Crackdown in Turkmenistan: Activist Given Four-Year Term, Doctor’s Trial Imminent

A civil society activist in Turkmenistan has been sentenced to four years’ imprisonment on fabricated charges, while a conscientious doctor is expected to go on trial in the next few days.

Turkmen activist Murat Dushemov

Murat Dushemov received his four-year term on August 16, YouTube channel Azat Türkmen reports. Dushemov was found guilty of extortion and deliberately causing moderate bodily harm.

Dr Hursanay Ismatullaeva, meanwhile, is to go on trial in the next few days on falsified charges of fraud, according to sources. The doctor has been transferred to the National Security Ministry’s detention facility ahead of the trial.

Murat Dushemov supposedly demanded money from the head doctor of a polyclinic to conceal a video of the clinic’s doctors. The second accusation followed a fight in his cell.

On June 15, Murat and his mother went to polyclinic No. 12 in Ashgabat’s Bezmein district to find out the grounds for the requirement that his mother be vaccinated against COVID-19. According to the authorities, there is no infection in the country. Murat posted a video recording of the conversation. The next day he was summoned to court where he was found guilty of abusive language in a public place and fined 100 manats. No abusive language can be heard on the video.

On July 7, Murat Dushemov, his friend Juma Jumakaev, and Jumakaev’s wife Leyli Nurmetova drove from Ashgabat to Dashoguz. Traffic police stopped their car at a checkpoint in Ruhubelent district, Dashoguz region, and asked for certificates confirming they did not have coronavirus. The activists asked the police to show them the grounds for their request, but no document was produced for several hours. Eventually Jumakaev turned his car around and blocked the road in protest. All three were arrested. The judge fined Leyli Nurmetova and let her go, but sentenced the men to 15 days’ detention.

On July 9, Murat’s brother Alty Dushemov went to the bank to withdraw cash. He was asked to put on a mask but replied that there was officially no coronavirus in the country. He was not allowed to withdraw money. Alty also recorded the conversation on video.

On July 16, officers from the Bezmein criminal investigation department went to the Dushemovs’ home. They asked where Murat was and arrested Alty and two of his friends. Alty was held for 10 days.

On July 22, Jumakaev and Murat Dushemov completed their terms. Jumakaev was released but Murat remained in the cells, where he was set up. Two other prisoners were placed in his cell and started to fight. They both said later that Murat had attacked and wounded them.

Dr Hursanay Ismatullaeva has been transferred from the police cells in Ashgabat’s Bezmein district to the cells in the basement of the National Security Ministry in Zhitnikova Street.

Dr. Ismatullaeva

Dr Ismatullaeva is accused of fraud over the sale of an apartment in Bezmein belonging to a disabled man by the name of Vyacheslav. This seems not to have been enough for the authorities, however. National Security Ministry officials made enquiries about Dr Ismatullaeva among her neighbors and acquaintances, wanting to know if she had committed any criminal offences. 

The story of Vyacheslav’s apartment isn’t especially impressive from the point of view of criminal law. The man was disabled but also a heavy drinker. In 2015 or thereabouts he broke his leg. There was no one to look after him, and his only relative, Anna, was 80. She asked her acquaintance Dr Ismatullaeva to help. When the doctor went to see Vyacheslav, she found that he already had bedsores. She looked after him for three or four years, and to all intents and purposes saved his life. In 2019, Vyacheslav went into an old people’s home and his apartment was sold. Two years later law-enforcement agencies found this suspicious.

“The apartment was worth almost 20,000 dollars,” a source says. “Anna received this money. Dr Hursanay was paid only 600 to 700 dollars for looking after the man for so long. Both Anna and Vyacheslav himself agreed to this.” talked to many people who know Dr Ismatullaeva and they were all very positive about her. She was always ready to help with advice on medical problems and the best doctors to consult. This has been especially important over the past year during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the authorities conceal the presence of the infection, many people have no idea what to do when they fall ill.

“Hursanay Ismatullaeva literally saved the lives of people in this position,” one of her acquaintances said. “There were instances when desperately sick people came to see her and it was only thanks to her advice that they survived.”

Obstetrician Dr Ismatullaeva first got in touch with in fall 2020. She said she had been illegally dismissed from the Ene Mahri Perinatal Center in the town of Gokdepe for her refusal to prescribe unnecessary procedures for patients at their expense. Since then, the doctor had unsuccessfully fought for reinstatement. Other medical establishments would not employ her either; she had been dismissed and blacklisted. Complaints to state institutions and court hearings were to no avail, so the doctor decided to go to the independent media who are banned in Turkmenistan. In the fall published a report on the doctor’s dismissal.

On July 15, 2021, her case was mentioned at the conference “Repressive Practices in Central Asia: Voices of Human Rights Activists”. The doctor was arrested the next day and taken away. Her whereabouts were unknown for around two weeks.

The conference organizers, members of the European Parliament, published a statement in support of Ismatullaeva. The authorities in Turkmenistan did not respond at all. then posted a video appeal from Dr Ismatullaeva to the president of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov. The doctor recorded the video at the end of 2020, fearing persecution. In the recording she insists that she has done nothing illegal and simply wants to do her job.

Turkmenistan’s authorities have recently stepped up pressure on citizens suspected of dissent. In autumn 2020 Nurgeldi Halykov was sentenced to four years imprisonment on fabricated charges, after he sent a photograph found on Instagram of a WHO mission in Turkmenistan.