Khadzhiyev and Muradova v. Turkmenistan

Court:
UN Human Rights Committee
Country:
Turkmenistan
Status:
Active
Death in Custody of Human Rights Activist after Secret Trial

Ogulsapar Muradova, a journalist and human rights activist, died in custody in Turkmenistan in September 2006. The Turkmen authorities had tortured her, and then convicted her of crimes at a secret trial that the public was barred from. The authorities have never adequately investigated her death or provided redress, but instead persecuted her family members when they brought attention to her case. The actions of the authorities were designed to stop Muradova’s journalism and human rights activism, to punish her for it, and to discourage others who might take up her work.

Facts

Muradova was a journalist and human rights activist in Turkmenistan, who co-founded the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and worked with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Around June 18, 2006, the police arrested Muradova, and interrogated her without a lawyer—apparently using physical abuse and/or forcible use of drugs. They also detained her children and two of her colleagues. During a televised government meeting the day after her arrest, the Turkmen President called Muradova and her colleagues “traitors” who should be “condemned”.

Muradova was held in custody—with virtually no connection to the outside world—until her trial on August 25, 2006. The authorities tried to make her “confess” to the crimes she had been charged with—weapons possession charges that were apparently unrelated to the political opposition that government officials had condemned. She passed a message to her family that she “could not stand the mistreatment”.  

On August 25, 2006, Muradova and her colleagues were convicted following a closed trial that lasted less than two hours. Even her lawyer may have been barred from the courtroom. Muradova received a six-year prison sentence. The court never issued a written decision.

On September 14, 2006, Muradova’s family learned that she had died in custody, which the authorities then confirmed.. Injuries to her body indicated that she died a violent death, including a deep cut in her forehead, a dark mark around her neck suggesting strangulation, three wounds on one of her hands, swelling and bruising to one of her ankles, and a large bruise on her thigh. The Turkmen government refused the family’s request for a copy of any autopsy report, ignored requests for an independent autopsy, never investigated the circumstances of Muradova’s death, and claimed that she died of natural causes. Recently, the government claimed that it had investigated her death—without providing any information about that investigation—and that she had committed suicide.

In addition to failing to adequately investigate her mistreatment and death, the Turkmen authorities have refused to provide redress to her family, and persecuted Muradova’s children when they tried to draw international attention to her case. As a result, her children could not pursue any domestic remedies.

Turkmenistan continues to persecute human rights activists and independent journalists like Muradova.

Open Society Justice Initiative Involvement

The Open Society Justice Initiative filed a petition to the U.N. Human Rights Committee on behalf of Muradova’s brother, Annadurdy Khadzhiyev.

Arguments

Arbitrary Killing. Muradova died—apparently as a result of physical violence—in the custody of the Turkmen authorities. The state has not investigated her death or provided a plausible explanation for it, and is therefore responsible for her arbitrary killing in violation of Article 6(1) ICCPR (right to life).

Torture. Muradova was subjected to physical abuse while in custody, which lead to her death, in violation of Article 7 ICCPR (prohibition of torture).

Lack of Safeguards. Turkmenistan failed to take measures to protect Muradova from torture and from the arbitrary deprivation of her life, in violation of Articles 6(1) and 7 ICCPR in conjunction with Article 2(2).

Failure to Conduct an Effective Investigation. Turkmenistan failed to investigate Muradova’s torture and death, in violation of Articles 6(1) and 7 ICCPR in conjunction with Article 2(3).

Failure to Provide Redress. Turkmenistan failed to provide access to effective remedies for the torture and death of Muradova, in further violation of Articles 6(1) and 7 ICCPR in conjunction with Article 2(3).

Failure to Have a Judge Rule on Pre-Trial Detention. The law in effect when Muradova was arrested provided for a prosecutor rather than a judge to rule on her detention, in violation of Article 9(3) ICCPR.

Violation of Fair Trial Rights. The Turkmen authorities publicly declared Muradova’s guilt before her trial, denied her prompt effective assistance of a lawyer—including during interrogation, closed her trial to the public, and prevented her from meaningfully appealing her conviction by failing to issue a written verdict. This violated her rights under Article 14 ICCPR.

Arbitrary Detention and Freedom of Expression. The Turkmen authorities arbitrarily detained, tortured and killed Muradova to silence her journalism and human rights activism, in violation of Articles 9(1) and 19 ICCPR.

Timeline

June 18, 2006. Turkmen police arrest Muradova.
August 25, 2006. Muradova and colleagues convicted of weapons-related offenses during secret trial. Muradova sentenced to six year prison term.
September 14, 2006. Muradova’s family learns that she has died in custody. 
June 15, 2011. U.N. Committee against Torture states that it is “deeply concerned about numerous and consistent reports on a number of deaths in custody and on the alleged restrictions on independent forensic examination into the cases of such deaths, including the case of Ogulsapar Muradova” and urges Turkmenistan to investigate all incidents of death in custody and prosecute those responsible. Turkmenistan takes no action.
March 2012. Turkmen official claims to the U.N. Human Rights Committee that Muradova’s death was a “suicide”. The Committee expresses concern “at reports of the harassment and intimidation of journalists and human rights defenders in the State party” and urges Turkmenistan to “ensure that journalists, human rights defenders and individuals are able to freely exercise their right to freedom of expression in accordance with the Covenant.” Turkmenistan has not responded.
April 9, 2013.  Communication filed with the U.N. Human Rights Committee.