Update: On February 22, 2017, RFE/RL reported that Allashov and his mother had been released from custody on February 15 after spending 2.5 months in detention. Reliable sources in Turkmenistan report that a court convicted them both of possessing chewing tobacco and handed each a suspended three-year prison sentence. The pair is now back home in the northern city of Koneurgench under police surveillance, but are not allowed to use any communication tools.
Turkmen authorities arrested RFE/RL contributor Khudayberdy Allashov and his mother, Kurbantach Arazmedova, on charges of possessing chewing tobacco only days after one RFE/RL correspondent was threatened with arrest and another was physically injured in a series of violent attacks.
“We believe these charges are part of a targeted campaign intended to silence our Turkmen Service and intimidate the Turkmen people,” said RFE/RL President Thomas Kent. “Over the last 18 months our reporters have been arrested, held incommunicado, beaten, interrogated, threatened and arbitrarily jailed, and we hold the Turkmen government responsible.”
Allashov was apprehended in Turkmenistan’s northern Dashoguz province on December 3, when a group of policemen carrying weapons and video cameras entered his house, beat him, and rounded up his family, including his mother and wife. Both he and his mother were charged with possessing chewing tobacco, which, while illegal in Turkmenistan, is commonly consumed and not known to have led to arrests. Allashov’s wife was told that, under duress, he had allegedly confessed to possessing 11 kilograms of the product, and could expect to be sentenced to seven years in prison. Both he and his mother were scheduled to appear before a court on December 5.
The dealer who sold Allashov the tobacco was also briefly detained and questioned, and later told RFE/RL that she had seen him at the police station severely bruised and unable to hold his head up or speak.
Allashov began contributing to RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service in October 2016, reporting local stories about food shortages, wage delays, salaries and cotton-picking under the pen name Mekan Tashliyev.