Reporter in Turkmenistan Freed After Four Years in Jail

Ashgabat- Former President Niyazov's Holy Ruhnama Monument; image: TCA

Authorities in Turkmenistan have released a freelance reporter who was jailed for several years on a fraud conviction that media groups alleged was retaliation for his journalism.

Nurgeldi Halykov, who has worked for the Turkmen.news website, was arrested in Ashgabat on July 13, 2020 and freed on Saturday, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Monday. Halykov was detained the day after the Netherlands-based website published a photo that it received from him in which a World Health Organization delegation is seen at a local hotel during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the committee.

Turkmenistan strictly controls the media, making it hard to get information about what is going on in the Central Asian country. The government there did not report a single case of COVID-19, though there are widespread doubts about the government’s transparency regarding the impact of a virus that has killed millions of people worldwide.

The photo of the WHO representatives was taken by an Ashgabat resident who saw them sitting by the pool of the Ashgabat Yildiz Hotel, Turkmen.news said.

The resident posted the photo on Instagram and Halykov, “who had previously studied with this girl in the same school, saw it. He thought it necessary to send the photo to the editorial office of Turkmen.news,” the website reported.

“The girl was identified from CCTV cameras. She and six of her friends, relaxing by the hotel pool, were called to the police. The police looked through all her photographs, including personal ones, restored previously deleted photographs, and reread all her correspondence with other people. Then they began to study contacts in the address book and her friends on Instagram,” the news outlet said.

Halykov was detained and sentenced in September 2020 after being convicted of failing to repay a loan, according to Turkmen.news. It said a former close friend made the complaint about a $5,000 debt that Halykov allegedly owed.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said it was glad that Halykov had been released and it urged the Turkmen authorities “to improve the country’s international reputation by liberalizing the media environment so that independent reporters do not have to work clandestinely or under fear of arrest.”

Turkmenistan’s state news agency did not mention Halykov’s release in its report on Monday. The main news was the visit to Ashgabat of South Korean President, Yun Suk Yeol, and his talks on trade and other issues with Turkmen President Serdar Berdimuhamedov. Other prominent articles talked about the start of the grain harvest and the Turkmen president’s recent participation in a mass bicycle excursion in Ashgabat.

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Times of Central Asia