MINSK, Belarus (AP) — The Border Guard Committee of Belarus said on Friday it has detained a Turkmenistan-born Swedish man and is preparing to extradite the former journalist to Turkmenistan which he fled more than a decade ago.
The committee's Alexander Tishchenko told The Associated Press that Chary Annamuradov was detained last month as he flew into Belarus since his name was on a wanted-list shared by several former Soviet republics.
His lawyer, Tatyana Savitskaya, said Belarusian authorities are now preparing for his extradition to Turkmenistan where he is wanted for fraud.
Swedish Foreign Ministry spokesman Johan Murray confirmed a Swedish national was being held in Belarus and the embassy there was providing him with assistance and judicial support. He declined to elaborate.
Annamuradov, who investigated drug trafficking between Turkmenistan and neighboring Afghanistan, was sentenced to 18 years in prison in Turkmenistan in 1991 for drug possession. He was released after serving a third of his sentence and fled the country. After living briefly in Moscow and Prague where he worked for the Turkmen-language service of Radio Free Europe Annamuradov moved to Sweden where he was granted political asylum in 2002.
The former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan is one of the world's most closed societies. Rights groups say it is impossible to determine how many political prisoners the government is holding, while some have simply disappeared in prisons, cut off from contact with their families and the outside world.
Jonathan Lundqvist, president of the Swedish chapter of Reporters Without Borders, told the AP Annamuradov had not been working as a journalist since he came to Sweden. His friend Murat Khanaliyev said Annamuradov has recently been working as a taxi driver.
Minsk-based Khanaliyev, who was waiting for him at the airport, said Annamuradov decided not to show his Swedish passport because he would have to pay for a Belarusian visa which he would not need if he was traveling on his Russian passport.
Savitskaya told the AP that her client is kept in a detention center in Minsk awaiting extradition.
"The worst scenario is that Chary will be sent to Turkmenistan which has confirmed the arrest warrant but has not sent the necessary paperwork yet," she said. "Nothing good awaits Chary in Turkmenistan."
Last year, the democracy watchdog group Freedom House listed Turkmenistan among the worst offenders when it comes to jailing journalists and tightening media controls.
Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.