Well-known Environmentalist Andrey Zatoka Detained

Well-known environmentalist and civil society activist, 53 year old Andrey Lvovich Zatoka, was detained yesterday, October 20, 2009, in the city of Dashovuz (Turkmenistan) on his birthday.

According to his acquaintances, at around 11 AM, when Zatoka was purchasing groceries at the market, an unknown man who looked violent suddenly came at him with his fists. Andrey tried to keep him at a distance, and then, understanding that this was a set-up, started to run away from the attacker and call the police. However, two police officers, who had been standing nearby, stopped Zatoka instead.

Around 9 PM, employees of the city police department promised to let him go; the environmentalist informed one of his acquaintances of this by phone. However, Zatoka was then told that he would remain in custody, because of suspicion that he had caused injuries of “medium severity” to a passer-by (blow to the head and being hit with a closed fist), an offense legally labeled as “hooliganism”. This was also corroborated by the medical expertise and the three “witnesses.”

In December 2006, the Turkmen authorities already brought criminal charges against Zatoka on dubious grounds, but on January 31, 2007 –soon after the death of Niyazov—the court gave him a suspended sentence. Zatoka’s case resulted in numerous protests by international organizations.

The Dashovuz Ecology Club, which was organized by Zatoka, was denied registration and shut down by the authorities in 2003.

Acquaintances of Andrey state that during the past several years he has been forbidden to leave the country and that in July the police questioned his neighbors after having received anonymous tips stating to the effect that the environmentalist was “organizing a hideout.”

Memorial believes that the new incident with Zatoka is a reflection of the increasingly hard-line stance of the internal politics of President Berdymukhammedov that are a result of the softening criticism of the regime by Western countries interested in gaining access to Turkmen energy resources.

Vitalii Ponamarov , Director of the Program for Monitoring Human Rights in Central Asia
Memorial Human Rights Center
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