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Turkey asked to halt deportation of Turkmen activist

Dursoltan Taganova is at risk of arbitrary detention and torture if deported, human rights campaigners have warned
Social media picture of Dursoltan Taganova (Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights)

Human rights organisations have condemned plans by Turkish authorities to deport an activist to Turkmenistan, where they fear she will likely face arbitrary arrest and torture.

Dursoltan Taganova was detained by police in Istanbul in July after a protest outside the Turkmenistan embassy over the government's handling of the coronavirus crisis.

'Turkmenistan is known to severely harass and punish peaceful critics of the government'

- Hugh Williamson, HRW

The meeting had been banned by the authorities, who cited Covid-19-related risks. Around 80 Turkmen citizens - largely migrant workers - were arrested following a complaint by the Turkmenistan consulate, according to Human Rights Watch.

Taganova, 29, a fierce critic of Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, is the only one now still in custody and is currently being held in a deportation centre.

Turkmenistan is regularly described as one of the world's most repressive states by NGOs and human rights campaigners. In 2020, Freedom House ranked the country as the third least free nation in the world, below North Korea and Eritrea. Only Syria and South Sudan received worse scores.

Eleven human rights organisations, including a number of Turkmen groups, have called on Turkey to prevent Taganova's deportation, warning that she will be dealt with severely if she returns to the country.

“Turkmenistan is known to severely harass and punish peaceful critics of the government,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement on Monday.

“To return Dursoltan Taganova to Turkmenistan would place her at grave risk of persecution and torture. Turkey should abide by its international obligations not to send her anywhere she could face ill-treatment.”

'Serious risk of torture'

Taganova has lived in Turkey since 2011, the year her passport expired. She was regularly told by the Turkmenistan consulate in Istanbul that she would need to return to her home country to renew her passport, something she feared would lead to her being forbidden from leaving again.

Although Turkey is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the country prevents refugees from non-European countries from attaining full refugee status.

The country currently hosts more than 3.6m refugees from Syria, but the Turkish government refers to them as "guests", meaning they do not have official refugee status or the associated protections that come with it.

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However, HRW pointed out that Turkey was also a signatory of the 1998 United Nations Convention Against Torture, which prevents deportation to any country where the subject is likely to be at risk of torture.

“Turkish authorities have little basis for keeping Taganova, an asylum seeker, in custody and should immediately and unconditionally release her,” said Tadzhigul Begmedova, director of the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, in a statement.

“Turkish authorities should also ensure that she will not be sent back to Turkmenistan, where she is at serious risk of torture.”

Turkmenistan, one of the Central Asian "Turkic" states, has close relations with Turkey, which is one of the few countries that allows Turkmen citizens to travel without a visa for 30 days.