KESTON NEWS SERVICE: 11.00, 13 February 2001

TURKMENISTAN: OSCE REQUESTS PRISON HOSPITAL VISIT TO
ATAKOV. Ambassador Istvan Venczel, the head of the Ashgabad centre of
the Organisation for Security and Cooperation, has 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. The request was made on 12 February but has received no
response so far.

TURKMENISTAN: OSCE REQUESTS PRISON HOSPITAL VISIT TO
ATAKOV

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

Ambassador Istvan Venczel, the head of the Ashgabad centre of the
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)