The Moscow-based Memorial human rights organization says police have detained a Turkmen man known for his public criticism of the Turkmen government as he arrived in Russia from Turkey.
Memorial said in a statement on March 3 that 27-year-old Rozgeldy Choliev was detained at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport the day before after he arrived from Istanbul.
According to Memorial, Choliev used to study at a university in Russia’s North Caucasus region of Karachai-Cherkessia, where he was admitted in 2018.
In 2020, he was expelled from the university after he published articles on the Internet criticizing the Turkmen government. His relatives in Turkmenistan, which is tightly controlled by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, also faced pressure at the time.
Despite the fact that he had a valid Russian visa in his passport, Russian border guards tried to send him back to Turkey, but stopped after Choliev said he wanted political asylum, emphasizing that human rights organizations were aware of his situation.
Choliev was told that due to the coronavirus pandemic, he could not enter Russia and because there are currently no flights to Turkmenistan, he must return to Turkey, where he will be met by Turkmen Embassy officials.
Choliev rejected that option, so the Russian authorities said they would invite officials from the Turkmen Consulate in Russia to “decide your situation.”
Memorial says that although Choliev is not officially wanted either in Turkmenistan or in Russia, he has not been given a chance to officially meet with Russian immigration officials to file a request for political asylum.
Government critics and human rights groups say Berdymukhammedov has suppressed dissent and made few changes in the secretive country since he came to power after the death of his authoritarian predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, in 2006.
According to Human Rights Watch, Berdymukhammedov, “his relatives, and their associates control all aspects of public life, and the authorities encroach on private life.”
Choliev, whose wife and child are in Karachai-Cherkessia, tried to come to Russia in November, but the Russian airline Aeroflot did not allow him to board the plane.
The chairwoman of the Civil Assistance rights group in Russia, Svetlana Gannushkina, said on March 3 that a lawyer from her organization will work on Choliev’s case.
“There is no doubt that in the case of a forced return to Turkmenistan, the opposition [activist] will face serious problems over his critical statements. His relatives have urged him not to come back under any circumstances,” Memorial said.
Memorial also said that Choliev’s wife, Myakhrijamal Khudainazarova, who is a student of the Karachai-Cherkessia State University, was approached by the dormitory supervisor, who checked if her stay in Russia was legal and told her that police will visit her soon.