Senator Sam Brownback, Chairman
Rep. Christopher H. Smith, Co-Chairman
For Immediate Release
April 4, 2006
54 MEMBERS OF CONGRESS WRITE PRESIDENT OF TURKMENISTAN URGING RELEASE OF PRISONER OF CONSCIENCE
(Washington) – Fifty-four members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives wrote the President of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov, urging the immediate and unconditional release of prisoner of conscience, Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev.
“This bipartisan initiative sends a clear message to President Niyazov on congressional concern over the plight of Mr. Durdykuliev, an individual who has languished in a psychiatric hospital for two years simply for attempting to exercise his right to freedom of expression,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). “We urge Mr. Niyazov to set this gentleman free without further delay and cease imprisoning dissidents in psychiatric hospitals.”
The full text of the letter, including a list of all 54 signatories, is available on the U.S. Helsinki Commission’s web site at www.csce.gov.
“The unjust detention of Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev flies in the face of the fundamental freedoms Mr. Niyazov accepted when he signed the Helsinki Final Act on behalf of his country in 1992,” stressed Commission Co-Chairman Representative Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “We had hoped such Soviet-esque punishments had ended with the collapse of the USSR, so we urge President Niyazov to end this practice, beginning with the immediate release of Mr. Durdykuliev.”
In January 2004, Mr. Durdykuliev requested permission for a public demonstration protesting government policies. He had earlier repeatedly criticized President Niyazov’s policies in Radio Liberty interviews and had spoken openly about the need for an opposition political party in Turkmenistan. In response to his letter requesting permission for a public demonstration, he was forcibly confined to a psychiatric hospital in February 2004.
Senator Christopher J. Dodd [D-CT], Helsinki Commission Senate Ranking Member, decried the jailing of dissidents in psychiatric institutions, as was done during the Soviet period. “The practice of using psychiatric hospitals to punish political dissidents is despicable,” he said. “Others should never have to suffer through what Mr. Durdykuliev has experienced.”
Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin [D-MD], Commission Ranking House Member, called on President Niyazov to consider steps beyond releasing Mr. Durdykuliev. “We urge President Niyazov to personally intervene to end the injustices perpetrated against Mr. Durdykuliev. Mr. Niyazov must begin to open the political space for dissenting views, as he promised to do when Turkmenistan joined the OSCE.”
Several hospital medical staff reportedly told Mr. Durdykuliev’s relatives that they had not found any sign of mental illness but that authorities had pressured them to diagnose him as mentally ill. Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev is believed to be in a poor state of health, suffering from fever, severe stomach pains, and the after-effects of a heart attack. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for expressing his peaceful views.
The human rights situation in Turkmenistan remains grave. According to the State Department’s recently released Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, “Turkmenistan is an authoritarian state dominated by president-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov.... The government continued to commit serious abuses and its human rights record remained extremely poor.”
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.
Media Contact: Sean Woo
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Citizenship and Political Rights
Freedom of Speech and Expression
Right of Peaceful Assembly