On 16 February the two Turkmen Sapardurdy Khajiev and Annakurban Amanklychev were freed from prison, after they both served out their prison terms from June 2006. It is proclaimed that the two men were wrongfully convicted on politically motivated terms and suffered numerous health problems during their prison time. Amanklychev, Khajiev and his sister Ogulsapar Muradova, were human right activists and journalists, associated with the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation (THF), a Turkmen human rights nongovernmental organization that is exiled and based in Bulgaria. They were arrested after the making of a documentary film about the bad human rights conditions in the country. Eventually, all three were convicted for the illegal possession of weapons. Muradova died in September 2006 and there has been evidence that the woman was tortured to death. During the period of imprisonment there have also been allegations that the detainees were ill-treated and that drugs were used to force them to ‘confess’ falsehoods. However, as a member of the United Nations Convention against Torture, Turkmenistan is obliged to ensure that no prisoner is subjected to torture.
There was strong international pressure on the Turkmen government for the release of Khajiev and Amanklychev. The European Parliament made their release one of several conditions for the enhancement of relations with the country. France stated in 2010 that it would not admit the country’s participation in the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) before certain conditions were fulfilled, under which the release of the two journalists. In November 2010, The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention claimed the imprisonment to be unlawful and urged their immediate release. The Turkmen government however denied the accusations and refused to acknowledge their imprisonment to be based on wrong motives.
Wrongful charges against more activists
According to Human Right Watch the country is one of the most repressive in the world, because media and religious freedoms are subjected to severe restrictions; human rights activists are subjected to government reprisal and the judicial system is used as a political weapon. Khajiev, Amanklychev and Muradova are not the only human right activists that have been imprisoned. Another good example is the case of Gulgeldy Annaniazov, a political dissident whose relatives have had no information about him since his imprisonment in 2008. The release of the two men could contribute to the calls of the international community to end the repressive judicial and political system of the country. Rachel Denber, the deputy Europe and Central Asia director of Human Right Watch said: “The Turkmen authorities have long used the judicial system and long-term imprisonment to suppress civic activism and settle political scores,” adding, “So while we celebrate Amanklychev and Khajiev’s long overdue freedom, the pressing question remains, how many others still languish behind bars on wrongful charges?”