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Grigory Pasko: Fabricated charges of espionage against the ecologist Andrey Zatoka

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An appeal from Russian citizen and ecologist Andrey Zatoka, residing in Dashoguz, Turkmenistan, to you, to me, to our dear readers, to anyone listening.

I, Andrey Zatoka, ask for your help with regard to law enforcement agencies that are repressing me.

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At the moment, I am in detention and being investigated as part of an entirely fabricated case. I am accused of causing bodily harm to someone who assaulted me without cause in a bazaar. It is obvious to me that the assault was set up with the help of a non-staff assistant to the police and that everything from the apprehension to the accusation charges were planned and organised in advance. Judging by how the process is developing, this plan appears to be come from the highest levels of the Ministry of National Security (MNB).

I am facing 5 years of detention and I cannot depend on the objectivity and fairness of the court investigation when national security employees are clearly exerting pressure on the process from the sidelines.

The only thing that can help me is your intervention.

I was previously accused of fabricated charges in 2006 and only the intervention of President Putin saved me from confinement. Although I was released from detention in the courtroom, I nevertheless received a suspended sentence and wound up on the list of those banned from leaving the country on the basis that I was considered a flight risk. I appealed to various courts and agencies to remove me from this list to no avail. I could not even obtain a formal explanation for this restriction. As a result, I have not seen my mother or children for four years now, during which time my daughter got married, my grandson was born and my mother-in-law passed away and was buried.

I do not understand the reasons for the MNB’s persecution of me and can only assume that this is connected with the fact that I was closely acquainted with certain Turkmen dissidents, including Farid Tukhbatullin. I only know that I did not engage in illicit or anti-state activity, and suspicions of my behaviour could only be founded on slander, fantasies or personal enmity. I urgently ask for your help.

A statement from the International Social-Ecological Union:

The arrest of Andrey Zatoka on his birthday was the logical conclusion of three years of baiting by Turkmen law enforcement agencies. In December of 2006, the entire Russian and international ecological community was petitioning for the release of Andrey Zatoka, who was at the time detained in similar fashion: he was apprehended for a petty offence, and then sentenced on trumped up charges to a four-year suspended sentence and prohibited from leaving the country, despite the fact that he is a Russian citizen and his family is not in Turkmenistan but in Russia. What is most astonishing is that even three days after the arrest of a Russian citizen, the Russian consul in Ashkhabad did not know about this. No Russian Foreign Service representative in Turkmenistan has met with him yet and the necessary assistance has yet to be forthcoming, a violation of our diplomatic representation duties in Turkmenistan.

We are disturbed by the legal mayhem wrought upon our comrade, a Russian citizen, and demand that President Medvedev to make use of his fullest powers as the leader of a great nation to use his powers for the defence of the rights and interests of one of his fellow citizens!

Commentary

Facts that I find immediately disquieting in such cases:

The victim and the witnesses are drug addicts, people who are easily coerced under certain conditions.

The vendors in the bazaar, who saw what took place, were not questioned as witnesses.

The investigation is attempting to finish the case as quickly as possible and to transfer it to court.

The law enforcement agencies are putting strong pressure on Andrey’s friends. Andrey’s wife, Yevgenia, has flown into Dashoguz but has so far not been allowed to meet with her husband.

How can we help? Write a letter, write an appeal, make a phone call, to ambassadors, consuls, presidents. I very much hope that our Foreign Ministry will act.

A couple of words about Andrey: He is a well-known ecologist and public figure in the field of nature protection. He graduated from Urals State University in Ekaterinburg with a degree in biology. In 1982 he moved with his family to Turkmenistan. Until 1992, he worked in the Kaplankyr state reserve. He was the founder and co-chairman of the Dashoguz ecological club, the first non-governmental organisation in Turkmenistan, engaging in children’s ecological education and enlightenment from 1992 until 2003, at which point Turkmen authorities forced the closing of the club. He is the founder and co-chairman of the International Social-Ecological Union, whose membership numbers more than 300 civic ecological organisations from 19 countries around the world.

The first Zatoka was arrested in 2006 was for “unlawful storage of a weapon and strong-acting poisonous substances.” Despite the charge of only “hooliganish actions”, a search was conducted of his house during the course of which “three snakes were uncovered and a certain quantity of snake venom,” as well as “a homemade pistol and ammunition.” Ella Pamfilova, in a letter to then-President Putin, explained the specifics of a herpetologist’s work, which involves the “venom” and the “weapon”. In 2007, Russian and Turkmen Foreign Ministers Sergey Lavrov and Rashid Meredov discussed questions of Russo-Turkmen relations with an emphasis on interaction problems in the humanitarian space. Obviously, the name of the Russian ecologist had become just this “emphasis”…

While we’re on the subject, during that first arrest, authorities also attempted to charge Zatoka with the being the traditional bogey-man of the special services – conducting “espionage” in the form of transferring information beyond the borders that “besmirches the state structure.” However, after a flurry of protests in Zatoka’s defence they were forced to abandon the charge of “espionage” and keep only “venom and pistol.”

In January of 2007, a court sentenced Zatoka to a three-year suspended sentence and he was released from detention in the courtroom.

How will the case turn out now is hard to say. Is another appeal to Putin the answer?
The final thing I would like to note: the persecution of Andrey Zatoka strongly reminds me of the persecution of the human rights advocate Yevgeny Zhovtis in Kazakhstan. In both situations, the state special services are attempting to present obviously law-abiding citizens to the world as hardened criminal-recidivists.