Widespread Enforced Disappearances and Torture in Turkmenistan

New reports call for immediate action to ‘Prove They Are Alive!’

The ‘Prove They Are Alive!’ campaign, led by an international coalition of human rights groups, launched two reports, Prove They Are Alive!: The Disappeared in Turkmenistan, and Ovadan Depe: Medieval Torture in Modern Turkmenistan. These new reports expose the dark truths of widespread enforced disappearances and torture of prisoners in by a repressive regime in this Central Asian country. The staggering facts of dozens of cases of politically motivated enforced disappearances, documented cases of torture, severe violations of the rights of prisoners, and gross violations of national legislation in the judicial proceedings of the convicted call for immediate, renewed and strengthened action from the OSCE to end these egregious ongoing violations of OSCE human dimension commitments by Turkmenistan.

“The political prisoners in Ovadan Depe were served much more than their sentences. The inhumane living conditions, gruesome torture practices and complete and continued isolation from the outside world, including family, violate not only national and international law, but the basic principles of humanity,” said Sonia Zilberman of Crude Accountability. Vitaliy Ponomarev of the Human Rights Center ‘Memorial’ described the waves of repression, which have led to at least 66 cases of enforced disappearances, and the overall political situation in Turkmenistan. Guest speakers, Akmuhammed Bayhanov, former inmate of the Ovadan Depe Prison, and Tatiana Shikhmuradova, wife of the disappeared former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkmenistan, Boris Shikhmuradov, presented firsthand accounts of torture practices and gross violations of national legislation and international norms. “Not only were the convicted put away in prison, but all bearers of information surrounding these cases were perceived as a threat to President Niyazov, and were either prohibited from leaving the country, thrown in prison themselves, or simply vanished form any sphere of communication,” said Shikhmuradova, as she described violations of national legislation with regards to the judicial proceedings of her husband and other individuals.

More than 11 years have passed since the OSCE Moscow Mechanism report on Turkmenistan was presented to the Permanent Council in 2003. Almost nothing has been done by OSCE since then on the problem of the disappeared in Turkmenistan.  “These crimes are not something that happened in the past, they continue to this day as hundreds of people convicted in unfair trials are held in dreadful conditions incommunicado and their relatives have no information about them for more than a decade,” said Yuri Dzhibladze of the Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, as he highlighted the campaign’s recommendations to the OSCE. Given the evidence presented in the campaign reports, the OSCE should immediately take follow-up actions within the framework of the Moscow Mechanism and continue to apply it until the recommendations contained in the 2003 OSCE Report on Turkmenistan are implemented.

Over 30 individuals, including representatives of US, Canadian, European Union, and several EU countries, amongst others, attended the side event. Representatives of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE were also present.  The Prove They Are Alive! campaign would welcome a response from the Turkmen delegation, which is not attending the 2014 Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, continuing the country’s protracted silence on the issue of enforced disappearances. Members of the human rights campaign say: “Turkmenistan, the time has come to appear at the table and Prove They Are Alive!”

The Prove They Are Alive! campaign reports can be found at: www.provetheyarealive.org/documents

Ovadan Depe: Medieval Torture in Modern Turkmenistan includes satellite imagery and analysis from the report, “An evaluation of Ovadan-Depe Prison using freely available high resolution satellite imagery” by the Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which can be found here.




Yuri Dzhibladze, Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, +7 916 6735153, yuri.dzhibladze@gmail.com

Kate Watters, Crude Accountability, +1-571-332-5895, kate@crudeaccountability.org