NHC reacts to widespread denial of justice and judicial arbitrariness
Endemic corruption, arbitrariness and denial of justice are key words that illustrate the justice system of Turkmenistan today. Few citizens dare to address the system for help, knowing that virtually any case is decided through money and good connections. Now, three brave persons that independently of each other have been through the system and back with their complaints to no avail, hope that international resonance to their case can create a positive precedence for others.
Over the last 5-6 years, Turkmenistan has become a country where law enforcement bodies face no responsibility for abuse of their powers. While former president Niyazov ensured there was a certain fear that he would publicly punish law enforcement officials for abuse of power, there is impunity and lack of control under current president Berdymukhammedov. The President initiated a Commission to examine citizens' petitions on the work of law enforcement bodies in February 2007, meant to serve as an instrument of control. However, this body is totally ineffective, and all complaints addressed to this Commission return to the appellants unsatisfied after consideration by the very law enforcement agencies the complaints were directed against. Impunity prevails for the perpetrators while the average citizen of Turkmenistan fall victim to a system where the consequences of turning to the court system for justice are likely to be more serious than remaining silent.
Three persons subject to the denial of justice in Turkmenistan now share their stories in the hope to create precedence. The three cases are from different regions of Turkmenistan and different legal spheres, and serve to illustrate the widespread injustice in the court system. The stories are not single standing, but few in the closed country dare to follow up their case or even know that their rights have been violated. Also, a positive result in any of these well-known cases inside Turkmenistan could encourage other citizens to seek justice and lead to pressure on actors in the judicial system.
The first case describes the widespread practice of collective punishment in Turkmenistan. In the case a person has done something unpopular with someone with good connections, this person as well as his or her relatives can find themselves charged and sentenced for offences they had never committed. In fact, the head of the Turkmen delegation at the recent UPR hearing in Geneva, announced that the relatives of persons sentenced for involvement in the 2002 assassination attempt on the previous president had been released through amnesties, thereby publicly confirming that relatives of such persons had in fact been imprisoned.
The second case regards a private entrepreneur who made the mistake of creating a flourishing private business. Faced with private success, the state monopoly uses all available connections in the network to terminate the business. The third case shows how the shadows of the Turkmen legal system can leave a woman on the street after divorce, as described also in the recent NHC report on women’s rights in Turkmenistan.
Case №1. In February 2010, Aybibi Khojaklycheva (picture) was falsely accused of large-scale embezzlement and misappropriation, and sentenced to seven years in prison. Her husband Khojamerdan, claims that the case against Aybibi is a case of collective punishment. He suspects it was opened in order to enable his former boss in the prosecutor’s office of Balkanabat city to fire Khojamerdan from his position and take away his state apartment. Preliminary investigation and the court took into consideration only the testimony of one key person involved in the case, disregarding testimonies of other witnesses and documented evidence of her innocence. Khojamerdan is an experienced lawyer and has filed dozens of petitions and written numerous letters to the Supreme Court and Prosecutor General’s Office to challenge the court decision, but in vain. The responses state that his wife is guilty and that the entire investigation process and court decision were just. Khojamerdan has addressed the OSCE Centre and the UN Mission in Ashgabat for legal assistance on behalf of his wife, but no one has been willing to receive him. He also filed a complaint to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, but it was rejected due to lack of supporting documents. With the help of the NGO “Association of Independent Lawyers of Turkmenistan” based in the Netherlands, the case of Aybibi Khojaklycheva is now being resubmitted to the UN OHCHR. The detailed story about his case was earlier published in Russian language here.
Case №2. Igor Mirzoyants, a private entrepreneur from Mary, has been in legal dispute with the state phone company “Marytelecom” for several years. In 1993, Mirzoyants rented telephone numbers from “Marytelecom” and launched his own telecommunication service firm called “Telcom”. Eventually, the state monopoly realized that his business was becoming increasingly successful and “Marytelecom” was losing its clients. Then, the monopoly groundlessly increased its rates to “Telcom”, disabled the rented phone numbers and sold them to other people, but kept sending telephone bills to “Telcom”. Contrary to an independent auditor’s resolution that “Marytelecom” thus had violated the contract and had to return a large sum for unfulfilled advance payment to “Telcom”, the court of Mary region ruled in 2002 that Mirzoyants were to pay a high debt to “Marytelecom”. The equipment and phone numbers were seized, thus making Mirzoyants unable to liquidate his business, while high bills on phone numbers kept coming. On 4 May 2011, the court of Mary region decided to evict “Telcom” from the rented office in the premises of “Maryazot” building without lifting the seizure. On 5 August 2011, while Mirzoyants tried to challenge this unlawful decision, the director of “Maryazot” broke into the office of “Telcom” and removed all the equipment without making an inventory. Within the same month, the director of “Maryazot” managed to lift the seizure and close down the firm, appropriating all of the telecommunications equipment. Nobody has been charged with this injustice towards Mirzoyants, and he continues his fight with the legal system. (More about this case here).
Case №3. In the ordinary procedure of property sharing after divorce, Oksana Shleina from Ashgabat was eventually kicked out from the house she had shared with her husband for seven years. Despite the fact that the first instance court had ruled an equal division of property, the appeal court cancelled this decision by unlawfully annulling the marriage based on testimonies that the wife had cheated on her husband. The court decided that the marriage was fictitious, and that Oksana simply wanted to acquire a residency stamp in Ashgabat. They failed to take into account that Oksana had such a residency stamp even before she met her husband. In both court trials there was the same prosecutor. In the first trial he had no objections against her evidence, but in the appeal he had sided with the husband. After several efforts from the side of Oksana’s ex-husband and his lawyer, the court obliged the Ashgabat city registration department to cancel her registration stamp, which the department eventually did after previous rejections that such a cancellation would be illegal. In Turkmenistan, such a registration stamp is compulsory for a person to enjoy basic citizen rights like access to medical services, social benefits, moving freely inside the country, start a new family or enrol in school. Further, Oksana is disabled after a terrible car accident during the court process. Her health and economic situation therefore makes it difficult for her to take care of herself, not to mention seeking justice. With the help of local human rights defender Natalia Shabunts she has filed numerous complaints against the second court decision and has written many letters to the President and the Commission to examine citizens' petitions on the work of law enforcement bodies – all were either left without a response or justified the illegal decision of the second court. (More about this case here).