(This report covers the period January-December 1997)

At least 13 possible prisoners of conscience were detained following an assassination attempt on the President. One possible prisoner of conscience was extradited from Russia at the request of the Tajik authorities. At least one opposition supporter and his brother allegedly "disappeared"; the brother later reappeared. There were reports of possible extrajudicial executions during the suppression of a prison riot. Progress in bringing to justice those responsible for past human rights abuses stalled. The death penalty was extended and at least four people were sentenced to death.

More than five years of civil war formally ended in late June when President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition (uto) leader Sayed Abdullo Nuri signed a General Agreement on Peace and National Accord. The agreement, signed in Moscow, Russia, provided for a National Reconciliation Commission, to be made up of an equal number of government and uto representatives. The Commission was to be in charge of preparing new parliamentary elections in 1998, supervising the merger of uto armed forces into the national army and the return of refugees, and implementing a general amnesty.

A general amnesty for people imprisoned for crimes in connection with the civil war was signed into law by President Rakhmonov in July and approved by parliament in August. It reportedly allowed people convicted of violent crimes in connection with the civil war to petition for a review of their cases if they believed they had been punished for political actions.

The two sides carried out several prisoner exchanges as part of the peace accord. There was opposition, some of it violent, to the peace accord from various groups which had been excluded from the National Reconciliation Commission.

At least 13 possible prisoners of conscience were detained following an assassination attempt on President Rakhmonov in the Leninabad regional capital, Khujand, in April. A hand grenade was thrown at the President, causing minor injuries to his legs. Two people died in the attack and more than 70 were injured. Officials reported the arrest of Firdavs Dustboyev, who they claimed had thrown the grenade. Within days, at least 11 more people were reportedly detained in connection with the incident. The day after the attack a shoot-out was reported in a village near Khujand between police and a group of people suspected of involvement in the assassination plot. Five of the group were killed. Arrests in Leninabad region continued through May. According to reports, those detained included people who had no connection with the assassination attempt, but had been identified as government opponents because of their participation in anti-government protests in Leninabad a year earlier (see Amnesty International Report 1997). Firdavs Dustboyev was said to have been an organizer of these protests. In late May police in Khujand arrested Abdukhafiz Abdullayev, younger brother of Abdumalik Abdullojanov, a former Prime Minister and head of the secular opposition National Revival Bloc. He was apparently first held on a charge of illegal narcotics possession, but it was subsequently re-ported that he had been charged in connection with the assassination attempt. His supporters claimed that the charge was a fabrication, and that the motive of the arrest was to intimidate the Khujand-based opposition

In June authorities in the Russian Federation extradited Akhmajon Saidov, a former deputy speaker of Tajikistan's parliament who had been living in Russia since 1994, to Tajikistan. A warrant for his arrest had been issued in Tajikistan in August 1996 on charges of abuse of authority and embezzlement, and in February 1997 he was arrested in Moscow. There were suspicions that the true motive for bringing the charges was to punish Akhmajon Saidov for his connection with the National Revival Bloc, the formation of which had been announced at a press conference in Moscow days before the warrant was issued

There were at least two possible "disappearances". Rizoali Ojiyev was detained for questioning on 28 February by police in Khujand, where he ran a business. Early the following day witnesses saw him being brought home in a police car, and moments later a group of armed masked men who had been waiting in another car outside Rizoali Ojiyev's home seized him and drove him away. Rizoali Ojiyev's younger brother, Gadoali Ojiyev, also "disappeared" on 28 February after being detained in the town of Kanibadam, near Khujand. He reappeared five weeks later, and stated that he had been held by law enforcement officials in Uzbekistan, ostensibly on suspicion of involvement in an incident in mid-February when an Uzbek customs post on the Tajikistan-Uzbekistan border had been attacked by armed men crossing from Tajikistan. However, Gadoali Ojiyev claimed that he had been repeatedly questioned not about that incident, but about the activities of his brother Rizoali. He was driven back to Khujand from Uzbekistan in April and was reportedly released without charge. He subsequently went into hiding.

There was concern that law enforcement officials may have used excessive force when they stormed a penitentiary in Khujand to suppress a riot in April. The official death toll among inmates was put at 21, with over 30 wounded, but unofficial sources put the casualty figures considerably higher.

The escape from custody of a man accused of committing extrajudicial executions in 1993 cast doubt on the commitment of the authorities to ending impunity for past human rights abuses. Khoja Karimov, a former member of parliament and former field commander of the paramilitary People's Front (see Amnesty International Report 1996), had escaped from detention by the start of the year. Arrested in November 1995, he had been held pending trial for the July 1993 "disappearance" and murder of member of parliament Saidsho Shoyev and his brother Siyarsho Shoyev, and the murder of member of parliament Tagkhoykhon Shukurov.

The July general amnesty for people imprisoned for crimes connected with the civil war also gave rise to concern about impunity for members of formerly pro-government paramilitary groups and opposition armed forces suspected of having committed human rights abuses.

In August the authorities stated that criminal investigations into the alleged "disappearances" in 1992 and 1993 of Democratic Party activist Ayniddin Sadykov (see Amnesty International Report 1994) and several others had been opened, but that they had failed to identify the perpetrators or to establish the whereabouts and fate of the victims

A report in May indicated that the death penalty had been extended to the offence of "hooliganism" (Article 220 of the Criminal Code), raising the number of capital crimes to 42. At least four death sentences were passed during the year. Twelve people were sentenced to death in 1996, according to official figures obtained by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights. Two members of pro-government paramilitary forces, Safarqul Samadov and Abdurauf Urunov, were sentenced to death in 1995 after being convicted of multiple murder and other offences committed in late 1992 and early 1993. It was unclear whether provisions in the general amnesty of July extended to people convicted of capital offences. It was also unclear whether a moratorium on carrying out death sentences connected with the civil war, declared by the government in June 1995 (see Amnesty International Report 1996), was still in force.

Amnesty International sought further information about arrests of suspected government opponents in Leninabad region, including the arrest and detention of Abdukhafiz Abdullayev. Amnesty International called on the Russian authorities not to extradite Akhmajon Saidov on the grounds that he might become a prisoner of conscience. It also called on authorities in Tajikistan to provide more information about the charges against him. Amnesty International appealed for information about the whereabouts of Rizoali Ojiyev to authorities in both Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. In June Uzbek authorities replied, denying involvement in Rizoali Ojiyev's alleged "disappearance". In September the Tajik authorities informed Amnesty International that a criminal investigation had been opened into his "disappearance" under Article 135 of the Tajik Criminal Code (hostage-taking).

Amnesty International sought further information about the conduct of law enforcement personnel during the storming of the Khujand prison. Amnesty International continued to call for complete abolition of the death penalty, and appealed for the commutation of each death sentence which came to its attention.


(This report covers the period January-December 1998)

At least three possible prisoners of conscience were serving long prison sentences. One possible prisoner of conscience was detained without charge. Eight political prisoners serving sentences imposed in previous years may have received unfair trials. Cruel, inhuman or degrading prison conditions and other ill-treatment continued to be reported. A government opponent was under threat of forcible repatriation. At least 10 people were executed and at least 35 people were under sentence of death at the end of the year.

In April President Saparmurad Niyazov publicly stated that Turkmenistan's courts often prosecuted "innocent people" instead of real criminals. Announcing the dismissal of the Procurator General, the President complained of widespread incompetence and corruption among law enforcement officials. Further officials were dismissed in July, including the procurator of Lebap Region, who was accused of allowing "the complete merging of law-enforcement agencies with the criminal underworld".

In June the President issued an amnesty decree reportedly covering over 2,000 prisoners. This was believed to be an attempt to address the problem of serious overcrowding and appalling conditions in the country's penitentiaries. The amnesty was reported to include commutation of 222 death sentences, the first official indication that the number of people on death row was as high as had been alleged by unofficial sources.

Also in June a new Criminal Code was approved by the Majlis (parliament). It provided for the death penalty for 17 offences, including murder, genocide, various anti-state crimes and a number of drug-related crimes.

In May Turkmenistan acceded to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its (first) Optional Protocol, to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

At least three possible prisoners of conscience were serving long sentences, including Mukhametkuli Aymuradov and Khoshali Garayev (see Amnesty International Reports 1996 and 1997). There were fears that a charge of drug-trafficking made against Ashirgeldy Syadiyev, serving a 15- or 20-year prison sentence, could have been politically motivated, and that he may be a prisoner of conscience. Taxi driver Ashirgeldy Syadiyev, a relative of a prominent dissident, was living in Ashgabat, the capital, where he and his family were the sole focus of contact between the exiled Khalmurad Soyunov and his relatives. In March a passenger, who had reportedly deliberately chosen Ashirgeldy Syadiyev's taxi from a number of others waiting for fares, left luggage at Ashirgeldy Syadiyev's house. Police searched the house and allegedly discovered narcotics in the passenger's luggage. Ashirgeldy Syadiyev was arrested the same day. The police reportedly made no efforts to trace his passenger. In May Ashirgeldy Syadiyev was tried in Ashgabat City Court and sentenced to death for drug-trafficking after a witness testified to having bought narcotics from him. The witness was not prosecuted. In June the death sentence was commuted under the presidential amnesty.

Yovshan Annakurban, an independent journalist, was arrested in October at Ashgabat airport by members of the Turkmen Committee of National Security (knb), reportedly to prevent him from attending a training seminar with Radio Liberty in Prague, Czech Republic. knb officials claimed to have found materials by the underground political opposition in his luggage. He was detained for two weeks before being released without charge following international pressure. Yovshan Annakurban had been detained for six months following an anti-government demonstration in July 1995 (see Amnesty International Reports 1996 and 1997).

Reports suggested that the "Ashgabat Eight", serving prison sentences in connection with an anti-government demonstration in July 1995 (see Amnesty International Reports 1996 and 1997), may have received an unfair trial. Seven – Amanmyrat Amandurdyyev, Khudayberdi Amandurdyyev, Gulgeldi Annanyyazov, Charymyrat Gurov, Begmyrat Khojayev, Kakamyrat Nazarov and Batyr Sakhetliyev – were reported to have received prison sentences in December 1995 or January 1996 of between four and 15 years for a range of crimes, including drug and firearms offences, "malicious hooliganism" and "preparation to commit murder". The trial appeared to have been held in secret, in violation of international fair trial standards. The eighth man, Charymyrat Amandurdyyev, was believed to have been arrested in February 1996. It was not known whether he was subsequently charged or tried, but he was reportedly still held at the end of the year.

There was concern that the "Ashgabat Eight" might have been coerced into testifying against themselves by means of ill-treatment and threats. There were widespread allegations that law enforcement officials beat participants in the 1995 demonstration both at the time of arrest and during preliminary detention (see Amnesty International Report 1996).

There was also concern for the current physical well-being of the "Ashgabat Eight". Gulgeldi Annanyyazov was reportedly deliberately held among violent criminals in order to put him at risk of assault, a practice common in the former Soviet Union, of which Turkmenistan was a part. In addition, prisoners routinely suffer overcrowding and severe food shortages, and outbreaks of diseases such as cholera have been reported.

In November former Deputy Prime Minister Nazar Soyunov was detained in Moscow, Russia, by officers of the Russian Federal Security Service and questioned for four hours about criminal charges brought against him in Turkmenistan. There were allegations that the charges, which related to corruption during his time in office, had been fabricated in order to punish him for an interview he had given to Radio Liberty in October which was critical of President Niyazov.

At least 10 people were reported to have been executed, although the true figure was believed to be much higher. At the end of the year at least 35 people were believed to remain under sentence of death. Three death sentences – all for alleged drug offences – passed on Gulsere Dzhumayeva, Dunyagozel Ovezdurdyyeva and Ashirgeldy Syadiyev were commuted, the latter two under the presidential amnesty in June. It was not possible to ascertain which other prisoners under sentence of death benefited from the amnesty.

In September Amnesty International expressed concern that Ashirgeldy Syadiyev may have been detained solely because he was related to Khalmurad Soyunov and maintained contact with him. The organization called for a full judicial review of the case and in particular investigation of allegations that the evidence against him was fabricated

In November the organization urged the authorities to clarify the charges against Yovshan Annakurban and to protect him from any form of ill-treatment.

In a report issued in July, Turkmenistan: The "Ashgabat Eight" – two years on, time for the truth, Amnesty International called on the authorities to provide detailed information about the fate of all those arrested following the July 1995 demonstration in Ashgabat and about the conduct of the trial of all those still serving sentences in connection with the demonstration. It also sought assurances that the "Ashgabat Eight" had not been tortured or ill-treated, or placed at risk of violence from fellow inmates.

In April, following the President's admission of widespread judicial error and malpractice in Turkmenistan, Amnesty International reiterated its calls for a judicial review of the criminal convictions of Mukhametkuli Aymuradov and Khoshali Garayev, and asked whether the cases of people arrested after the 1995 demonstration would be re-examined. In November the organization called on the Russian authorities not to extradite Nazar Soyunov to Turkmenistan. Amnesty International renewed calls for a moratorium on the death penalty, arguing that if some of the "innocent people" to whom the President had referred were executed, these mistakes could never be undone. There was no response from any Turkmen official to Amnesty International's appeals and statements.

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