(Washington, DC -- September 22, 2003) RFE/RL President Thomas A. Dine strongly condemned the violent abduction of Saparmurat Ovezberdiyev, Ashgabat correspondent for RFE/RL's Turkmen Service by Turkmen National Security Ministry (MNB) officials in Ashgabat on 11 September. While in detention, Ovezberdiyev was threatened with 15 years in prison, plus five years for "perjury", if he continues reporting for RFE/RL.
Dine called the seizure and detention of Ovezberdiyev a "provocation to all who value the freedom of the press". Dine also said, "Ovezberdiyev's abduction is only the latest example of a two-decade long series of threats and harassment against RFE/RL correspondents by the tyrannical government of Turkmen leader Saparmurat Niyazov."
Ovezberdiyev told RFE/RL that MNB officials forcibly removed him from a taxi on September 11. The officials put a black hood over his head before driving him to an undisclosed location. Later, at an MNB office, he was injected several times with an unknown substance. During his detention he was not allowed any contact with friends, family, or co-workers. MNB officials, when asked by family members, denied that they were holding Ovezberdiyev. Ovezberdiyev was released from MNB custody on 13 September in Ashgabat.
Prior to his release, MNB officials said to Ovezberdiyev, "You are a traitor to the homeland". Irrespective of the abusive nature of the remark, a law adopted in August by Turkmenistan's legislature would, were Ovezberdiyev to be charged and convicted of being a "traitor to the homeland," make him subject to a life sentence in prison with no chance for parole.
After Ovezberdiyev's abduction, his home telephone was cut off. His wife claims this was done intentionally by the MNB, as agents from the organization have followed Ovezberdiyev for years and have threatened him, tapped his telephone, and monitored e-mail messages. The 63- year-old Ovezberdiyev, who suffered a stroke last month, was denied medical treatment at hospitals in Ashgabat after officials told doctors treating him that he is a reporter of "the enemy radio."
RFE/RL Turkmen Service Director Naz Nazar says these "aggressive acts" against correspondents of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service are becoming more frequent and severe when compared to previous years. Ovezberdiyev's abduction was the third attack against Turkmen Service correspondents in the last two months. In July, Muhammad Berdiev suffered serious injuries when he was attacked and brutally beaten by two people on a street in Moscow. Berdiev's son, Shanazar, suffered a concussion when he was beaten about the head by an unknown assailant wearing a police uniform in front of his Moscow apartment on 2 September.
A twenty-year chronicle of harassment carried out against RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondents by Turkmen authorities may be viewed at: www.rferl.org/bd/tu/info/harass2.html