correspondence recent news Turkmenistan

Andrey Zatoka’s Family Appeals to the US Department of State for Help

Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice
Department of State
United States of America

January 12, 2007

Dear Madam Secretary Rice:

On December 17, 2006, Andrei Lvovich Zatoka, our father and husband, was arrested in Turkmenistan at the Dashoguz city airport. Andrei Zatoka is famous in Turkmenistan and Central Asia as an environmental activist. He established the civic organization Dashoguz Ecology Club, which for 11 years was the strongest NGO in Turkmenistan before the authorities shut it down by court order in 2004. In Turkmenistan Andrei Zatoka initiated many successful projects aimed at the formation and development of the civic sector, and involving youth and adults in environmental protection activities. His personal example, and his enthusiasm and belief in the power of NGOs, inspired dozens of people to work with civic organizations. The Dashoguz Ecology Club implemented many projects with the support of grants from the US Embassy in Turkmenistan, ISAR, the Eurasia Foundation, the Soros Foundation, and others. Andrei has been active since the very beginning of the civic movement in Turkmenistan (Andrei stood at its very foundation), he was a member of the “Seeds of Democracy” program in Central Asia, and is co-chairman of the International Socio-Ecological Union.

Andrei Zatoka was born in Russia and holds dual Russian-Turkmen citizenship, but his heart belongs to Turkmenistan. He is sincerely concerned about the environment in Turkmenistan, about the education and involvement of its citizens, and about the future of the country. During numerous meetings with representatives of USAID, the American Embassy, and Counterpart Consortium, he often expressed his ideas about improving grant programs in Turkmenistan and about consolidating the role of civic organizations in the country.

Soon it will have been a month since Andrei was arrested. Unfortunately, his family is in Russia now: his children are studying at a university, and his wife is working in Beslan (North Ossetia) with a UNICEF-funded project, “Let Your Heart Touch a Heart,” for the rehabilitation of victims of the terrorist acts . Consequently, we know little about Andrei’s health and the course of the investigation. We cannot return to Turkmenistan because it is unsafe for us there following Andrei’s detainment.

First Andrei was detained for 5 days “for petty hooliganism”, and then the term of his detention was extended to 15 days without any official charges. According to information we received from a n eyewitness, on December 30 our apartment was searched .Those who performed the search seized our computers and found snake poison and some weapons.

Andrei is charged with two criminal violations: Article 287 of the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan – illegal acquisition, sale, storage, transportation, delivery or possession of weapons, ammunition, explosive substances or devices, and Article 302 – illegal transactions with strong or poisonous substances.

It should be noted that the defense attorney, even though hired by the state, is apparently also being pressured by the Prosecutor’s office, thereby preventing the attorney and the family from being fully informed about Andrey Zatoka’s fate.

We think that these charges are a fabrication to place the environmental activist under arrest. Andrei kept a small amount of snake poison in the apartment because of his scientific profession; he is a herpetologist and uses poison to develop immunity against the poisonous snakes he works with. The weapon was only an air-rifle bought many years ago, and it does not require special permission. The actual reasons for Andrei’s detention are his activist attitude and his continuous activities aimed at strengthening civil society in Turkmenistan, as well as the authorities’ fear of brave, educated people.

It has been reported that at the time of his arrest Andrei managed to tell his acquaintance in Dashoguz that he preferred to serve his five-day term of administrative arrest quietly and not to create a scandal at the international level. But since Andrei was charged with violating Turkmenistan’s Criminal Code the situation has changed dramatically. As his closest relatives, we have decided to request the international community to intervene in his case immediately.

We appeal to the US State Department to help us protect a public activist and a former grantee, Andrei Zatoka. For example, we request that American diplomats come to Dashoguz and request a meeting with Andrei, the Prosecutor, investigators and his attorney in order to receive accurate information about his whereabouts and health, as well as assurances that law-enforcement officials are not mistreating him, as that is standard in Turkmenistan, and that his right to a due process and other basic human rights are observed. American diplomats could also encourage Russian counterparts in the capital, Ashgabat, to express similar interest in their compatriot, as their diplomatic duties require.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent appeal.

Wife – Evgenia Zatoka
Children – Ekaterina Zatoka and Ivan Zatoka