Crackdown on Turkmenistan’s Sparse Civil Society

The authorities in Turkmenistan have been cracking down on the small number of civil society activists in the country in recent weeks.

Activist Murat Dushemov now faces up to 5 years in prison for allegedly fighting with other men while in police detention

Activists Murat Dushemov, Juma Jumakaev, and Jumakaev’s wife Leyli Nurmetova were arrested on July 7, as they travelled from Ashgabat to visit relatives in Dashoguz. Traffic police stopped their car at a checkpoint in Ruhubelent district, Dashoguz region, and asked for certificates confirming they did not have coronavirus. (According to the Turkmen government, there is no coronavirus in Turkmenistan.) When the activists asked the police to show them the grounds for their request, they were held at the checkpoint for around four hours in the blazing heat of the afternoon. Eventually, Jumakaev turned his car around and blocked the road in protest. The traffic police called for back-up. Police arrived at the scene, handcuffed the activists and took them to a temporary detention facility. The same evening judge Aganepes Omarov sentenced the men to 15 days detention for blocking traffic on an inter-regional highway. Leyli Nurmetova was fined, but not sentenced to detention as she has young children.

Juma Jumakaev has been released from detention after completing his 15-day term. Murat Dushemov, however, remains in the cells. Turkmen journalist Allamurat Rahimov says Dushemov is potentially facing charges under Article 108 of the Turkmen Criminal Code “Deliberately causing moderate bodily harm”. The charge follows a fight among three other prisoners in Dushemov’s cell. When the guard looked into the cell, the three prisoners claimed that Dushemov had attacked them.

Murat Dushemov’s family and friends are convinced that the incident was deliberately provoked in order to detain him for a longer period and thereby silence him.

Doctor Hursanay Ismatullaeva was arrested on July 16 and has disappeared. Dr Ismatullaeva has for four years been seeking reinstatement to her job at the Ene Mahri Perinatal Center in the town of Gokdepe, Ahal region. She lost her job as a sonographer at the center in summer 2017 for refusing to take bribes from patients and to send them for unnecessary examinations and operations at their own expense.

Doctor Hursanay Ismatullaeva

On July 15 this year, Ismatullaeva’s case was raised at a human rights panel in the European Parliament. The next day 10 policemen came to her home and took her away. Her family do not know her whereabouts or what is happening to her. Members of the European Parliament and international organization Human Rights Watch have expressed alarm at her fate. voices its concern at the cases of Murat Dushemov and Dr Hursanay Ismatullaeva and also at the wider increase in pressure on anyone who dares to express their own opinion and to stand up for their rights in Turkmenistan.

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