MOSCOW (Jan. 22)
A Jewish family living in Turkmenistan was arrested recently on charges of terrorism.
The family, which was subsequently released after intervention from Israeli officials, was arrested by the Turkmen secret services, who were rounding up suspects following an assassination attempt on the president of Turkmenistan, Saparmurat Niyazov.
But Jewish sources in Turkmenistan denied allegations that the Jewish community is being persecuted.
The name of the family, which lives in the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat, is not being released.
Human rights activists charge that the assassination attempt and accusations against suspects have been trumped up by Turkmen officials in order to clamp down on political dissent in this authoritarian former Soviet republic.
Dozens of people were arrested in connection with the investigation into the assassination attempt, and some already have confessed to the crime, according to official Turkmen sources.
In a letter to Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli legislator Marina Solodkin wrote that the Jews who were arrested were subjected to force and psychological pressure before they were released.
Solodkin, a member of the Yisrael Ba’Aliyah Party, also appealed to Netanyahu to inform the Israeli public that visiting Turkmenistan “may be dangerous for any Jew, particularly Israeli nationals.”
The legislator also asked the chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, Sallai Meridor, to help several hundred Jews emigrate from Turkmenistan.
A source in Ashgabat confirmed the fact of the arrest and subsequent release of a Jewish family, but dismissed charges of state-sponsored anti-Semitism or persecution of Jews.
In a letter received by the Moscow office of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, the source said there is no threat to Jews who travel to Turkmenistan, and that the local Jewish community has not experienced state-sponsored persecution.
However, following advice from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, an Israeli official based in Uzbekistan who travels to Turkmenistan to process immigration applications from local Jews recently postponed a scheduled visit to Ashgabat.
Turkmenistan is home to a small Jewish community, most of which resides in the capital city.
Israel maintains diplomatic relations with Turkmenistan, and Israeli business plays a prominent role in the region, which is rich with gas and oil.
Merhav, an Israeli-based group of companies with interests in energy, communications and agriculture, is one of the largest single foreign investors in the Turkmen economy.
Last Friday, Niyazov met with the chairman of the Merhav Group, Yosef Maiman, in what some say was an attempt to reduce tension with Israel stemming from the arrest of the Jewish family.