TURKMENISTAN: Atakov Returned to Prison-Camp, Sent to Punishment Cell.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 21 March 2001

Ailing Baptist prisoner Shageldy Atakov was sent back to the labour camp in Seydy in north eastern Turkmenistan on 1 March, just weeks after being transferred to the prison hospital in the town of Mary, the German-based Friedensstimme mission told Keston News Service on 20 March. `The camp administration is giving assurances that Shageldy Atakov is healthy and well,' the mission notes, although it warns that `official organs of power in Turkmenistan have of late thoroughly hidden the circumstances of what is happening to Atakov'. It added that it had also received a report that Atakov has been placed in a punishment cell (`pomeshchenie kamernogo tipa' in Russian) for one month.

Keston has been unable to obtain the telephone number of the Seydy camp to ask the commander, Kh. K. Kurbanov, about the state of Atakov's health and why he has been sent to punishment cell.

On 10 January the chairman-in-office of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, called on the Turkmen authorities to free Atakov. In mid-February the OSCE's Ashgabad centre asked for permission from the authorities to visit Atakov, but there has been no response and no apparent progress towards his release. On 23 February the European Union lodged a demarche with the Turkmen foreign minister, Batyr Berdiev, calling for Atakov to be freed, but there has been no formal response to the demarche (see KNS 12 March 2001).

Atakov, who marked his 39th birthday on 19 March, is married with five children. He is serving a four year sentence on charges of fraud and forging documents. Local Baptists insist these accusations – relating to his activities as a car-dealer 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. His church - whose activities the Turkmen authorities claim are illegal - is a member of the Council of Churches of Evangelical Christians/Baptists, which rejects registration in all the former Soviet republics where it operates.

The Turkmen authorities have so far resisted all pressure to free Atakov, despite his poor health caused by repeated beatings in labour camp, forcible treatment with psychotropic drugs and medical neglect. He was offered amnesty in January on condition he swear the oath of loyalty to the president and country on a copy of the Koran, but he declined.

Atakov's address in camp is:

Turkmenistan,

746222 Lebap vilayet,

Seydy,

uchr. LV-K/12,

Atakov Shageldy

(END)