KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 27 February 2001

statement to Amnesty International, Turkmen deputy foreign minister
Yolbors Kepbanov has categorically denied that Baptist prisoner Shageldy
Atakov has been tortured in custody. The OSCE has told Keston News
Service that this `sounds like the standard official line' and confirmed that it
is still waiting for permission to visit Atakov in the prison hospital in Mary
to which he was transferred in early February in critical condition.


by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

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:
uchr. MR-KKh/15,
Atakov, Shageldy

Copyright (c) 2001 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.