For 12 years, Tatyana Shikmuradova has wondered if her husband is alive or dead. Authorities in her country, Turkmenistan, have answered none of her queries.
Her husband, former Foreign Minister Boris Shikmuradov, was one of dozens arrested, charged, sentenced and jailed within days of a purported assassination attempt on former Turkmen dictator Saparmurat Niyazov on November 25, 2002. The New York Times characterized the show trials aired on Turkmenistan’s state-run television at the time as “the most chilling public witch hunt since Stalin.”
At his trial, Shikmuradov – whom the police claimed to have “picked up with drugs in his pockets” – admitted to being an “addict” and a “thug.” Sentenced to 25 years, Shikmuradov’s prison term was increased to life the day after his trial. His sentincing was clearly political, activists say.
“I need to know where my husband is,” Tatyana Shikmuradova pleads in a new video released by Human Rights Watch to mark the anniversary. “For the past 12 years now I haven’t been able to get any information.”
The video is part of the Prove They Are Alive campaign, which demands Turkmenistan provide proof of life of the missing, or admit they are dead. From Human Rights Watch’s statement:
According to Prove They Are Alive!, several other waves of arrests and unfair trials on trumped-up charges at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s resulted in yet more enforced disappearances. In many cases, their families have been unable to learn anything about their imprisoned relatives from the government since.
Many are former officials or public figures who fell out of favor with the former government. For example, Tirkish Tyrmyev, former head of the border service, was sentenced in 2002 to 10 years in prison on abuse-of-office charges. In 2012 the authorities extended his sentence by seven years for allegedly violating prison rules.
Another victim is Gulgeldy Annaniyazov, a former Turkmen political prisoner who had lived in exile in Norway since 2002. Annaniyazov was arrested promptly upon his return to Turkmenistan in June 2008 and sentenced soon afterward to 11 years on charges that were not made public.
The wave of arrests following the alleged assassination plot extended to suspects’ family members. Some of the “disappeared” were apparently no more than relatives of the accused.
Sapar Yklymov’s three brothers were among those swept up in 2002. “They did not have any lawyers at their trials,” Yklymov says in the video. “This I know.” He has had no news of them since their disappearance.
Though Turkmenistan is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN’s Human Rights Committee has long voiced concerns about Turkmenistan’s “practice of incommunicado detention and imprisonment,” which constitute a violation of the prohibition on torture and inhuman treatment. Turkmenistan is widely considered one of the most closed and repressive countries on the planet.