Turkmen activist in Turkey facing grave risk if deported - HRW

Turkish authorities are holding Turkmen activist Dursoltan Taganova in a migrant detention centre, from where she is scheduled to be deported to her native Turkmenistan, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.

Taganova will face grave risk of arbitrary arrest and torture if she is deported, according to a statement released by 11 human rights organisations.

The activist has appealed for asylum in Turkey, HRW said, and Turkey’s international partners should urge Ankara to uphold its legal obligations to not deport her to a country, where her life and security would be in danger.

“Turkmenistan is known to severely harass and punish peaceful critics of the government,” HRW Europe and Central Asia Director Hugh Williamson said.

Taganova was detained in Istanbul in July, among a group of Turkmens planning to join a protest in front of their consulate to call on Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov to resign over his government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Turkish authorities banned the demonstration citing pandemic- related concerns, and some 80 Turkmens were detained on July 19, the day of the protest.

Taganova was the only Turkmen citizen left in Turkish police custody after several hours, her lawyers told HRW. The Turkmen consulate had filed a complaint against the protesters, specifically mentioning the 29-year-old activist by name. Taganova faced accusations that she and four other Turkmen citizens threatened violence against Turkmen diplomats.

The activist was charged with violating Turkey’s law on gatherings and demonstrations, and was transferred to a deportation centre for exceeding the duration of her visa and

“preparing to attend” the demonstration. She was also told she had been “protesting against Turkey.”

Taganova’s passport had expired, and she was told by the Turkmen consulate that she had to go back to her country to renew it. Fearing for her safety, she remained in Turkey and has been undocumented for some time.

In the migrant detention centre, Taganova applied for asylum and was waiting for a response.

The next day, on July 20, Istanbul’s Migration Directorate ruled to deport her, on the grounds that she posed a danger to public order. Three days later, she applied to be released, and on July 27 her appeal was denied. She was transferred to a larger detention centre 200 km outside of Istanbul.

Turkey has “little basis for keeping Taganova, an asylum seeker, in custody,” Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights Director Tadzhigul Begmedova said.

Although non-European citizens can’t apply for full asylum in Turkey, the country’s international obligations require it to uphold the non-refoulement principle and not return individuals to countries where they risk persecution, or torture and mistreatment.

Dozens have been forcibly disappeared in Turkmen prisons under the country’s extreme oppression of dissidence and political expression, HRW said, as the government imprisons human rights defenders, activists and journalists or drives them into exile.