Mr. Speaker, as Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, I want to bring to the attention of the Congress a number of alarming arrests recently made by the Government of Turkmenistan. Last month between June 16-18, three human rights defenders were detained by Turkmen security forces and have been held for over a month. Considering Turkmenistan’s abysmal human rights record, I greatly fear for their safety as they are certainly at risk of torture.
Amankurban Amanklychev, Ogulsapar Muradova, and Sapardurdy Khajiev are affiliated with the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation, a non-governmental organization that monitors human rights in Turkmenistan. In addition, Ms. Muradova has served as a journalist for Radio Liberty, a private communications service funded by the Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
Apparently Turkmen authorities arrested these three individuals because of their connection to a documentary about President Saparmurat Niyazov’s cult of personality and their use of hidden video equipment in making this film. The three now face the trumped-up charges of illegal weapons possession and allegations of “espionage.” Given the absence of any media or speech freedoms in Turkmenistan, the government’s allegations are simply not credible, and the detentions are unjustifiable.
Human rights organizations report that the detainees are being abused. Most troubling are allegations of psychotropic drugs being administered to Amanklychev and Muradova in an effort to force their confession to “subversive activities.” The reports concerning psychotropic drugs are quite believable, as Turkmenistan is known to use these drugs in psychiatric hospitals to punish individuals.
In April, 54 members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives wrote to President Niyazov, urging the unconditional release of a prisoner of conscience held in a psychiatric hospital. While that individual was released, soon thereafter Congress learned of an almost identical case – 69-year-old Kakabay Tedzhenov. He has been held in incommunicado detention in a psychiatric hospital since January 2006 for peacefully protesting government policies. Considering that just three months ago a significant number of Senators and Members of the House wrote President Niyazov about this barbaric practice, I am particularly disappointed that the Turkmen President continues to allow the misuse of psychiatric institutions as prisons for political dissidents and that Mr. Tedzhenov remains jailed.
With Ms. Muradova’s ties to Radio Liberty and the Congress, as well as the letter from 54 Members of Congress to Niyazov regarding the use of psychiatric hospitals, the continuation of these inexcusable actions will affect the relations between Turkmenistan and the U.S. Congress.
Mr. Speaker, I am urging President Niyazov to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of Amankurban Amanklychev, Ogulsapar Muradova, and Sapardurdy Khajiev, as well as Kakabay Tedzhenov.