UN Coordinator in Turkmenistan Refused to Comment on Political Prisoners’ Letter

The UN Resident Coordinator in Turkmenistan, Dmitry Shlapachenko, has refused to answer turkmen.news’ questions about a letter from four political prisoners. In a reply sent on May 25, he said that he is liaising on this matter with OHCHR in Geneva, and that he does not have any comments to share with the media. Turkmen.news did not manage to speak to him by phone.

Journalist Allamurat Rahimov managed to get hold of a photograph of the handwritten letter from Allamurat Korhanov, Murat Dushemov, Nurgeldi Halykov, and Murat Ovezov, and showed it on his YouTube channel. The prisoners complain that their cases were fabricated and they are subject to physical and psychological pressure. They ask for a personal meeting with UN representatives.

Turkmen.news wrote to the UN Resident Coordinator in Turkmenistan, Dmitry Shlapachenko. We asked whether he had seen the letter, whether he would seek permission to visit the LB-E/12 camp, and whether he discussed political prisoners in his meetings with officials.

On May 25, Shlapachenko replied: “I am liaising on this matter with OHCHR in Geneva. I do not have any comments to share with the media.”

There have been no reports since then of any progress regarding the letter. On June 15, turkmen.news again tried to obtain comment from Shlapachenko but could not reach him by phone – the coordinator was not in his office. His secretary tried to put us through to Shlapachenko’s assistant but without success. We ended up sending him another letter with copies to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, the regional office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Bishkek, and Western diplomats in Ashgabat. In the letter we asked again if Shlapachenko had requested a visit to the colony and what the response had been.

Turkmenistan’s authorities, on the other hand, reacted instantly to the letter, according to sources. The Ministry of National Security, Prosecutor General’s Office, and Ministry of Internal Affairs carried out inspections in the camp. It probably wasn’t the situation of the political prisoners that interested the inspectors but the fact they had managed to pass a manuscript to the outside world. Such a move is a considerable risk for the political prisoners. If the UN does not take an interest in the issue, the authors of the letter could receive serious punishment.

Allamurat Korhanov was sentenced for sending a video to one of the opposition groups. He received four years in prison supposedly for causing bodily harm. Murat Dushemov, who criticized on the Internet the cover-up of the coronavirus epidemic in Turkmenistan, also got four years supposedly for causing bodily harm. Nurgeldi Halykov received the same prison term, supposedly for fraud, after he sent turkmen.news a photograph of members of a WHO delegation. Murat Ovezov got five years because he recited critical poems on YouTube and made other harsh remarks.  

Deputy Minister of National Security Orazgeldi Meredov personally handled the cases of all the prisoners. The fact that the deputy minister interrogated the suspects does not tally with the version of the Turkmen authorities, who try to present them all as petty criminals.