Turkmen Government Shake-Up Over Student Rape, Murder
The Turkmen government has been shaken up this month by a reported rape and murder of one student and assault of another at the prestigious Turkmen Polytechnical Institute, human rights activists report. The tragedy has rocked the academic world and led to the dismissal of Deputy Prime Minister Khydyr Saparlyyev, responsible for education, and other officials.
The Turkmenistan Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) reports that one evening earlier this month, three male students at the Polytechnical Institute invited three female students to a party at a rented apartment. The young women accepted the invitation, but then found that the men expected them to have sex with them. When they refused, the male students reportedly set upon them, raping and strangling one woman and beating and attempting to suffocate another who is now in intensive care in the hospital. The third woman managed to escape and contact the police.
Evidently it was not the first time such an incident had occurred, but the news reached President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and heads rolled.
The state media was completely silent about the tragedy, but a report of a February 11 cabinet meeting did quote President Berdymukhamedov referring obliquely to a "negative incident" that occurred due to "insufficient organization of education work with students". As a result, the Turkmen leader announced the dismissal of Deputy Prime Minister Saparlyyev, responsible for education, due to "serious shortcomings in the organization of the educational process".
Also dismissed were the deputy minister for higher and secondary vocational schools, the rector of the Turkmen Polytechnic Institute; and the provost for academic affairs. Vice Premier B. Hojamukhammedov was given a warning as well. The president ordered the minister for education to increase mentoring and tutoring of students and ensure they had access to more extra-curricular activities, expressing great discontent with the work of the official state youth organization. Curiously, President Berdymukhamedov then installed the ostensibly disgraced Saparlyyev as rector of the very same Polytechnical Institute where the crime had taken place for which he was demoted, saying he had taken into account his long career and experience in the field.
The Polytechnical Institute is one of the most prestigious institutions in Turkmenistan and prepares highly-qualified students for the gas and construction industries.
A letter published last week from a student at another university described the strict regimen students have been kept under, subjected to frequent searches of their dormitory rooms, forced to keep an early curfew of 8:00 pm and denied the right to rent apartments off campus. Yet despite such harsh controls, apparently some students have evaded supervision.
Earlier, this month, TIHR received another report that a boy was killed at Ashgabat School No. 64 in a fight, leading to the dismissal of the school principal. President Berdymukhamedov's sister reportedly made a visit to the school to investigate the case, although she has no official authority to do so.