Prove they are alive!
12 years ago, on 25 November 2002, a group of political opposition leaders in Turkmenistan was accused of an alleged assassination attempt on then President Niyazov, in what appeared to be a failed political coup. The members of that group were arrested and quickly imprisoned without proper trials, along with family members and others who were swept up in the frenzy around the event. Since then, the families of the imprisoned have not received any news about them, have not been able to see them, and, in many cases, family members were also subject to imprisonment and harassment. As a member of the Prove they are alive! campaign, the NHC demand that the government of Turkmenistan government inform the families of the disappeared about their whereabouts and condition.
Today, Human Rights Watch, one of the members of the Prove They Are Alive campaign where also NHC is a member, released a movie clip describing the dismal situation.
–Turkmenistan is a regime where collective punishment is frequently used, blacklists exist for travel and the conditions in prison are horrible, says NHC Secretary General Bjørn Engesland. –At the same time, Turkmenistan manages to stay in the shadows and escape the open condemnation and criticism similar regimes like North Korea experience. We hope that the Prove They Are Alive campaign at one stage will convince the Turkmen authorities to provide some information about the people who have disappeared in prisons, but in the meantime we also encourage other states and individuals to keep taking information about the dismal human rights situation in this country out of the shadows.
In the movie clip, the wife of one of the imprisoned tells about her ordeals since her husband was put in prison 12 years ago without any news about his fate. Tatyana Shikhmuradova even turned to the Russian courts as her husband Boris also held Russian citizenship, asking the MFA of the Russian Federation why they have failed to follow up on the whereabouts of one of their citizens. However, in a recent decision, Russia disowns the political figure and says he was never a Russian citizen and never had any responsibility for him, despite him travelling on a Russian passport in 2002 and the MFA following up with his wife in the first years after his arrest. –The life of a Russian is a subject of special care by the Russian authorities, says Karinna Moskalenko, the Shikhmuradovs’ lawyer, to Ferghana News. –If a Russian’s right for life is under a threat, the Russian authorities are obliged to protect this life. Referring to this or that person’s lack of Russian citizenship is utter cynicism.
In total, over sixty people were imprisoned and have disappeared, with no word about whether they are alive or dead. Their trials, held in late 2002 and 2003, were swift and full of procedural violations. In 2008, also the dissident Gulgeldy Annaniyazov was imprisoned with similar violations. After hearing the news of the death of President Niyazov in 2006, he decided to return to his home country Turkmenistan from his political refuge in Norway in order to contribute to positive changes. Alas, he was arrested and imprisoned immediately upon his return, and his family has not heard any verifiable information from him since then.
The Prove They Are Alive! campaign is simply asking that the government inform the families of the disappeared about their whereabouts and condition, and allow the disappeared access to health care and legal representation. The campaign aims to prevent further disappearances into Turkmenistan’s prisons, and to improve the overall human rights situation in Turkmenistan, including conditions inside the prisons. By disclosing information about the disappeared, the Turkmen government can take step away from its totalitarian past and its legacy of mass repression. Tha campaign members have invited the Turkmen government to engage in this type of dialogue, but sadly, have not received any response to date.
The Prove They Are Alive Campaign has previously issued two reports describing the dismal situation in prisons in Turkmenistan and a video.