Privacy of Correspondence? Not in Turkmenistan

Animal welfare activist Galina Kucherenko

The Turkmen secret police have hacked into the personal e-mail and account in the Odnoklassniki social network of a local animal welfare advocate Galina Kucherenko. Since February 21, she has been unable to access these services, as the hackers changed all passwords and phone numbers required to restore the accounts.

Ms. Kucherenko has no doubts that it is the secret police that is behind the hack. She is one of the few local Turkmen activists, who has openly fought against mass extermination of animals in Ashgabat for several years.

For three days starting on October 7, 2016, her apartment was besieged by policemen and, supposedly, by house management employees, who acted at the direction of the secret police. At first, they tried to force their way in, and when that didn’t work, they resorted to deceit, hoping that Kucherenko would open the door voluntarily.

On that same day, October 7, another activist Galina Vertyakova (62), was detained in Ashgabat and subsequently convicted. The reason for detention was a groundless suspicion of extortion. The real reason, however, were her comments in social networks. Vertyakova was released after receiving pardon more than two months after arrest.

Animal welfare activist Galina Kucherenko did not open her door on that day, and recorded the entire conversation (the records were made available to ATN). After that, her home and mobile phones were disconnected, and she was left without Internet access. Kucherenko was left alone and her access was restored only after Human Rights Watch intervened, but for the next several months her entrance was «guarded” by plainclothesmen with radiophones. Kucherenko repeatedly complained to the local OSCE office, and to the Human Rights Adviser at the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, Mr. Jerome Bouyjou. In the first case, she was advised to write to the official authorities, and in the second, Kucherenko received nothing but a promise to call back, which remained a promise.

The secret police listen to all her telephone conversations, and she is still unable to leave her house for reasons of personal safety. On February 22 her wireless Internet at home was cut off and restored a few days later.

Article 37 of Turkmenistan’s Constitution guarantees individual liberty, personal and family privacy and protection from arbitrary interference, as well as from interference in secrecy of correspondence, telephone conversations and other communications. The Turkmen secret police, however, seem to be above the law.

Meanwhile, the news on mass extermination of animals in Turkmenistan, as well as the recent video by ATN was reposted in French by the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals on their website.