TURKMENISTAN: No Response to OSCE's Request to Visit Atakov.

byFelix Corley, Keston News Service, 21 February 2001

More than a week after requesting a visit to ailing Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov in the prison hospital where he is being held, Ambassador Istvan Venczel, the head of the Ashgabad centre of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE), has still had no response to his request from the Turkmen authorities. `There has been no official response whatsoever,' Bess Brown, political officer of the OSCE centre, told Keston News Service from Ashgabad on 21 February.

Ambassador Venczel lodged his request to visit Atakov on 12 February after reports emerged of Atakov's transfer from labour camp in Seydy to the prison hospital in Mary in rapidly failing health after maltreatment including beatings and forcible treatment with the psychotropic drug Aminazin (see KNS 13 February 2001).

Local Baptists in Turkmenistan report that even in the prison hospital Atakov is still being pressured to swear the oath of loyalty to the president and the state, something he has consistently refused to do on religious grounds. `Atakov is still being intimidated and pressured, in spite of his poor health condition,' the US-based Russian Evangelistic Ministries told Keston on 20 February, citing reports from local Baptists. They add that it is not yet known whether the forcible treatment with psychotropic drugs is still continuing in the prison hospital.

Keston has been unable to get the telephone number of the commander of Mary prison, Gazanov, to ask about Atakov's treatment. Russian Evangelistic Ministries reports that the prison hospital is located inside Mary prison and is believed to be the only prison in Turkmenistan that has a hospital facility on the prison ground (the Seydy camp could only provide basic medical treatment). It appears that once his health improves the prison authorities plan to transfer Atakov into the main prison. It is reported that he is threatened with being held in the `closed regime' used for the most dangerous criminals, where they are confined to barracks. `Going from the barracks to the work area, and vice versa, allows prisoners to get some fresh air. It is the only relief during incarceration.'

Atakov's address in prison is:

Turkmenistan

Mary,

uchr. MR-KKh/15,

Atakov, Shageldy

Atakov, who will be 39 next month and is 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)