Turkmen Doctor Sentenced to 9 Years’ Detention on Flimsiest of Charges

The trial of Dr Hursanay Ismatullaeva was held on September 7, 2021 in Ashgabat’s Bezmein district court, turkmen.news has learnt. Presiding judge Amanmuhamed Ishanguliev found the doctor guilty of fraud and sentenced her to nine years’ detention in an ordinary regime camp. Dr Ismatullaeva had for a long time contested her illegal dismissal from a maternity hospital, where her refusal to prescribe unnecessary procedures for patients had angered her superiors. Turkmen.news has received a copy of the court judgment against Dr Ismatullaeva.

Dr. Hursanay Ismatullaeva

The defendant was found guilty under the following articles of Turkmenistan’s Criminal Code:

228 (part 4) — Fraud inflicting especially substantial losses — eight years;

218 (parts 2 and 3) — Production and sale of counterfeit documents, stamps, letterheads, or the use of a forged document (committed repeatedly and involving the use of a knowingly forged document) — two years (part 2) and ten months (part 3);

114 (part 2) — Cruel treatment of someone who is dependent or helpless (if it results in the death of the individual through negligence or other grave consequences) — two years.

The final cumulative sentence was nine years in an ordinary regime labor colony. The charges all concern the strange affair of a bedridden patient and his apartment.  

The court also ordered Dr Ismatullaeva to pay 270,000 manats to Bike Mammedova, named in the case as the buyer of the disputed apartment. Some of the proceeds from the sale of Dr Ismatullaeva’s car are to be used to compensate for the losses while the remaining money is considered state income. All her telephones and the computer equipment from her apartment have also been confiscated.

Summary of the criminal prosecution

According to the state prosecution, on June 13, 2016 Dr Ismatullaeva forged the signature of citizen Vyacheslav Leonidovich Shapovalov, born on April 2, 1949, on a letter of attorney for the privatization of a one-room apartment belonging to Shapovalov at the address: Apartment 72, 26, Okdirov Street, Bezmein district, Ashgabat. At this time Shapovalov was in a helpless state and was not aware of his actions, while the doctor abused his trust in order to acquire possession of his property.

First page of Ismatullaeva’s sentence. Full version in Russian language is available here

Having forged the signature, Dr Ismatullaeva had the privatization documents certified in the Bezmein notary’s office, where the notary, H. Kuliev, was an acquaintance. On March 16, 2018, she again forged the signature, this time on a contract of sale for the apartment. This document, registered with the same notary, re-registers the apartment in the doctor’s name. According to the contract, the doctor was to pay Shapovalov 80,000 manats, but she did not do so.

The judgment says that Dr Ismatullaeva denied all the accusations. She said that her acquaintance Anna Bocharova had told her that her husband’s brother was in a bad way. He could not walk because of a fracture to his thighbone and spent most of his time in bed. Shapovalov was registered at a clinic and was receiving treatment. Bocharova asked Ismatullaeva to keep an eye on him as a doctor. Dr Ismatullaeva began to visit Vyacheslav regularly, taking him groceries, cleaning the apartment, and providing necessary care.

Dr Ismatullaeva testified to the court that at Shapovalov’s request Bocharova had asked her to help privatize his apartment. The doctor approached the notary Kuliev whom she had known for several years. Kuliev explained what documents were required for assigning power of attorney and privatization. When the documents were ready, on June 13, 2016 Kuliev went to Shapovalov’s home and confirmed that Shapovalov agreed to give the doctor power of attorney so that she could represent his interests in all state institutions.

The judgment goes on to say that Dr Ismatullaeva did not stop at privatizing someone else’s apartment. She used Shapovalov’s helpless condition and the alleged fact that he was not aware of what was happening around him to place him in a home for the elderly and disabled in Ashgabat in fall 2019. According to several witnesses, for some reason this mentally unsound man himself asked his neighbors to write to the city health department on his behalf to request a place in a social services institution. According to the testimony of the neighbors in court, this is what was done.

Meanwhile, in May 2020 Dr Ismatullaeva sold the apartment bought from Shapovalov to Bike Mammedova, again drawing up the contract of sale with the notary Kuliev in the state notary’s office. She took a sum of 270,000 manats for the apartment and appropriated this money. 

Consequently, the court accused Hursanay Ismatullaeva of fraud inflicting especially grave losses. This category of crime incurs a penalty of up to 15 years’ detention. The doctor received nine years.

Fabricated case

Turkmen.news has carefully studied the judgment. The judicial investigation was conducted as a formality with a clear presumption of guilt and wholly based on the conclusions of the preliminary investigation. 

“She displayed cruelty towards a sick, frail, disabled man and this had grave consequences; she used forged documents giving her rights to acquire someone else’s property. In doing so, she abused people’s trust, committed fraud, and caused great harm to the victim.”

The vast majority of witnesses used these stock phrases in court. People who did not know one another and knew Shapovalov to varying degrees repeated the same words one after the other as though they were carbon copies: “Shapovalov was in an unstable mental state, did not understand his actions, was not aware of what was going on around him, was in the power of external negative influences…”

None of the witnesses hid the fact that they first heard about Ismatullaeva’s “fraudulent activities” in the police department where they were called in July 2021. It seems that until then everyone had a different opinion of Dr Ismatullaeva. Asked about their connection to the accused, they all mentioned in one way or another something good she had done for them: nursing after an operation without stinting on her own time; infertility treatment that led to the birth of a long awaited child; responses to requests for help for the sick and elderly.

In court though people suddenly “forgot” the good things, and every witness tried to find some easy accusation against the doctor, making liberal use of the sentences that had clearly been prepared for them all in advance. 

Notary Kuliev stood head and shoulders above the rest. It was Kuliev who registered Shapovalov’s document assigning power of attorney to Dr Ismatullaeva in order to privatize the apartment; he also registered the contracts of sale for the apartment, first from Shapovalov to Ismatullaeva, and then from Ismatullaeva to Mammedova. Notary Kuliev initially featured as a collaborator in the “fraud” and, logically, should have shared the punishment with the doctor or at least been punished for negligence.

“There is no actual fraud there,” according to a lawyer in Turkmenistan who has read the judgment. “But if the court acknowledges that the transactions took place, then this implicates a group of people, including the notary and the realtor. Why did they convict only Ismatullaeva, and drop all charges against Kuliev?”

In fact, the court dropped the charges against the notary because of his sincere contrition. The investigation did not have any questions for realtor D. Annanurov either. It follows that, without any relevant education and experience, Hursanay Ismatullaeva obtained power of attorney herself from Shapovalov for the privatization, registered it herself in the notary’s ledger, drew up the contract of sale herself, and registered it herself again. 

“There’s another point,” the lawyer says. “If the victim has sold his apartment, changed his mind, and wants to challenge the contract of sale, he has six years in which to do so. Moreover, this is decided through a civil, definitely not a criminal process. The victim had time to do this. Otherwise any transaction could be framed in this way and declared fraudulent, and any citizen could face criminal charges.”

Much is said in the judgment about the writing of Shapovalov’s surname and his personal signature, about where and when a sick old man signed the documents. The judgment follows the charge sheet in saying several times that it was Ismatullaeva who forged the entries and signatures. However, expert analysis was carried out and did not prove that everything was written in her hand. Here is an excerpt from the judgment:

“It follows from conclusion No. 381 of July 9, 2021 of the specialist of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ forensic center that in all documents — letters of attorney, agreements, contracts of sale, notary’s ledger — the words ‘I, Vyacheslav Leonidovich Shapovalov’ and also his signature were not written by Shapovalov himself but by someone else. It is not possible to determine exactly who wrote these.”

And another excerpt:

“The court notes that Ismatullaeva does not admit the charges, declaring that she is not involved, which the court considers an attempt to evade responsibility. The court considers her arguments to be worthless. There is compelling evidence in the form of a victim, and also witness testimonies, face-to-face interrogations, documents, expert conclusions, forged documents and more, which disproves her claims and proves they are an attempt to evade responsibility.”

The forgery of documents was not proven, although this is the basis of the charges that have led to nine years’ detention.

What is the real reason for locking up Dr Ismatullaeva?

The organizers of the criminal prosecution of Dr Ismatullaeva probably did not expect that turkmen.news would acquire a copy of the judgment, since it includes outrageous claims.

Why is the sixth directorate of Turkmenistan’s Interior Ministry, the department responsible for combatting organized crime and terrorism, handling a run-of-the-mill criminal case — a dispute about a sick old man’s property, registered in a doctor’s name after privatization, and then sold to a third party. Why is old Mr Shapovalov or Dr Ismatullaeva being shown such respect? Why did the directorate consider Dr Ismatullaeva to be a criminal mastermind or terrorist on such a grand scale? 

It has long been known that it is the Ministry of National Security that “processes” inconvenient “political” defendants. This is why they took on the case of Hursanay Ismatullaeva. If not, why was she held in the remand cells on Asudalyk Street (formerly Zhitnikova Street), popularly known as the Ministry of National Security basement, and why was her apartment searched at this time and all her equipment carefully scanned — from her computer to her external media?

The sixth directorate informed the court in its response that all the letterheads had supposedly been created on domestic equipment; Ismatullaeva had forged all the documents on her computer and information “of a slanderous nature” had also been found on her computer. 

All the equipment confiscated from Hursanay Ismatullaeva’s home was sent for expert assessment to the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ forensics center. A specialist from the center describes in detail what he found on this equipment: 

“In his findings of August 2, 2021 [the specialist] says that after checking the programs installed on the systems unit he found the VPN and OpenVPN programs for clandestine access to the Internet. On the laptop he found SofiEthar VPN Client manager for clandestine access to the Internet and Dupper V.91.2 for connecting to Wi-Fi, designed to break passwords. Four memory sticks were also found with an overall volume of 27 gigabytes and 70 megabytes, which had been destroyed by formatting but the files were restored.”

This explains why a criminal case was begun against Dr Ismatullaeva. A search of her apartment was required in order to get access to her computer and find evidence there that she was trying to acquire the right to work as a doctor by any means possible, including by seeking support from rights activists abroad. It is not possible according to the law to imprison her for using programs that many of the country’s citizens also use to get access to blocked sites. It is programs of this kind enabling access to the Internet including YouTube, and the sites of human rights organizations that were found on her computer.   

Under pressure from the special services the preliminary investigation searched for and found something that could be used to bring criminal charges against the doctor. Fraud is a very convenient charge used to imprison inconvenient people in Turkmenistan. Anyone can be careless and make mistakes in this life, especially in Turkmenistan where even state officials do not respect half the written laws, and many procedures are carried out without any legal basis whatsoever with reference to verbal “instructions from above.” Even if the errors discovered do not in themselves merit criminal detention, they can be inflated with the help of thoroughly intimidated “witnesses.” 


Dr Ismatullaeva first got in touch with turkmen.news in fall 2020. She said that in 2017 she had been illegally sacked from the Ene Mahri Perinatal Center in the town of Gokdepe for her refusal to prescribe unnecessary examinations and operations for patients at their expense. A trip to St Petersburg for treatment had been used as a pretext for her dismissal. 

In subsequent years she could not get reinstatement or find work in another medical establishment. Having exhausted all avenues to defend her rights, she decided to turn to the independent media, which are outlawed in Turkmenistan. Her story was published in November 2020. 

On July 15, 2021 the doctor’s case was mentioned in an online discussion on “Repressive Practices in Central Asia: Voices of Human Rights Activists” organized by members of the European Parliament. Dr Ismatullaeva was arrested the next day, July 16, 2021. Her relatives did not know her whereabouts for two weeks. It emerged that the doctor had first been held in the police cells in Bezmein district in Ashgabat, and had then been taken to the Interior Ministry investigation cells on Asudalyk Street. Less than two months after her arrest her sentence was handed down. 

Four members of the European Parliament who organized the discussion on human rights in Central Asia, three American senators and one member of the House of Representatives have made statements in support of Dr Ismatullaeva. Human Rights Watch reported her forced disappearance.

On November 23, 2021 representatives of several human rights organizations published an appeal to the authorities of Turkmenistan over Dr Ismatullaeva’s case. Their letter addressed to the ombudsman, prosecutor general, chairman of the Supreme Court and minister of internal affairs of Turkmenistan raises the need to review the case in accordance with international norms, and in the meantime to guarantee Dr Ismatullaeva humane treatment in detention. According to our information the doctor has already been transferred to the women’s colony in Dashoguz region.