On the eve of presidential elections in Turkmenistan on Feb 12, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) has condemned a government campaign that has subjected its correspondents and their family members to physical assault, societal pressure, surveillance, and imprisonment.
“Voters everywhere have a fundamental right to accurate information about the choices they must make,” said RFE/RL President Thomas Kent. “Saparmamed Nepeskuliev and Khudayberdy Allashov should be immediately released from prison and allowed to resume their work with RFE/RL to report the news to the Turkmen people,” he said.
Khudayberdy Allashov, who reported for RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service about food shortages, wage delays, salaries, and cotton-picking, was arrested on December 3, 2016, along with his mother, on charges of possessing chewing tobacco, a commonly used substance in Turkmenistan. He faces a potential prison sentence of seven years, if convicted.
Veteran correspondent Soltan Achilova was subjected to three separate physical attacks in connection with her journalism in November, 2016. That same month, Rovshen Yazmuhamedov was threatened with enforcement of a suspended jail term he received in 2013.
Video journalist Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, after being held incommunicado for two months, was sentenced in September, 2015 to three years in prison on narcotics charges that rights groups believe were fabricated in retaliation for his reporting on poverty and poor infrastructure in his city on the Caspian coast. His arrest followed an 18-month period during which no fewer than six correspondents were forced to leave their jobs as a result of intimidation tactics targeting them and their family members.
The United States, the OSCE, and media advocacy organizations have expressed concern about Turkmenistan’s persecution of journalists, singling out the government’s punishment of their family members for special censure. Numerous rights groups have amplified their long-standing criticism ahead of Sunday’s elections, with Human Rights Watch calling the country’s human rights record “appalling,” and Reporters Without Borders condemning an “unprecedented crackdown” on independent journalists.