In the film " Shadow of the Holy Book " we see how many international companies refuse to talk to filmmakers Arto Halonen and Kevin Frazier in an attempt to avoid exposure of their role in supporting the Rukhnama cult and the Turkmenistani regime. The film demonstrates that a policy of " closed doors " does not in fact succeed in hiding the truth. Closed doors mean there is something to hide.
On 24 September 2007, during his visit to the United States, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov told students at Columbia University in New York that " there was never [...] any pressure on the press " in Turkmenistan and he denied that international non-governmental organizations wishing to operate in the country faced any restrictions.
But when international human rights organizations have wanted to visit Turkmenistan in recent years to conduct research into the human rights situation, doors were closed, telephone calls and letters remained unanswered. Even though the authorities of Turkmenistan have kept the doors shut to fact-finding delegations, information about the human rights situation continues to filter out and reach international human rights groups. The colleagues of exiled human rights defender Farid Tukhbatullin, who is featured in the film, and other brave individuals inside Turkmenistan monitor the human rights situation and take great personal risks when passing on the information to activists outside Turkmenistan or to foreign media.
Three human rights defenders – Ogulsapar Muradova, Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khadzhiev – were imprisoned in 2006, reportedly to punish them for collecting information about the human rights situation in Turkmenistan and cooperating with foreign journalists. Ogulsapar Muradova died shortly after their trial in disputed circumstances. The authorities have failed to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into her death and the two other activists continue to be imprisoned.
Amnesty International is also concerned that dozens of political prisoners, imprisoned following unfair trials, remain in prison and many of them have been held incommunicado for years. Against the backdrop of state-controlled media and no freedom of expression, assembly and association for political oppositionists, politically motivated detentions and imprisonments continue to be reported.
The authorities should turn a new page. They should embrace the notion of transparency; they should address the human rights problems the government of President Berdymukhamedov inherited from the previous regime and significantly improve the country's human rights record. Opening the doors to independent human rights experts and observers and establishing a frank dialogue with Turkmenistani and international human rights activists would be an important first step.
[For further information about the human rights situation and about Amnesty International's actions on Turkmenistan, refer to: http://web.amnesty.org/library/eng-tkm/index. Amnesty International's Annual Report covering 2006 is on: http://thereport.amnesty.org/eng/regions/europe-and-centralasia/turkmenistan
Anna Sunder-PlassmannResearcher, Eurasia team