Turkmen environmentalist jailed as EU builds relationship with regime

2 Nov 2009 admin

Andrey Zatoka, environmentalist and civil society leader from Turkmenistan, was sentenced to five years in prison after being framed for assault in Dashovuz, Turkmenistan, on October 29, 2009.

On October 20, 2009, Andrey Zatoka was arrested by the police in a Dashovuz bazaar, after he was attacked by an unknown man while buying groceries for his birthday. When Andrey approached the police for help, they arrested him instead of protecting him. Andrey was a well-known civil rights & environmentalist activist, raising concerns about the impacts of fossil fuel development. Here’s Amnesty’s Urgent Action for Andrey.

European governments have stayed unsurprisingly quiet. One of the pillars of EU “energy security” strategy is construction of the Nabucco pipeline, to run from Turkey to Austria. The pipeline is intended to bring natural gas from Central Asia and the Middle East directly to Europe, without relying on Russian gas or infrastructure. Moving ahead with Nabucco relies on commitments by gas producing countries that they will sell to Europe. With Azerbaijan’s mega-Shah Deniz field unable to provide enough gas to fill Nabucco itself, attention has focused on Turkmenistan’s resources. The EU has lobbied hard for gas to be pumped west, as opposed to east to China, north to Russia or south to Iran.

Much of Turkmenistan’s Caspian territory remains unexplored, with estimates for gas reserves ranging from 4 to 38 trillion cubic metres. British oil companies, including BP, have made repeated overtures to the Turkmen government in the last two years, in the hope of securing exploration licences. Developing fields under the Caspian and exporting the gas would be comparatively for BP, as its Shah Deniz field in Azerbaijan lies close to the marine border with Turkmenistan and its South Caucasus Gas Pipeline already pumps gas across the Caucasus and into the Turkish grid.

The EU and British oil companies eagerness to access Turkmen fossil fuels enables the regime to continue repression. Kate Watters of Crude Accountability, who focus on impacts of oil development in the region, argued that Andrey Zatoka’s arrest indicates “that the west has traded away protection of human rights for access to hydrocarbons.”

A recent statement by those concerned citizens within Turkmenistan described the situation:

“There is absolutely no freedom of speech in the country. All news media is affiliated with and strictly controlled by the government. Any public expression of differing opinions is impossible. Repression includes interviews and publication in foreign mass media. Access to the Internet continues to be censored.

There is no pluralism in the country. There are no political parties. All political and social activity is strictly controlled by the authorities. It is impossible for NGOs to work legally. All civic activists are under constant control of the secret police, undergo psychological pressure, and are subject to physical threats made against them and their relatives.

The Constitution of Turkmenistan does not include the right to freely leave the country. As a result, citizens are frequently denied the freedom to leave the country or are pressured and manipulated when applying for the right to leave Turkmenistan. Journalists, civil society activists, and the relatives of those in prison are forbidden from leaving the country.

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