Soltan Achilova MEA2021 denied travel to Geneva Human Rights Week

November 21, 2023





The Martin Ennals Foundation condemns the harassment of Soltan Achilova and her daughter by government authorities at Ashgabat airport and calls for Turkmen authorities to stop their reprisals against journalists for their human rights work.

In the early hours of November 18th, 2023, Mrs. Soltan Achilova and her daughter were stopped by Turkmen government officials from boarding their flight for Switzerland. A customs official took their passports, wet them with a damp rag and declared the passports to be ruined, effectively obstructing Soltan from traveling to Geneva where she would feature as a keynote speaker at the University of Geneva’s Human Rights Week 2023.

This act of harassment and denial of freedom of movement is particularly reprehensible in that it comes only a few days after Turkmenistan’s 4th Universal Periodic Review, during which high-level government representatives expressed their “support for …the promotion and protection of fundamental freedoms and human rights, giving multiple examples of their progress in terms of respect for freedom of expression.

Soltan Achilova believes she was not allowed to leave the country because of the authorities’ fear that negative information might be heard during the Human Rights week in Geneva. Yet, the obstruction from travel of an internationally recognized human rights defender is more striking evidence of the lack of freedoms in the country and the bad faith with which the Turkmenistan government engages with the Human Rights Council.  

Turkmenistan is one of the most repressive and isolated countries in the world, ranking 176th out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom and working conditions for journalists. Soltan has been reporting about her country for more than a decade. Her pictures of daily life are one of the few sources of documentation of human rights violations occurring in this most secretive nation. In 2021, Soltan was recognized by the Martin Ennals Award for her documentation of land grabs and forced evictions of ordinary citizens in Ashgabat.

Soltan has not been allowed to travel freely outside of her country on several occasions. She is under constant surveillance by Turkmen authorities and has suffered numerous incidents of harassment, intimidation, and threats. Despite the challenges, Soltan persists in her human rights work, regularly sending information and pictures  outside of the country so that government authorities are held to account.

We renew calls for Turkmenistan to fully implement their human rights obligations, including, inter alia, allowing human rights defenders and journalists to conduct their work peacefully. We invite Member States accompanying the 4th Universal Periodic Review of Turkmenistan to strongly sanction the silencing of Soltan Achilova and other Turkmen journalists.


November 21, 2023