United States Agency for Global Media

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Saparmamed Nepeskuliev

Photographer and contributor, RFE/RL Turkmen Service

Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a contributor to RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service since 2015, was detained by agents of Turkmenistan’s National Security Ministry on July 7, 2015, in the western city of Avaza while he was on assignment photographing sites in the coastal resort. A former detainee who shared a cell with him in a detention facility in the nearby city of Akdash has recounted how police placed illegal opiates in his luggage and rigged a drug test to produce evidence of drug possession and use. He was convicted on narcotics charges in closed proceedings in a Turkmenbashi city court on August 31, 2015.

Nepeskuliev’s last known communication was with the cellmate in late September 2015 when they were both transferred to the Lebap province’s prison colony LBK-12, a facility notorious for its deadly conditions. It is believed that Nepeskuliev was subsequently transferred back to the country’s western Balkan province to the BL-D/5 facility, but despite numerous appeals, authorities have failed to confirm either his whereabouts or his well-being.

Nepeskuliev produced photojournalism and short videos that provided local audiences with uncensored news and information about their communities and their lives. His reporting about poverty, official privilege, failing infrastructure, and deficient schools was unique in a country long recognized as being among the most repressive in the world.

RFE/RL Editor in Chief Nenad Pejic has demanded his release, calling his imprisonment “a brutal attempt to silence a journalist and a violation of every human right and humanitarian standard.” He added, “There has been no communication with him since September last year—we cannot even be sure he’s alive.”

Nepeskuliev was released on May 19 2018 after serving a three-year sentence that Turkmen authorities handed down in a closed session, after holding him incommunicado in an undisclosed location for seven weeks beginning in July 2015.  Throughout his imprisonment, authorities failed to confirm either his whereabouts or his well-being.