Environmentalist arrested in Turkmenistan
Andrei Zatoka, a well-known environmentalist and public activist has been arrested accused of inflicting injuries on an unidentified individual which he denies. The Memorial Human Rights Centre states that this is not the first attempt by the Turkmenistan authorities to prosecute him.
According to the Memorial statement, “friends of the 53-year-old environmentalist report that he was set upon by an unknown person “of down-and-out appearance” while buying food at a bazaar. Andrei tried to hold him at a distance, then, realizing that this was deliberate provocation, began running away from the assailant, calling on the police. However two police officers on duty nearby arrested Andrei Zatoka. At around 9 in the evening staff of the city police department promised to release him which he passed on by telephone to a friend. However he was soon told that he would remain in custody as he was suspected of inflicting medium severity bodily injuries (concussion and a closed arm fracture) on a passer-by out of hooliganism. This was supposedly confirmed by a medical assessment and the evidence of three “witnesses”.
In December 2006 the Turkmenistan authorities also tried to prosecute Zatoka on dubious charges, however on 31 January 2007, shortly after the death of Niyazov, the court passed a suspended sentence. The case elicited considerable protest from international organizations.
The Dashoguz Environmental Club which Zatoka organized was stripped of registration and closed by the authorities in 2003.
Andrei’s friends report that in recent years he has been prohibited from leaving the country and that in July the police questioned his neighbours explaining their actions as due to anonymous reports to the police in which the environmentalist was accused of organizing a den.
The Memorial Human Rights Centre believes that the new incident reflects a harsher internal policy by President Berdymukhamedov since last year following an easing in criticism of the regime by the West which is interested in access to Turkmenistan energy resources.”