Turkmenistan: Jailed RFE/RL Reporter Freed in Amnesty
A reporter for the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty sentenced to five years in prison for his reporting on the munitions depot explosion in Abadan has been released, RFE/RL management reported today.
Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev was pardoned on October 26 as part of a presidential amnesty marking the 20th anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence, says RFE/RL. Under the decree, some 1,700 prisoners are expected to be freed.
Yazkuliev was detained and warned that his critical reporting could get him a jail term, and was later arrested on fabricated charges based on testimony extracted from relatives who later withdrew their statements.
Yazkuliev is evidently the first political prisoner to be released in an amnesty under the rule of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who took power in December 2006 after the death of Saparmurat Niyazov, and then prevailed in state-controlled elections in February 2007. The Turkmen leader has repeatedly announced amnesties tied to various state holidays and special occasions, but they have never included any long-term or newly-arrested political prisoners as far as is known.
As in past years, Turkmenistan did not attend the recent annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, leaving its chair empty and maintaining a long-held position that it will not participate until emigre "terrorists" were barred from the meeting.
OSCE officials nevertheless admitted to the OSCE meeting Turkmen émigré human rights activists who obtained refugee status in European countries, discounting the Turkmen government's claim of "terrorism." The activists highlighted Yazkuliev's case and the many problems of suppression of the free media in Turkmenistan which became visible in July as citizen journalists tried to tell the story of the explosion covered up by officials.
A senior OSCE official told EurasiaNet that although Turkmenistan was not present at the HDIM meeting, diplomats found other ways to privately raise the case of Yazkuliev with the Turkmen government.
The European Union is actively pursuing a gas deal with Turkmenistan and is expected to vote soon on a long-stalled Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Turkmenistan, which has been held up by some members of the European Parliament over Turkmenistan's many human rights problems.