Washington D.C.: In response to a petition filed by Freedom Now, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (Working Group) issued an opinion finding the detention of political activist Gulgeldy Annaniyazov by the Government of Turkmenistan a violation of international law. The Working Group—an independent panel of five human rights experts from around the world—calls for Mr. Annaniyazov’s release.

Mr. Annaniyazov is a Turkmen human rights activist and political dissident. After organizing a nonviolent anti-government demonstration in Turkmenistan in 1995, he was arrested and sentenced to 15 years in prison. The government released Mr. Annaniyazov five years later as part of an amnesty, and he fled with his family to Norway.

On June 24, 2008, Mr. Annaniyazov traveled from Norway, where he had been living in asylum with his family, back to his native Turkmenistan. Later that day, plain-clothed officers arrested him at his parents’ home in Ashgabat. Approximately three months later, a court sentenced Mr. Annaniyazov to 11 years in prison. The trial was closed and the court’s verdict was not made available to Mr. Annaniyazov’s family. Since that time, no one—not even his family—has seen or heard from him.

In its opinion, the Working Group held that Mr. Annaniyazov’s detention is arbitrary because it violated his fundamental right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Further, the Working Group noted that the government failed to address serious procedural deficiencies in the prosecution of Mr. Annaniyazov. In addition to affirming Mr. Annaniyazov’s right to release, the Working Group stated that he should be compensated and referred his case to the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances.

“We welcome the Working Group’s opinion,” said Maran Turner, Executive Director of Freedom Now. “As we approach International Human Rights Day on December 10, we call on the Turkmen Government to comply with the Working Group’s opinion and release Mr. Annaniyazov immediately. His peaceful work as a political activist is clearly protected under international law and the Turkmen government must allow him to be reunited with his family.”

Freedom Now serves as international pro bono legal counsel to Mr. Annaniyazov.