A Turkmen officer receives hands-on training on the use of vehicle inspection equipment.
Najot, a human rights group in the Khorezm region of Uzbekistan which borders on Turkmenistan, has reportedly obtained a secret decree signed by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, set to go into effect August 1, allegedly proposing tougher measures for entry and exit from and to Turkmenistan by citizens and foreigners, the Expert Working Group of Uzbekistan reports.
The Russian-language document is being circulated by Hayitboy Yakubov, head of Najot (which means "Rescue") and a member of the Expert Working Group, via email and the Yahoo group hr-uzbekistan. Najot is the same group that recently published allegations of forced sterilization of women in Uzbekistan, and earlier this year claimed to have obtained the record of a special session of the Cabinet of Ministers on the tightening of security measures, indicating that the Turkmen government might foreign advice (possibly from China?) on how to step up control of the internal situation and the borders.
Naturally, like many others, we wondered how a little human rights group in Khorezm region in Uzbekistan could have access to the notoriously closed Turkmen government's secret documents in Ashgabat. And that naturally prompts speculation of someone within the Turkmen security ministry deliberately leaking the document for various motives -- instilling more fear into dissidents, or exposing his bosses and his agency as inept, if NGOs can get ahold of such material and make for a mini-Wikileaks in their region. Another hypothesis could involve Uzbek "special services" trying to discredit their neighbors -- the two countries are not the warmest of friends.
The document , said by Yakubov to be obtained by "usually reliable sources", references purported lists of undesirables, but does not provide precise names, and instead has categories. The document references a list of 37,057 people who are not allowed to leave Turkmenistan because they work in various government agencies or are the subject of intelligence surveillance. A second list indicates the following categories of those barred from entry to Turkmenistan:
o political refugees -- 268
o representatives of international organizations -- 132
o journalists -- 73
o criminals and recidivists -- 1,684
o NGO representatives, including Turkmen NGOs operating abroad -- 296
We're relieved to see *that* list is fairly short -- but of course, anxious to know if we're on it!
The online Central Asian news service ferghana.ru has dug some more, and said it has obtained some of the names of individuals and organizations on the list, which allegedly include Amnesty Intenational, the Soros Foundation, Open Society Institute, Memorial Human Rights Center and others.
Farid Tuhbatullin, an exiled civic activist from Turkmenistan who lives in Austria and heads the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, says he is reportedly placed number no. 8 on the list, and Vitaly Ponomaryov, the Central Asian expert for the Russian organization Memorial Human Rights Center at no. 11. While still in the top 20, their placement seems a bit disappointing, and not reflective of these activists' hard work under difficult circumstances.
Yet another longer list of people barred from entry doesn't supply the possible reasons for their ban:
o Iran -- 344
o Afghanistan -- 475
o Turkey -- 2,004
o Arab countries -- 69
o Russia -- 1,748
o Germany -- 11
o U.S. -- 31
o EU -- 34
o Uzbekistan -- 2,814
o Tajikistan -- 261
o Georgia -- 9
o Kyrgyzstan -- 376
o Kazakhstan -- 54
o Norway -- 6
o Canada -- 3
Some people find out they are on the blacklist after they have already arrived at the airport with their suitcases, and even with passports and visas in order; others are denied visas inexplicably, and it might be due to this list -- if it is real, and we have no way of verifying it. The reality is that the Turkmen authorities *do* bar people from leaving or entering the country all the time, so that's why the story could gain credence.
All in all, an unfortunate "present" for the 35th anniversary of the signing of the Helsinki Accords on August 1, 1975, in which governments pledged to increase the freedom of movement of people and information across frontiers.
The U.S. and other members of the Organization and Security and Cooperation in Europe, which implements the Helsinki agreements, havespentmillions training Turkmen border guards and helping Turkmenistan to strengthen its borders, which include Afghanistan and Iran. They might want to ask Ashgabat to confirm the list and publish it, and explain why people who do not pose a recognizable threat to national security are on it.