Content Regulation / Censorship, National Security
The Sunday Times v. United Kingdom (No. 2)
Closed Contracts Expression
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In March 2017, the Supreme Court of Turkmenistan upheld lengthy sentences of imprisonment against eighteen men who had been charged with incitement to hatred and “organizing and supporting criminal organizations”. Following the attempted coup in Turkey in the summer of 2016, the Turkmen authorities began detaining individuals who supposedly had ties to Fethullah Gulen, the individual who the Turkish authorities blamed for organizing the coup. The eighteen men were held incommunicado and sentenced following a two-hour trial. The trial had been held in a pre-trial detention facility in November 2017. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Turkmenistan upheld the conviction.
Global FoE could not identify official legal and government records on the case and information on the case was derived from secondary sources. Global FoE notes that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding legal matters will be updated as an official source becomes available.
Following the attempted coup in Turkey in July 2016, Turkmenistan’s law enforcement authorities began arresting individuals for their alleged ties to Fethullah Gulen, the individual who the Turkish authorities blamed for organizing the coup. According to reports from Radio Freedom and other independent media outlets, the arrests were made to please the President of Turkey who had visited the country in November 2017.
Access to official information is incredibly difficult in Turkmenistan, and a complete and accurate figure of the number of individuals who are in detention is unknown. Most available sources estimate that some 150 persons, many of whom were prominent businessmen, had been arrested for their alleged connections to Fethullah Gulen. Radio Freedom reported that the majority of those detained had been released after questioning, with some having been allegedly tortured while in detention. However, a group of eighteen men were kept incommunicado, prosecuted, and sentenced for allegedly having connections with Mr. Gulen. Sixteen of the eighteen men studied in Turkey, and worked at schools affiliated with Gulen and his movement. Reports also indicate that two renowned businessmen, Mr. Resul Atageldyev and Mr. Dovlet Atayev, were among those sentenced.
Seventeen men were charged under Articles 177 (incitement to hatred) and 274 (organizing and supporting criminal groups) of the Turkmen Criminal Code. One of the men was also charged under Article 136(3), which penalizes sexual offenses against minors.
Their trial was held on February 8, 2017, in a pre-trial detention center in Yashlyk (a town near Turkmenistan’s capital). The government appointed four lawyers to represent the men.
Although the prosecution argued that the group supported a terrorist organization, the court verdict did not list the names of any individuals or terrorist groups that the eighteen men supposedly supported.
The trial lasted two hours and the court found them guilty on all charges. Nine men received 25 years in prison. The remaining 12 men were sentenced to 12 years in a prison colony with a strict regime. The court also ordered the authorities to confiscate their and their families’ property.
The eighteen appealed the conviction. However, on March 15, 2017, the Supreme Court of Turkmenistan upheld the lower court’s decision. The official verdict of the Supreme Court of Turkmenistan has been classified as confidential, and has not been made available to the public.
Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.
Although the official verdict to this case is not available due to it having been classified by the Turkmen authorities, on its face it contradicts international principles of fair trial, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to property. Furthermore, if the those convicted actually were associated with Fethullah Gulen, their conviction violates the right to freedom of association. The decision exemplifies the arbitrary nature of prosecutions in Turkmenistan, a country that received just 4 out of 100 possible points in the most recent Freedom in the World Report prepared by Freedom House. However, of particular concern, is the extent to which the Turkish authorities will pursue individuals who they believe are associated with Fethullah Gulen.
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