WASHINGTON – Despite multiple requests to Turkmen authorities, RFE/RL is unable to obtain any information about the condition of Turkmen Service correspondent Rovshen Yazmuhamedov, 30, who was detained on May 6 by local police in the northeastern city of Turkmenabat.
RFE/RL Acting President and CEO Kevin Klose expressed deep concern about Yazmuhamedov’s safety and appealed to Turkmen authorities for his immediate release.
“To the best of our knowledge, the last time anyone saw Rovshen Yazmuhamedov was May 7. As far as we know, he is being held without charges, possibly under psychological and physical duress, and likely in connection with his journalism,” Klose said.
According to Yazmuhamedov’s relatives, the journalist is being held at a detention center run by the Interior Ministry’s Directorate No. 6, which investigates organized crime and terrorism-related cases. Relatives also told RFE/RL that Yazmuhamedov was interrogated by security services several times recently.
Since 2009, RFE/RL has documented three other incidents involving the confinement and imprisonment of persons associated with its Turkmen Service, or Azatlyk Radiosy as it is known locally.
In October 2011, correspondent Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev was sentenced to five years in prison on phony charges, several months after security agents interrogated him about his reporting< on explosions in the city of Abadan and threatened him with prosecution for "causing national, social, and religious provocations." Yazkuliyev was later released from prison under a presidential amnesty following an appeal by four U.S. Senators, including current U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
After being interviewed by RFE/RL about harassment he suffered after submitting letters to state authorities regarding local corruption, Amangelen Shapudakov, an elderly resident of the village of Sakgar, went missing for three weeks in March 2011 and was finally located in a psychiatric hospital where he had been forcibly confined.
Sazak Durdymuradov, a commentator for Azatlyk Radiosy, was confined for two weeks in mid-2008 to “The Turkmen Gulag,” a remote psychiatric facility notorious for holding critics of the Turkmen regime, after refusing to sign a letter demanded by authorities pledging to stop contributing to RFE/RL programs.
Most alarmingly, Turkmen service correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova was detained in June 2006 and died in prison under circumstances family members attribute to torture, but which Turkmen authorities have failed to investigate.
Human rights and media freedom groups including Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have released statements on Yazmuhamedov’s behalf, saying he is at risk of torture.
Turkmenistan is one of the most closed societies in the world. Turkmenistan ranked last in the world in Freedom House’s 2013 “Freedom of the Press” survey, along with North Korea.
RFE/RL is a private, independent international news organization whose programs — radio, Internet, television, and mobile — reach influential audiences in 21 countries, including Russia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the republics of Central Asia. It is funded by the U.S. Congress through the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG).