Former Deputy of Turkmenistan Receives Political Asylum

March 11, 2002 Washington, D.C. ...Appearing cautious but eloquent, a former deputy of the Turkmenistan government addressed panelists and delegates on Capitol Hill on March 7. The briefing on U.S. Policy in Central Asia and Human Rights Concerns was organized by the United States Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). The CSCE is an independent government agency that monitors religious freedom around the world and makes recommendations to the U.S. government on how to promote religious freedom.

The former deputy (name withheld for security reasons) was granted political asylum on March 4, 2002. "There is currently no government official in Turkmenistan who can positively influence President Saparmurad Niyazov," reported the former deputy, and "thus international pressure must continue."

"There is no political dissent within Turkmenistan as most political opponents to Niyazov are in exile or in prison, and the prisons are in no way like the prisons here in the U.S.," commented Dr. Rinat Akhmetshin from the International Eurasian Institute for Economic and Political Research. Dr. Akhmetshin says that organizations like the International Religious Liberty Association (IRLA) can help by organizing letter-writing campaigns to their Congressperson, and speaking up on issues of human rights violations at high-level meetings such as the United Nations.

"We are deeply concerned and sad over the situation and will do all we can to continue to raise awareness of human rights violations going on in Turkmenistan. No doubt this issue will be addressed at the Human Rights Commission in Geneva at the end of March," assured Dr. Jonathan Gallagher, United Nations Liaison director for the International Religious Liberty Association.

Bordered by Afghanistan and Iran to the south and the Caspian Sea to the west, Turkmenistan only recognizes Sunni Muslims, which makes up 89 percent of the population, and Eastern Orthodox that totals about 9 percent. Many minority groups, including Adventists, have been harassed, arrested, imprisoned and tortured. In November 1999, the only Adventist Church in Ashgabat, the capital, was destroyed by the government. On December 21, Maryam Ismakayeva, an Adventist, was evicted from her apartment for holding meetings there and denied alternative accommodation.

Turkmenistan president Saparmurad Niyazov, a former Communist leader, took power in October 1990. In 1999 he arranged to be elected president for life, thus confirming his complete domination of government.

Chartered in 1893, the IRLA has promoted and defended religious freedom for 109 years. The IRLA, originally organized by leaders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is universal and non-sectarian, seeking to address religious freedom concerns for all faith communities. For more information about IRLA, visit www.irla.org.