TURKMENISTAN: Baptist Prisoner of Conscience Prepares for Death

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 5 February 2001

Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov is reported to be in such poor physical condition in the wake of repeated beatings, a spell in the labour camp sick-bay in December with early signs of a heart attack, then a spell in the internal camp prison in January, that he is preparing for death. The German-based Friedensstimme Mission, citing Baptist sources in Turkmenistan, told Keston News Service on 3 February that the amnesty commission that recently visited the labour camp told the authorities `to break him morally or destroy him physically'. Local Baptists believe the authorities of the camp in the town of Seydy in north-eastern Turkmenistan where he is being held are now carrying this out. `They have decided to finish him off.'

On 3 and 4 February Atakov was allowed a visit from his wife Artygul. During the visit he was reportedly bruised and battered, his kidneys and liver hurt and he was suffering from jaundice. He could barely walk and frequently lost consciousness. `He does not expect to live,' Friedensstimme reported. `He said farewell.'

Atakov had earlier been reported as recovering well from the early symptoms of a heart attack he suffered in December (see KNS 26 January 2001, which wrongly gave the date as January). It is not known why he was sent to the camp prison (known in Russian as a SHIZO) in January.

Friedensstimme reported that the amnesty commission had offered that if he swore the oath of allegiance to the president he would be freed under the amnesty declared by President Saparmurat Niyazov in December (see KNS 5 January 2001). `If not, they would destroy him,' local Baptists told Friedensstimme.

The mission in Ashgabad of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (of which Turkmenistan is a member) told Keston that it has been following Atakov's case with concern. `Over the past year every high-level visitor we've had has mentioned his name as one of a number of cases with the Turkmen authorities and our head of office Ambassador Istvan Venczel has taken up his case,' Bess Brown told Keston from Ashgabad on 5 February. `Since the freeing of [political prisoners] Nurberdi Nurmamedov and Pirimguly Tangryguliyev in the December amnesty, the OSCE has continued to express concern about Atakov and is urging the Turkmen authorities to free him.'

The 38-year-old Atakov, who is married with five children, is serving a four year sentence on charges of swindling which church members insist were instigated to obstruct his activity with the church. He was arrested on 18 December 1998 in the Caspian port city of Turkmenbashi, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment and fined on 19 March 1999, but was retried on 4 and 5 August 1999 in Ashgabad and given the increased sentence.

Atakov belongs to a Baptist congregation affiliated with the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, a group founded in the Soviet Union in the 1960s and which refuses to register in any of the post-Soviet republics where it operates. Its congregations in Turkmenistan have been subjected to particular persecution. Shageldy Atakov's labour camp address:

Turkmenistan,

746222 Lebap vilayet,

Seydy,

uchr. LV-K/12,

Atakov Shageldy

(END)