Noted Turkmen Environmental Activist Convicted Under Questionable Circumstances

World Alliance for Citizen Participation is deeply concerned with regard to conviction of noted Turkmen ecologist and environmental activist Andrey Zatoka. Due to severe restrictions on the freedom of information in Turkmenistan, information about the conduct of his trial which lasted just a few hours is extremely scarce.

According to information received from sources on the ground, Zatoka was convicted for “intentional infliction of medium injuries”, and sentenced to five years imprisonment. He was physically attacked on 20 October by an unknown man in the city market of Dashoguz while buying groceries. In what appears to be a set-up, two police officers detained Zatoka charging him with ‘hooliganism’ for defending himself.

The trial was hurriedly convened on 29 October immediately after four public holidays from 25-28 October which prevented international observers from attending it. “The trial and conviction of Zatoka under questionable circumstances, without the presence of independent observers raises serious concerns about Rule of Law in the Turkmen Republic, whose government is being courted by Western democracies due to the country’s vast hydrocarbon reserves,” said Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS.

This is not the first time, Zatoka has been harassed or persecuted because of his work. The Dashovuz Ecology Club, of which, he is a founding member was shut down in 2003 by authorities. In 2006, Zatoka was detained in his hometown of Tashauz while boarding a flight to Moscow and charged with hooliganism, and later accused of with being in possession of weapons and dangerous substances.

The human rights situation in Turkmenistan and the Eurasia region is rapidly deteriorating. Human rights defenders are being forced to operate clandestinely for fear of persecution. In July, Natalya Estimirova who was documenting human rights abuses in Chechnya was abducted and assassinated by unknown persons. In September, Kazakh human rights defender Yevgeni Zhovtis was sentenced to four years imprisonment in an accident case after a trial riddled with procedural violations. Aziza Abdirasulova, Kyrgyz human rights defender, was detained on 1 October at Moscow airport after a bullet was found in her bag under suspicious circumstances. On 29 October Maksharip Aushev, a prominent Ingush civil rights activist was gunned down by unknown assailants in the Republic of Kabardiro Balkaria in the Russian Federation.
CIVICUS urges the international community to pay urgent attention to the alarming incidents of persecution of civil society activists in the Eurasia region. Democratic space and civil society freedoms in the region are steadily shrinking along-with routine occurrences of gross human rights violations.

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. The Civil Society Watch (CSW) pgramme of CIVICUS tracks threats to civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly across the world. In 2008, CSW tracked threats in 61 countries across the globe.

Civicus Press Release
October 30, 2009
For more information visit: www.civicus.org or contact
Devendra Tak Communications Manager
or Sonia Zilberman,
Civil Society Watch Programme Officer
Tel: +27- 11 -833 5959 mob: +27 76 884 0402