TURKMENISTAN: OSCE Requests Permission to Visit Atakov.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 13 February 2001

Organisation for Security and Cooperation, on 12 February formally requested permission from the Turkmen authorities to visit ailing Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov in the prison hospital in the town of Mary, to which he has been transferred. OSCE officials in Ashgabad told Keston News Service on 13 February that so far Ambassador Venczel has received no response to his request.

Although the OSCE centre has not yet received confirmation from government officials that Atakov has arrived in Mary, the German-based Friedensstimme mission told Keston on 13 February that Atakov was transferred there several days ago, adding that his state of health is poor.

In the wake of international publicity in early February about Atakov's failing health, his repeated beatings and his treatment with psychotropic drugs (see KNS 8 February 2001), the OSCE Ashgabad centre made further enquiries of the Turkmen authorities. Yolbars Kepbanov, a deputy foreign minister and director of the government-sponsored National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, told Ambassador Venczel on 9 February that he had checked up on Atakov's case, discovered that he was sick and learnt that he was being transferred from the labour camp in Seydy in north eastern Turkmenistan to prison hospital in Mary, 350 kilometres (220 miles) east of Ashgabad, to deal with his jaundice. Kepbanov informed the OSCE centre that he had requested prison personnel to pay special attention to his case in an apparent response to widespread international concern about Atakov. Keston was unable to reach Kepbanov either at the Foreign Ministry or at the National Institute for Democracy on 13 February.

`The Turkmen authorities have decided to do something about Atakov's case,' Bess Brown of the OSCE centre told Keston from Ashgabad on 13 February. `The authorities have registered that they've got to take care of this guy. It appears they were taken aback by the massive international campaigning on his behalf. Almost everyone has got involved - there have been enquiries from quite a number of countries.' Brown - who was not sure whether Atakov was suffering from jaundice or whether he had developed hepatitis - was hopeful that the authorities would allow Ambassador Venczel to visit. The OSCE centre has repeatedly called on the Turkmen authorities to free Atakov.

Atakov, who is 38 and married with five children, was sentenced on charges of swindling which members of his Baptist church 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. (END)