(Reuters) - Western rights groups called on Turkmenistan on Wednesday to release three local activists arrested when officials broke up what they said was a spy network fomenting discontent in the Central Asian state.
In an open letter to President-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov, Amnesty International and other non-governmental organisations said the arrests were politically motivated, reports Trend.
"We believe they (the activists) are at risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment," the letter said. "We urge you to ensure their unconditional and immediate release."
The three -- Amankurban Amanklychev, Ogulsapar Muradova and Sapardurdy Khajiyev -- were arrested in June as part of what officials said was a clampdown on an underground network seeking to destabilise Central Asia's largest gas exporter.
All three were associated with the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation, an organisation monitoring human rights in the country. Officials have not commented on whether or when they might be released.
Niyazov, who has ruled the former Soviet country since 1985, tolerates no dissent and has built up a personality cult.
He goes by the official title Turkmenbashi the Great and has had a city, months, days of the week and a heavenly body named after himself or close relatives.
Most opposition activists and journalists have been driven into exile or jailed.
The open letter said the latest arrests were also part of Niyazov's attempts to silence dissent.
"Your government routinely silences those who speak out about the widespread human rights violations in your country," it said.
"It does so through the use of beatings, arbitrary detention and arrest, incarceration in psychiatric facilities without medical justification, house arrest, surveillance, threats, and torture."