Covering events from January-December 2001

Turkmenistan
Head of state and government:
Saparmurad Niyazov
Capital: Ashgabat
Population: 4.8 million
Official language: Turkmen
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes


Conscientious objectors continued to be detained or imprisoned and some were reported to have been tortured. Reports persisted that members of unregistered religious denominations and their families were frequently harassed by the authorities and subjected to short-term detentions, confiscation of property and destruction of religious materials, and deportation.

Background

Despite having been made president for life in 1999, President Saparmurad Niyazov announced in February that he would step down in 2010 and that there would be elections to determine his successor. In May there were calls by some supporters to declare President Niyazov a prophet, based on the new national spiritual and moral code, the Rukhnama (Book of the Soul), which he had drafted and reportedly declared to be of the same importance as the Bible and the Koran. The Rukhnama was adopted by parliament on 19 October.

Torture of conscientious objector

In May Dmitry Melnichenko, an 18-year-old Baptist, was detained and tortured by officers of the National Security Committee in Serdar after conscientiously refusing to carry arms and swear an oath of military allegiance. According to the non-governmental organization Missionswerk Friedensstimme, Voice of Peace Mission, he was beaten on the head, knees and buttocks with a truncheon, as well as being insulted and humiliated. When Dmitry Melnichenko continued to refuse to swear the oath, officers used wires from a field telephone to administer electric shocks to his ears. A hood was placed over his head while he continued to undergo beatings to the face and neck. On 1 June Dmitry Melnichenko was reportedly told that criminal charges would be brought against him if he did not swear the oath by 10 June. However, following international pressure no charges were brought, and he was subsequently permitted to serve in a medical unit where he was not required to carry arms.

Possible prisoner of conscience

Concerns for the safety of Shagildy Atakov, a Baptist, were heightened in February following reports that he had been treated so harshly in prison that he was in imminent danger of dying. He had allegedly been beaten repeatedly by prison guards and had been inappropriately administered psychotropic drugs, apparently in order to punish him for his religious beliefs.

According to his wife who visited him in Seydi labour camp, Shagildy Atakov was suffering from jaundice, hardly able to walk, was bruised and had abdominal pains, and frequently lost consciousness. Shagildy Atakov reportedly told his wife that he was being treated with psychotropic drugs and that he had been given no explanation why he needed this treatment. In February and March he was moved to various locations, including a prison hospital, but was finally transferred some 800km across Turkmenistan to a maximum security prison in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi. The authorities proposed to delete the remainder of Shagildy Atakov's sentence if he agreed to emigrate to the USA with his family, which he refused to do.

Persecution of religious minorities

Human rights violations by law enforcement officials against religious believers continued to be reported. Peaceful meetings in private homes were broken up and the participants fined or detained for short periods; religious materials were confiscated and places of worship closed down; religious believers were physically and verbally abused; and a number of foreign missionaries and their families were deported.

  • Artygul Atakova, the wife of Shagildy Atakov (see above), and their five children continued to be harassed by the authorities. According to Missionswerk Friedensstimme, the family, all Baptists, were threatened with reprisals, including loss of parental rights, by religious leaders and other officials in the village of Kaakhka, where they live in internal exile, if they did not convert to Islam.
AI country reports/visits

Report
  • Concerns in Europe, January-June 2001: Turkmenistan (AI Index: EUR 01/003/2001)

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