Turkmenistan Detains Animal-Rights Activist

Police in Turkmenistan have detained a noted animal-rights activist who colleagues say had previously faced threats due to her efforts against the killing of stray cats and dogs.

Galina Kucherenko, 52, was detained along with her adult daughter on December 7 after police stormed their apartment in the capital, Ashgabat, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) and a colleague.

Turkmen human rights activist Natalya Shabunts told the foreign-based Alternative News of Turkmenistan news agency that Kucherenko phoned her that day and told her that unknown people had entered her apartment and were trying to take her away.

Minutes later, Kucherenko's daughter, Valeria, phoned Shabunts and told her that police had forcibly removed her and her mother from their apartment, the report said.

Shabunts came to Kucherenko's apartment but found it locked with a dog barking inside, according to the report.

HRW said in a December 8 statement that police "dragged Kucherenko across the floor" as they were detaining her, and that the activist's current whereabouts was unknown.

An HRW researcher spoke with an officer at the Ashgabat police station where Valeria Kucherenko, who was subsequently released, was taken, the statement said.

The officer told the researcher by phone "that Galina Kucherenko had been taken to court but did not provide details on when she would appear before the court, what charges she would face, and where she would be taken after her court appearance," according to the statement.

Rights activists say Kucherenko has received numerous threats from law enforcement officials in Ashgabat for her activities against mass killings by the authorities of stray dogs and cats in the Central Asian country.

"The detention of Kucherenko and her daughter is a stark reminder of the threat that people in Turkmenistan face if they criticize the government," Rachel Denber, HRW's deputy director for Europe and Central Asia, said.

"The Turkmen government tolerates no criticism, not even on the treatment of stray animals," she added.

HRW said Turkmenistan's "international partners should urgently and publicly call on the Turkmen government to disclose Kucherenko's whereabouts and release her immediately."

There were no official statements from Turkmen authorities regarding the reported detentions.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has ruled the former Soviet republic with an iron hand, tolerating little dissent since he came to power after the death of autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006.

With reporting by Habartm.org