Alleged Gulenist in Critical Condition in Turkmen Prison

Schoolteacher Alisher Muhametgulyev, 39, is in dangerously poor health in Turkmenistan’s notorious Ovadan Depe prison. The former deputy director of specialized school No. 2 in the town of Kerki is serving a 23-year sentence on a range of charges. Muhametgulyev is one of approximately ten people, mainly teachers, suspected of having links with Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen’s Hizmet movement and convicted in 2017. At least two prisoners, English teacher Aziz Hudayberdyev and businessman Akmurat Soyunov, died earlier in Ovadan Depe in unexplained circumstances.

Alisher Muhametgulyev sources report that Alisher Muhametgulyev has been complaining of constant, severe pain in the stomach. The late Hudayberdyev and Soyunov had the same symptoms, but neither the prison administration nor the medical service is doing anything to help the prisoner. The conditions in the prison, especially in the block housing the so-called “Wahhabis” and “Gulenists”, are terrible: meager food, overcrowding and a lack of medicines, which leads to the death of relatively young prisoners.

“We are afraid that such inaction and indifference towards the health of Alisher Muhametgulyev could lead to his death too,” the sources said. “The teacher urgently needs medical attention and, quite possibly, so do other prisoners.” backgrounder:

Alisher Annadurdyevich Muhametgulyev was born on July 12, 1980 in the village of Halach in Halach district, Lebap region. In 1998 he completed his studies in the Turkmen-Turkish lycée in Kerki. After graduating from university in Turkey (thought to be Istanbul University) he worked as a teacher of the Ruhnama (former President Saparmurat Niyazov’s “book of the soul”) and history in school No. 2 in Kerki, which specializes in foreign language teaching. At the time of his arrest he was the school’s deputy director of academics and lived in the school dormitory. He is married with three young children.

He was sentenced on June 29, 2017 by the penal chamber of Lebap regional court (chairman Rejepdurdy Charyyevich Hudayberenov) to 23 years’ deprivation of liberty with confiscation of property on charges of: 

  • Incitement of social, ethnic or religious hatred by an organized group (Article 177 part 3 of the Turkmenistan Criminal Code)
  • Creation of an organized group, criminal association or other criminal structure, or participation in their activity with the involvement of minors, or with abuse of managerial office (Article 275 part 3 of the Turkmenistan Criminal Code);
  • Use of office to finance criminal structures (Article 275-1 part 3 of the Turkmenistan Criminal Code).

Alisher Muhametgulyev is serving the first three years of his sentence in prison and the remaining 20 years in a strict regime colony. The trial of Muhametgulyev and other defendants in the case was held in camera.

The pursuit of alleged followers of Fethullah Gulen began in Turkmenistan after the failed military coup in Turkey in July 2016. Dozens of people — businessmen, state employees, and schoolteachers — were arrested over several months in Ashgabat, Turkmenabat, and other cities. They all had one thing in common: they had studied in the country’s Turkmen-Turkish schools. All the trials were held in camera, and the defendants received long terms on the same charges as those brought against Alisher Muhametgulyev.

For example, on February 8, 2017, Ashgabat city court (the trial was actually held in the pre-trial detention center at the police department) sentenced a group of 18 people to a total of 333 years. In November that year the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared the arrests and imprisonment arbitrary and called on the Turkmenistan authorities to immediately release them.