Four Ministry of Internal Affairs agents seized Sazak Begmedov, 77, on August 31 in the capital, Ashgabad, and forced him onto a flight for Dashauz, near the border with Uzbekistan. The incident occurred 12 days after Begmedov’s daughter, Turkmen exile Tajigul Begmedova, founded the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation, a new human rights group based in Bulgaria.
“This is a clear case of retaliation. The government is punishing the daughter by attacking the father,” said Rachel Denber, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. “Turkmenistan has one of the most repressive governments in the world. This is only the latest example of how the government persecutes dissidents’ families.”
Sazak Begmedov, a former deputy prosecutor general, has spent the past year challenging the legality of the government’s actions against his family.
The Begmedovs fell out of favor with President Saparmurat Niazov in September 2002, when Tajigul’s husband, Annadurdy Khajiev, was indicted on charges of embezzlement. The government confiscated Begmedov’s house, arrested two of his children, and threatened to send him into internal exile.
In May 2003, a Bulgarian court declined a request by the Turkmen government for the extradition of Tajigul Begmedova and Annadurdy Khajiev. The court found the government’s charges groundless and cited fears that the charges had been politically motivated.
Begmedov has told relatives that on the day of his abduction, four agents approached him outside his building on Atamurad Niazov Street and told him he was summoned to a meeting at the Procuracy General. Once he got in the car, they beat him and kicked him and drove him to the airport, where they forced him onto a flight to Dashauz. Police guards accompanied him on the flight and confiscated his passport.
The police refused to show an arrest warrant or deportation order, saying only that his deportation from the capital was “ordered from above.” They also said it was connected with “some international Turkmen organization” -- presumably the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation. Police awaiting his arrival in Dashauz brought Begmedov, at his request, to the local police department, where he demanded an explanation. The police chief gave none, and instead instructed Begmedov that he must inform police of his whereabouts at all times.
In Dashauz, Begmedov went to several medical clinics to obtain an official doctor’s report certifying that the bruises on his body were from the beatings by police. Every doctor he approached refused to write such a report, citing fear of retaliation by the authorities. When Begmedov went to the police to submit an official statement about the beating, they refused to accept and log the complaint.
“The diplomatic community has to act now to protect Begmedov and demand restoration of his right to freedom of movement,” said Denber. “Silence puts the families of other dissidents at risk for the same treatment.”
Human Rights Watch has received information about another four cases of internal exile of political or religious dissidents in March, April and May of this year.
Such treatment is part of official Turkmen government policy. On November 18, 2002, President Niazov issued a decree on population relocations to Dashauz, Lebap and Ahal provinces, ostensibly to develop these desert areas. But the order also marks for relocation “those people who have lost the respect of the nation, and who disturb the social tranquility with their bad behavior.”
The imposition of internal exile without a fair trial is a violation of the right to freedom of movement under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Turkmenistan is party. In April 2003, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights adopted a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Turkmenistan that expressed concern about forced displacement to “remote areas of the country.” The resolution calls on the government to end this practice.
At the hands of Turkmen law enforcement and security agents, family members of Turkmen dissidents in exile have consistently suffered illegal arrest, physical mistreatment and eviction from their homes, as well as forced displacement, in retaliation for their relatives’ beliefs.
The use of internal exile or forced displacement to silence and punish “enemies” was standard practice in the Soviet Union.