(Oslo, 19 November 2008) The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) urges Turkmen authorities to release Gulgeldy Annaniyazov, which was sentenced to 11-year imprisonment by an Ashgabat court on 7 October 2008. The NHC is concerned about the health and safety of Mr. Annaniyazov, which has been held incommunicado since he was arrested on 24 June 2008.
Annaniyazov had been living in Norway since 2002, where he was granted refugee status. After returning to Turkmenistan, he was arrested on 24 June 2008 in his parent's home in Ashgabat. He was kept in custody until 7 October 2008, when his case was heard in a closed trial. It is not clear under which law provision he was sentenced. Allegedly, Annaniyazov was arrested and tried for having crossed back into Turkmenistan without valid Turkmen travel documents, but additional charges may have been brought against him. There is unconfirmed information that he currently is being held in a maximum-security prison in Turkmenbashi (former Krasnovodsk), but is set to be moved to Bairam-Ali Prison In the near future.
Although Annaniyazov enjoys refugee status in Norway, he is still a Turkmen citizen. Entering Turkmenistan without proper travel documents is not an offence that can merit 11 years imprisonment.
During a previous stay in prison in Turkmenistan, Annaniyazov became seriously ill with tuberculosis. Given the dismal conditions in Turkmen prisons, the NHC is seriously concerned about Annaniyazov's current health.
On this background, The NHC:
- Demands that Annaniyazov should be released immediately;
- Asks Turkmen authorities to clarify under which provisions Annaniyazov has been charged and sentenced and allow for a review of the case that respects international fair trial guarantees and is open for external observers;
- Urges Turkmen authorities to provide Annaniyazov with medical services.
The European Union, The United States and Norwegian authorities should bring the case of Annaniyazov up with Turkmen authorities, and underline Turkmenistan's obligations to honour international human rights guarantees in his case.
The NHC is also concerned about the situation for Gulgeldy Annanyazov's daughter, Jasgul. Turkmen authorities should respect the right to freedom of movement, permitting Annaniyazov's daughter Jasgul to travel freely abroad. Freedom of movement is guaranteed by the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights, article 13(2): "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country". Several OSCE documents underline commitments of participating states to "leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country" (1990 Copenhagen Document, par. 9(5)).
Jasgul was recently planning to visit Norway, and had been granted visa by Norwegian authorities. However, she was stopped at Ashgabat International Airport on 29 September 2008, and told that she would not be allowed to leave the country.
This denial falls into a pattern of Turkmen authorities establishing so-called "black lists" of individuals who are denied the right to travel abroad. In addition to breaching international freedom of movement standards, the continued use of such lists is in stark contrast to President Berdymukhammedov's numerous promises of democratization in Turkmenistan.
Gulgeldy Annaniyazov was one of the dissident leaders known as the "Ashgabat Eight." He was imprisoned in 1995, after organizing a demonstration in support of democratic reform in Ashgabat. The severe conditions in Turkmen prisons took their toll on the prisoners. In 1998, a fellow prisoner reported that Annaniazov's condition had deteriorated dramatically, and he could barely walk or speak. One of his co-defendants, Charymurat Gurov, died in prison, apparently as a result of torture.
Annaniazov was released under a presidential amnesty decree in January 1999. Following his release, Annaniazov fled to Kazakhstan but was arrested when trying to cross the border into Russia. In the face of intense international pressure, Kazakhstan did not extradite Annaniazov, who was granted refugee status and resettled in Norway in 2002. He was living in Norway with refugee status until his return to Turkmenistan in June 2008.
According to Annaniazov's own statement, he returned to Turkmenistan in order to "help his fatherland to improve its education and public health systems."
Three men, presumed to be security service agents, entered his parent's home on 24 June 2008 and arrested him, without presenting a warrant or giving any reasons for his arrest. They refused to tell Annaniazov's family where he would be detained.
The arrest took place at the same time as the EU-Turkmenistan human rights dialogue was conducted.
Den norske Helsingforskomite, Tordenskioldsgt 6 b, N-0160 Oslo, Tel: (+47) 22479202, Fax: (+47) 22479201