Media watchdogs urge Turkmenistan to stop ‘systematic harassment’ of independent journalists

ASHGABAT (TCA) — The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged Turkmenistan to immediately lift a travel ban imposed on veteran correspondent Soltan Achilova and allow her to travel freely outside the Central Asian country, RFE/RL reported.

“Systematic harassment of Achilova and a handful of other journalists must be stopped as they do the important job of reporting from one of the most closed-off countries of the world,” Gulnoza Said, the New York-based media watchdog’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said in a statement on March 25.

Achilova is an Ashgabat-based contributor to the Vienna-based independent news website Khronika Turkmenistana (Chronicles of Turkmenistan).

She was about to take a flight to attend an international seminar in Tbilisi, Georgia, when she was stopped at passport control in Ashgabat International Airport on March 11, according to Farid Tukhbatullin, editor in chief of Khronika Turkmenistana.

An immigration officer told Achilova that she could not leave the country, without providing any explanation, Tukhbatullin told CPJ.

In a statement on March 21, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urged the Turkmen authorities to “stop harassing [Achilova] and the small number of other independent journalists in Turkmenistan.”

Achilova, a former correspondent of RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, has in the past been detained by police and physically assaulted by officers, thugs, and other unidentified assailants.

Khronika Turkmenistana and RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk Radiosy, are among the few critical Turkmenistan-focused media outlets, Tukhbatullin said.

Ranked 178th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index, Turkmenistan is a “black hole from which little news and information emerge and where the few independent journalists risk severe persecution,” the Paris-based media watchdog said.

According to CPJ, the Turkmen government “tightly controls the Internet through the country’s only state provider, and has blocked critical websites, social media, and messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Signal.”


Times of Central Asia