Turkmenistan: Prove They Are Alive

Civil society activists in the OSCE region demand information about those disappeared for ten years in Turkmenistan’s prisons.

This week, civil society activists launched a new campaign, Prove They Are Alive, at the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Warsaw, Poland.  Led by members of the Civic Solidarity Platform, Crude Accountability, the Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, Freedom Files, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and with support from international human rights groups such as Memorial Human Rights Center and Human Rights Watch, the Prove They Are Alive campaign is an effort to hold the government of Turkmenistan accountable for the disappearance in prison of dozens of individuals who were arrested for their alleged participation in the alleged coup attempt against President Niyazov in November 2002.

 “Our campaign makes a simple demand of the Turkmen government—Prove They Are Alive,” said Kate Watters, executive director of Crude Accountability.  “Turkmenistan agreed to the recommendation of the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review that long-term prisoners be allowed access to a lawyer, medical care and communication with their families, and these are our campaign demands.  Ten years with no information is, quite simply, torture for the family members of those imprisoned.”

For over ten years, Boris Shikhmuradov, Batyr Berdiev and scores of other people who were swept up in the government’s frenzy following this incident, have been disappeared in Turkmen prisons without access to a lawyer or healthcare and without contact with their families. The Turkmen government has provided no official word about their whereabouts despite repeated requests from the international community, including the OSCE.  Boris Shikhmuradov held numerous high level posts in the Turkmen government and Batyr Berdiev was Turkmenistan’s representative to the OSCE.

“We decided to launch the campaign at the HDIM because of the OSCE’s critical role in protecting human rights,” said Yuri Dzhibladze, director of the Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights.  “As a participating state of the OSCE, Turkmenistan has certain human rights obligations, which it has failed to fulfill. We are asking the OSCE and its participating states, as well as other international institutions, to support our Prove They Are Alive Campaign.  More than ten years ago, when these dramatic events happened, the OSCE responded to them by invoking a special procedure—the Moscow Mechanism.  Unfortunately, very little has happened within the organization since a report on Turkmenistan was released, which had specific recommendations.  It is high time to break the wall of silence on the issue of the disappeared in Turkmenistani prisons and stop the torture that their relatives experience daily. Our demands are simple: prove they are alive and allow representatives of the international community, lawyers and family members to meet with the prisoners.” 

The Prove They Are Alive campaign is supported by the Civic Solidarity Platform, an OSCE-wide coalition of 54 NGOs.