Turkmenistan: journalist released after serving prison sentence

ASHGABAT (TCA) — Turkmen journalist and RFE/RL contributor Saparmamed Nepeskuliev has been released after serving a three-year prison term on drug charges that human rights groups and a UN panel denounced as politically motivated, RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service reported.

Nepeskuliev was released on May 19.

Nepeskuliev disappeared on July 7, 2015 and was held incommunicado for weeks before a court in tightly controlled Turkmenistan found him guilty of narcotics charges that rights groups said were fabricated in retaliation for his reporting.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention designated Nepeskuliev’s detention as “arbitrary” in December 2015, saying that the journalist had been “deprived of liberty for having peacefully exercised his right to freedom of expression.”

In July 2016, seven U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov calling Nepeskuliev’s imprisonment “unlawful” and urging his immediate release.

In video reports for RFE/RL, Nepeskuliev documented decaying infrastructure and economic inequality in western Turkmenistan.

Other RFE/RL reporters and contributors in Turkmenistan have faced physical attacks, threats, and prosecution on charges that critics say are groundless.

In particular, RFE/RL correspondent Soltan Achilova was forcibly detained and threatened by security forces in Turkmenistan.

The incident occurred on May 9, when Achilova, 68, went to take photos of the flower-laying ceremony at the Eternal Flame near the memorial complex to the victims of World War II, located in the suburbs of the capital, Ashgabat.

On her way to the memorial, Achilova was stopped by several men in black suits. When she explained she was a journalist and was taking photos for a Victory Day report, the men insulted and threatened her.

Three uniformed police officers then appeared and demanded that she accompany them to a police station. She refused. The plainclothes police officers demanded that she delete the photos, grabbed her by the arms, and dragged her into a waiting car.

Achilova said she was again threatened with detention on drug charges if she refused to delete the photos. When she again refused, the men took her camera by force and deleted the pictures.

Achilova was detained for two hours, a period of time during which she was told to renounce working for RFE/RL. She was eventually released.

Achilova has worked for RFE/RL for years, reporting the experiences of ordinary Turkmen residents with her photographs.

Sergey Kwan

TCA

Sergey Kwan has worked for The Times of Central Asia as a journalist, translator and editor since its foundation in March 1999. Prior to this, from 1996-1997, he worked as a translator at The Kyrgyzstan Chronicle, and from 1997-1999, as a translator at The Central Asian Post.
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Kwan studied at the Bishkek Polytechnic Institute from 1990-1994, before completing his training in print journalism in Denmark.

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