Criminal prosecution and expulsion of environmental activist Farid Tukhbatullin

TURKMENISTAN/2002 - ongoing

Turkmenistan remains an extremely repressive and closed country. The government severely restricts all fundamental rights and freedoms, including freedoms of association, expression, and religion. Operating a nongovernmental organization without registration is punishable by a fine, short-term detention, and confiscation of property. In 2019, Turkmenistan ranked last in the Word Press Freedom Index, surpassing even the traditionally worst North Korea. The country remains closed to any independent scrutiny and activists. Independent correspondents critical of the government face intimidation, harassment, physical attacks, and imprisonment. The environmentalist Farid Tukhbatullin is one of the many who experienced this first-hand.

At the turn of the millennium, Farid Tukhbatullin was one of the leaders of the Dashoguz Ecological Club, a non-governmental organization focusing on the environmental problems affecting the Aral Sea region and protected areas. The NGO was working to raise public awareness of environmental issues and improve Turkmenistan's environmental law.

The long history of Farids´ persecution began in December 2002 when he was detained in Dashoguz for having attended a human rights conference in Moscow where members of the Turkmen political opposition were present. At that time, the Turkmen authorities launched a campaign of repression against the political opposition in connection with an attempted assassination of President Saparmurad Niyazov – the authoritative president of Turkmenistan who stood at the head of the country from 1990 until his death in 2006.

On March 4, 2003, a district court in Ashgabat found Tukhbatullin guilty of failure to report an impending crime and of illegally crossing of the state border. The court sentenced him to 3 years in prison. Following pressure from international organizations and environmental and human rights groups worldwide, the President of Turkmenistan pardoned him on April 1, 2003. Fearing further repression, Tukhbatullin left Turkmenistan and was granted political asylum in Austria where he lives till today.

However, the pressure from Turkmen authorities has not stopped with the exile as Tukhbatullin became a prominent Turkmen human rights defender. He is a chair of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, editor of the Chronicles of Turkmenistan website, and author of a satirical short story, "Erotic Fantasies of Turkmenistan."

In October 2010, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reported an imminent threat to Tukhbatullin’s life after he criticized Turkmenistan’s human rights record during a television interview. According to two independently confirmed sources, the Turkmen security services were planning an attempt at his life which might have looked like heart failure. These appeals by the two prominent human rights organizations prompted the Austrian authorities to take additional security measures to ensure Tukhbatullin’s safety.

In October 2017, the home of 76-year-old Khalida Izbastinova, mother of Farid Tukhbatullin was attacked in Dashoguz. Unknown aggressors threw several bricks and stones into her apartment. The windows of her apartment were broken; fortunately, she was not harmed. Members of civic society believe that this attack was directly connected Farid Tukhbatullin and his activities and an attempt to silence him.

"For many years, the Turkmen authorities have engaged in a pattern of intimidation, threats and violence against civic activists and journalists and their relatives. The latest attack on Khalida Izbastinova confirms once again that the authorities are prepared to use brutal force to silence the few sources of independent information on the situation in Turkmenistan, one of the world’s most closed countries. "

From Statement by the Civic Solidarity Platform, November 2017

From information provided in the report 'Dangerous work: Increasing pressure on environmental NGOs and activists in the countries of the former Soviet Union and the U.S.' prepared by Crude Accountability – Ecoforum of NGOs Kazakhstan/ 2017

Further reading:

ENG 2019 Turkmenistan events of 2019 (Human Right Watch)

ENG 2019 Turkmenistan 2019 Word Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders)

ENG 2/11/2017 Turkmenistan: Attack on the Home of Prominent Turkmen Human Rights Defender Farid Tukhbatullin’s Mother (Crude Accountability)

ENG 2/8/2017 Read Farid Tukhbatullin's Satirical Short Story "Erotic Fantasies of Turkmenistan" (Culture Trip)

ENG 2/8/2017 An interview: How Writer and Activist Farid Tukhbatullin Is Freeing the Long Suppressed Voices of His Countrymen (Culture Trip)