Two Turkmen activists in exile who attempted to gain entry to a regional human rights meeting in Warsaw today were turned away by officials who said the Turkmen government objected to their presence at the conference, human rights groups told EurasiaNet.
Nurmuhammet Hanamov, founding chairman of the Republican Party of Turkmenistan in exile who now resides in Vienna, and Annadurdy Hajiev, co-founder of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and former deputy chairman of the Central Bank of Turkmenistan who has obtained political asylum in Bulgaria, were denied admission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Review Conference when they arrived in Poland today. A third activist, Farid Tuhbatullin, head of the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights who lives in Vienna, declined to travel to Warsaw when he learned that he might expect trouble with registration.
The 7-day meeting to look at human rights progress and remaining obstacles among the 56 member states, opened in Warsaw September 30 and will run through October 8. Further sessions of the conference, the largest human rights event in Europe and Eurasia with hundreds of delegates and activists in attendance are planned for continuation in Vienna later this month and in Astana in late November, leading to an OSCE summit of heads of state in December in Astana.
The activists turned to the U.S. and other delegations with a request to raise the issue of permission for their attendance with the OSCE chair-in-office and the Turkmen government. Under OSCE rules established in 1992, any state may object to a participation of a non-governmental activist but only if they are able to show they advocated or used violence or engaged in terrorism. All three activists have pursued only peaceful change of the practices of the oppressive Turkmen government and have refugee status in exile as they face a well-founded fear of persecution if they were to return to their homeland.
Currently, the OSCE has their registration "under consideration," Western diplomats said privately. They have not yet been formally denied registration to the conference, which is a fairly simple affair involving presentation of a valid passport and indication of organizational affiliation. Both Hanamov and Hajiev have participated in past OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meetings (HDIM) in Warsaw without any trouble -- a precedent that Western diplomats are likely to invoke.
But this year is a summit year, for the first time in 11 years since the heads of state convened in Istanbul. That means instead of the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) making the call about an NGO's qualifications, reportedly the issue has been referred to the OSCE secretariat in Vienna, and to the chair-in-office, currently Kazakhstan.
While regulations regarding the participation of civil society have a narrowly-defined stipulation regarding the right to object to individuals found to have incited violence or engaged in terrorism, some states have exploited this clause to raise politicized objections even to non-violent opposition parties and human rights monitors. Western states have in the past reacted swiftly to attempts by some post-Soviet states such as Turkmenistan to try to block their domestic critics. At this conference, some Central Asian states have increasinly pushed the concept of denying entry to some NGOs due to the objection of any delegation, hoping to gain credence with increasing U.S. and European concerns about terrorist attacks.
The State Department issued a travel warning for Europe this week regarding reports of plans for terrorist attacks, but the reports were tied to France, United Kingdom and Germany and not believed to relate to Poland. At the OSCE, while in the past the U.S. has conceded concerns such as Turkey's objections to the PKK as a terrorist group, they have rejected claims by Central Asian states that known peaceful human rights activists or political exiles fall into the same category and have advocated for their permission to participate in the meeting.
The Turkmen activists actively worked the corridors and lounges to persuade delegations to raise their case. They're hoping the U.S. and others will challenge what is widely viewed as a politically-motivated action and obtain entry to the meeting for the two exiled Turkmens by tomorrow. If they aren't registered in the morning, some delegations are likely to begin raising the issue publicly in the sessions.
[UPDATE] The European Union, Canada, the U.S., and Norway raised a point of order at the OSCE Review Conference October 5 in Warsaw, questioning the decision of the OSCE not to register the two Turkmen NGOs. The Kazakh chair has claimed -- falsely in the view of Western delegates -- that the modalities for NGOs differ between the HDIM and Review Conference meetings. The U.S. requested a written decision from the OSCE Secretary General by noon regarding the reasons for the rejection. The insistence by the Kazakh chair that when differences among states emerge over interpretation of the rules for NGO admissions, they must be harmonized opens up a terrible precedent for the OSCE summit in Astana in December, as any NGO disliked by any state could find themselves without registration or an entry visa.
NGOs from Central Asia are particularly concerned about the terrible precedent it would be set if states begin to pick and chose which NGOs they will allow into human rights review meetings, thus shielding themselves from criticism. The issue will become increasingly critical as NGOs lobby for the right to travel to Kazakhstan in November, and participate in both the official meeting as well as to organize parallel NGO conference as well as side events.
With this OSCE Review Conference, Turkmenistan is maintaining a long tradition of boycotting OSCE meetings where exiles or other human rights groups are expected to take the floor to expose Turkmenistan's poor human rights record, and its seat at the OSCE table is empty.
Usually NGOs sign up some weeks in advance to ensure that they are able to organize visas and accommodation. This year, with negotiations over the controversial summit stalled right up to a ministerial meeting in July, the plans for the three-part conference in three different cities were made late by the OSCE. There appear to be less NGOs in attendance that in past years at HDIM, despite the impending summit, because the agenda items were finalized with little time left before the opening, and activists, particularly with limited resources, were unsure when to come. Even so, at least 15 activists from Central Asia whose travel was supported by OSCE missions have attended and spoken in the sessions as well as in side events hosted by NGOs.
Hajiev is the brother of Ogulsapar Muradova, a journalist arrested in 2006 who died in custody. His brother Sapardury Hajiev, was also imprisoned. In 2002. Hajiev sought political asylum in Bulgaria that year when past dictator Saparmurat Niyazov was still in power. The Turkmen government then made a request for his extradition through Interpol, claiming he had committed financial crimes while serving as a state banker. A Bulgarian court rejected the claim, and Hajiev remained in Sofia. Then again in 2007, under President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, the request to extradite him was renewed, and defeated again.