TURKMENISTAN: Authorities Deny Atakov has been Tortured.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 27 February 2001

As the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) still waits for permission from the Turkmen authorities to visit ailing Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov, deputy foreign minister Yolbors Kepbanov has categorically denied that Atakov has been tortured in custody. `Information that torture is allegedly being used against Atakov does not accord with reality,' he declared in a statement to the human rights group Amnesty International, which has taken up Atakov's case. Bess Brown, political officer of the OSCE centre in the Turkmen capital Ashgabad, told Keston News Service on 27 February that Kepbanov's response `sounds like the standard official line'. She confirmed that the OSCE has had no response to its request to visit Atakov in prison hospital, which was lodged on 12 February (see KNS 13 February 2001).

In his statement, sent on 23 February from the Turkmen National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights under the president of Turkmenistan, of which he is also the director, Kepbanov claimed that Atakov's health `is at present in a normal state', although he failed to elaborate or to say whether Atakov is still in the prison hospital in Mary to which he was transferred in early February in critical condition.

Keston failed to reach Kepbanov by telephone on 27 February, either at the institute or at the foreign ministry, to establish Atakov's current state of health and to find out if and when the OSCE will be able to visit him in prison hospital.

Baptist sources have repeatedly reported that while in labour camp No. 12 in the town of Seydy Atakov was regularly beaten, incarcerated for weeks at a time in the labour camp punishment block and forcibly treated with the psychotropic drug Aminazin. He was refused amnesty in January for refusing to swear the oath of loyalty to the president and country.

Kepbanov claims that Atakov was `an activist of a religious sect illegally functioning on the territory of Turkmenistan, i.e. one not registered under the established procedure with the Ministry of Justice of Turkmenistan'. Although congregations of the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists (to which Atakov belongs) reject state registration in all the former Soviet republics where they operate, no published Turkmen law specifically requires religious groups to register in order to be allowed to function, despite the claims of Kepbanov and other state officials.

Kepbanov insists that Atakov `was brought to criminal responsibility not as a result of his religious views and convictions but as a result of the criminally punishable actions he had committed', maintaining that he had pocketed money from an illegal car deal and forged documents. Local Baptists insist these accusations - relating to activities before he became a Christian - were merely the excuse to punish Atakov for his activities with the Baptist church in the port city of Turkmenbashi.

Atakov's address in prison is:

Turkmenistan

Mary,

uchr. MR-KKh/15,

Atakov, Shageldy

(END)