In the evening of October 7, the Turkmen police have detained Galina Vertyakova (62) for speaking up on social media with critical comments regarding certain government measures. In the Russian network Odnoklassniki she openly discussed the fact that local authorities forced people to blind their windows with black paint: the situation she had personally experienced.
At 7 p.m., two visitors showed up on her doorstep: a district police officer and a representative of the criminal police. They told Vertyakova that the house management authority was going to repay her the remainder of the money they owed her, which was why she had to come with them to sign some papers.
Back in August, instead of letting her windows be painted black, Vertyakova had decided to cover them with tinted film. She hired two local housing management employees to do the job, and paid for it. After they had left, she found that her money – two thousand manats ($571 at the official exchange rate or $333 at the market rate) – was missing.
The woman turned to the head of the house management authority and filed a police report. The police decided not to proceed with the case: the house manager promised to personally pay the damages. When after a few days passed, but no reimbursement followed, Vertyakova went to the police department again. During the next meeting in the investigator’s office, the house manager gave her part of the money – 600 manats – and signed for it in the officer’s presence.
This was in early September. And up until October 7, Galina Vertyakova actively engaged in discussions of Turkmenistan-related topics in social networks. The woman wrote about «idiocy of the officials,» «inept leaders,» and about how «sick of it» she was, until they came for her under the guise of debt repayment. Vertyakova went with them to the police and never returned home.
Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN) has learned that the woman is now being accused of money extortion based on the report filed by the house manager. He denies ever paying her part of the money. The original theft report Vertyakova had filed with the police, as well as the receipt signed by the house manager have disappeared.
The 62-year-old, who had no prior convictions and who suffers from cardiac asthma, faces up to four years in prison. She was arrested on Friday night, and on Monday she was already placed in a temporary detention facility on Zhitnikova Street in Ashgabat. There she remains to this day. ATN knows that while in the police department she had heart problems, an ambulance was called, and the doctors administered “a lot of injections.»
Vertyakova’s attorney saw her and hopes that the court hearing will take place as soon as possible, so that her client is included in the list of prisoners to be pardoned in December.
Vertyakova’s family has no doubts that the woman is being persecuted because of her government criticism on social media. The police demanded that her family deliver Vertyakova’s laptop, her son, who lives in Russia, told ATN. Galina Vertyakova was planning to visit him in November.
«The police have interrogated all our neighbors; they repeatedly came to their homes and inquired about my mother,” he said. “Moreover, we were told privately that the entire ordeal was about my mother’s comments in social networks.»
While this article was prepared for publication, ATN had learned that Galina Vertyakova’s husband Vladimir Vertyakov had gone missing as well. All communication with him was lost a week ago. His landline and mobile phones are off. It was Vladimir Vertyakov who had been contacted by the police regarding the family’s laptop.
Neither Galina Vertyakova, nor her husband has Russian citizenship, but they do have an immigration status, which means they were planning to move to Russia for good.
In the recent few months, the Turkmen security services have launched a campaign against those who use the internet to express their views that do not coincide with the official line. In addition, the security services have recently detained people who made videos on their cell phones. ATN is aware of several such cases, and Galina Vertyakova’s case is yet another example.
The security services have stepped up their operations after President Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov had reprimanded the Minister of National Security Dovrangeldi Bayramov on October 4.
ATN urges the Turkmen authorities to stop the abuse of power and recall the Constitution and international provisions, which explicitly guarantee freedom of speech and expression.
The government needs to stop the arbitrary actions of the law enforcement: cooking up criminal charges for someone’s personal opinion contrary to the official line.
The Ministry of National Security of Turkmenistan needs to stop the abuse of their powers. The officers monitor «dissidents” in social networks, and then use any pretext to lure them out of their homes, and confiscate phones and computers in attempt to find incriminating evidence.
ATN urges international human rights organizations and western embassies in Turkmenistan to give serious consideration to what is happening in the country, condemn the lawlessness and, specifically, to prevent fabrication of the criminal case against Galina Vertyakova, and establish the whereabouts of her husband Vladimir Vertyakov.
Read this article in Russian: https://habartm.org/archives/5962