Turkmenistan: Abadan Reporter Sentenced to Five Years in Prison
A Turkmen journalist who braved the secret police to bring to the world the
story of the explosion in Abadan has now been punished with a five-year prison sentence.
Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev (also spelled as Yazgulyev), a stringer for Radio Azatlyk, the Turkmen Service for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), was sentenced to five years of prison on charges believed to be made in retaliation for his journalistic work, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported.
The trial lasted roughly two days and Yazkuliyev was not given access to a defense lawyer, RFE/RL reported.
Yazkuliyev was detained in July after blogging about the explosion in Abadan, and
warned that he could be charged with "disseminating defamatory information through the media" and "causing national, social, and religious provocations" if he continued to report on the situation, which was largedly hushed up by Turkmen authorities.
On September 27, Yazkuliyev was detained in Akhal province and accused of "influencing or enabling" an attempted suicide by a family member. According to CPJ's report on the case, Oguljamal Yazliyeva, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service director, said authorities pressured Yazguliyev's relatives in mid-September to sign a statement saying that Yazguliyev had tried to get his sister-in-law to commit suicide. His relatives said they have since attempted to retract the statements to no avail. They have also filed an appeal to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and the prosecutor general, indicating that the secret police interfered in his family's private life to intimidate him for his journalism.
"This conviction is none other than an attempt to silence an independent reporter," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said in a statement distributed by email yesterday.
The accusations are similar to those made against Ovezgeldy Ataev, former speaker of parliament, charged with allegedly causing the attempted suicide of his son's fiance by obstructing their marriage.
Atayev was dismissed by a vote in the rubber-stamp legislature following the death of President Saparmurat Niyazov, as he stood in the way of the appointment of Berdymukhamedov. Under the Turkmen Constitution in force at the time, the speaker should have become the acting president. He has remained in prison since that time.
RFE/RL stringers have been singled out for particular harassment in Turkmenistan, and have suffered detention, jailing, and torture. One correspondent, Ogulsapar Muradova, died in prison five years ago. The Turkmen government maintains heavy control over state media and the few foreign media outlets that report from Ashgabat, so RFE/RL has been a key source of independent news.