Turkmenistan: Government Critic Targeted with “Godfather” Technique
Turkmenistan may already have a reputation for the surreal, but as presidential elections approach, one of the last remaining government critics is being harassed by someone with an occultist fantasy and/or a fondness for Francis Ford Coppola. Shortly after speaking with Radio Liberty’s Turkmen service about the February 12 elections -- which feature seven docile challengers to the certain winner, incumbent President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov -- Natalia Shabunts reportedly found a severed sheep head on the doorstep of her home in Ashgabat. Earlier in the week, someone drew a cross out of white powder on her doormat. Activists have no doubt the bizarre measures are intended to frighten Shabunts.“Both incidents appear aimed at intimidating Shabunts, who has not refrained from criticizing the Turkmen authorities on democracy and human rights issues in her own name, despite the risks it entails for a Turkmenistan-based activist,” said a statement emailed February 3 by the Brussels-based International Partnership for Human Rights, citing a report by the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR). TIHR’s news service, Chronicles of Turkmenistan, says it has no doubt the security services wish to silence Shabunts because she tarnishes the country’s image. And for the sake of this goal, joked the author, “one of them sacrificed his own head.”
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.