in order to work in the nature reserve system. A herpetologist with a degree from the Ural State University in Russia, Zatoka co-founded the Dashovuz Ecology Club and taught generations of Turkmen children about the value of the natural world.

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Additional information:

 

Crude Press Release
November 10, 2009
Contact: Kate Watters
kate@nullcrudeaccountability.org
703-299-0854