TURKMENISTAN: Atakov being Treated with Psychotropic Drugs

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 8 February 2001

Ailing Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov is being treated in labour camp with psychotropic drugs, according to an appeal from his family passed on to Keston News Service by the US-based Russian Evangelistic Ministries. 'According to Shageldy,' the family wrote in the wake of a camp visit to him on 3 and 4 February, 'he is being treated with Aminazin and Prometazin, substances used to calm down those who are psychiatrically ill and in a state of extreme agitation. After these injections all his internal organs ache. Our husband and brother is a psychologically normal person. Why is this being done to him?'

Aminazin (also known as Chlorpromazine, Largactil or Thorazine), a psychotropic drug, is a major tranquilliser used for the treatment of psychosis or mania. Prometazin or Promethazin (also known as Sonergan and Phenergan) is an antihistamine, used for a number of purposes, including the relief of allergy, nausea and vertigo, but it is also used as a hypnotic to induce sleep. 'These are not in themselves sinister drugs,' Jim Welsh of Amnesty International's medical office told Keston on 8 February, 'but they have very specific purposes for which they are applicable. They should be prescribed by qualified doctors and their use monitored. Aminazin in particular can have powerful side-effects, such as trembling.'

The 38-year-old Atakov, who is married with five children, is serving a four year sentence in labour camp in the town of Seydy in north eastern Turkmenistan. The camp commander is Kh. K. Kurbanov. Atakov was sentenced 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.

In their 7 February appeal to President Saparmurat Niyazov, the family give further details of his poor state of health in the wake of repeated beatings and maltreatment (see KNS 5 February 2001). 'His stomach is ill, he experiences sudden extreme intestinal pain, and high blood pressure attacks (up to 190) are frequent. The prison warder sent him to the medical unit, where during another high blood pressure attack the doctor administered an injection, after which Shageldy did not regain consciousness for several days. His elbows, palms and the opposite sides of his hands are blue and bear traces of multiple injections. Shageldy is unable to explain where they came from.'

The family reports that Atakov picked up jaundice from reused needles. 'The intensification of stomach ulcers, heart failure, and infection with jaundice have brought him to the point where Shageldy is barely able to walk on his own.' During his three day spell in the punishment cell (known in Russian as a Shizo) in late January, all Atakov's personal belongings were searched and all his Christian literature - including his Bible – was confiscated. His Bible was reportedly burnt.

When the amnesty commission visited Seydy camp from the middle of January to 4 February, Atakov was summoned for questioning almost every day. KNB officers and officials of the Supreme Court pressured him to read aloud or at least to sign the oath of loyalty to the president which would have secured his release under the prisoner amnesty initiated in December. However, despite his failing health, which has brought him close to death, Atakov refused to do so. On the last day of the commission's work in the camp, 4 February, officers told him he could leave with his wife Artygul and children if only he submitted, but still he refused.

The Ashgabad centre of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has called on President Niyazov to free Atakov, as has the Helsinki Commission of the US Congress. 'It sickens me to learn of the persecution of Baptist Shageldy Atakov, who, we believe, is being held prisoner and tortured because of his faith,' Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Christopher Smith declared on 7 February. 'I urge the international diplomatic community to join me in calling for his immediate release.' Amnesty International issued an urgent appeal on 5 February declaring that 'Atakov is believed to have been treated so harshly in prison that he is in imminent danger of dying'.

Shageldy Atakov's labour camp address:

Turkmenistan,

746222 Lebap vilayet,

Seydy,

uchr. LV-K/12,

Atakov Shageldy

(END)