Today, the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) submitted an individual complaint to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention requesting that it launch an investigation into the torture of 18 Turkmen for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of association. HRF also sent U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres an open letter asking him to address Turkmenistan’s systematic repression against individuals associated with Turkish-Turkmen educational institutions inspired by Turkish preacher Fethullah Gulen. Guterres is expected to meet with Turkmenistan’s president Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov on June 13 during his tour across Central Asia.
“The torture and horrendous prison conditions imposed on these 18 Turkmen is one of the most unbearable forms of brutality that a government can inflict on its own people. The U.N. system must exert pressure on Berdymukhammedov to end this abuse,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “As U.N. secretary-general, António Guterres can use his significant influence to persuade Berdymukhammedov to release these 18 innocent men and other political prisoners,” added Halvorssen.
HRF believes that the torture and arbitrary arrest of these 18 civilians is part of Turkmenistan’s wider crackdown on individuals and institutions that follow the teachings of religious leader Fethullah Gülen, who Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for that country’s failed coup d’état in July 2016. The 18 civilians include teachers and graduates of Turkish-Turkmen educational institutions associated to Mr. Gülen’s movement. They were held incommunicado after a series of raids and arrests in September, October, and November 2016.
According to HRF’s sources, while in detention, the 18 detainees were subject to “relentless and systematic torture and degrading treatment” during interrogation sessions aimed at obtaining false confessions. The 18 detainees were wrongfully convicted of “incitement to religious hostility,” “participation in a criminal organization,” and “financing of criminal structures.” The court decision did not present any evidence that the 18 men committed any violent activities or were part of any criminal organization.
“Even ignoring the many due process violations in this case, the wrongful conviction of 18 Turkmen for being educated by institutions that follow a set of completely legitimate religious beliefs is a blatant violation of the fundamental rights of all Turkmen citizens to associate freely, and to practice whatever religion they choose. Both of these rights are enshrined in Articles 18 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 18 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” said HRF chief legal officer Javier El-Hage.
Guterres’ first trip to Central Asia began on June 8. He is scheduled to meet with the presidents of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, in addition to his meeting with Turkmen President Berdymukhammedov in Ashgabat on June 13. During his visit, he will take part in a high-level dialogue on the implementation of the U.N. Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy in Central Asia.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.
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Condemn the torture, arbitrary imprisonment, and wrongful conviction of the 18 Turkmen and demand the immediate release of the 18 Turkmen
Secretary-General of the UN
Office of Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General, Stéphane Dujarric
Address: United Nations, S-233
New York, NY 10027
Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Turkmenistan to the UN
Address: 866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 540
New York, NY 10027
Charges d’Affaires, European Union Liaison Office in Turkmenistan
Address: 1 passage Myati Kosayev str., 8 744000 Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Ministry of Justice in Turkmenistan
Phone: +933 (12) 39-19-21
Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah
President, Olympic Council of Asia
Phone: +965 22274277, +965 22274288, +965 22274299
Address: P.O Box 6706 Hawalli 32042 Kuwait
Orazov Meret Bayramovich
Ambassador, Embassy of Turkmenistan to the United States
Address: 2207 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20008