(Washington/Prague--March 3, 2004) Two RFE/RL correspondents are currently in jail in Turkmenistan, arrested as part of a campaign of harrassment carried out against RFE/RL Turkmen Service members by the Turkmen National Security Ministry (NSM). It is feared that both correspondents will be tortured while in Turkmen custody.
Ashyrguly Bayryev (50 years old) was arrested March 1, after responding to a summons to appear at the NSM building in Ashgabat for questioning. It is not known on what charge or charges Bayryev was arrested, although it is believed that the primary cause for his arrest is his cooperation with RFE/RL's Turkmen Service. Bayryev has worked with the Turkmen Service since 1998. He has in the past been warned on several occasions by Turkmen authorities to end his relationship with RFE/RL, but has continued to contribute material under a pseudonym for broadcast.
Rakhim Esenov (78 years old) was arrested on February 26 and charged with "instigating social, ethnic and religious hatred" under Article 177 of the Turkmen Criminal Code. Esenov, a historian and journalist who has worked with RFE/RL's Turkmen Service since 1997, was first accused of smuggling copies of his novel Ventsenosny Skitalets ("The Crowned Wanderer") into the country, but again it is believed that the root cause of his arrest is his work with RFE/RL. Esenov was arrested while lying in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Ashgabat, where he was recovering from a stroke suffered three days earlier, and taken to the NSM prison. Esenov holds dual Turkmen and Russian citizenship.
Both arrests were foreshadowed by the abduction in September and November 2003 in Ashgabat of RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent Saparmurat Ovezberdiev. In the September incident, Ovezberdiev was held for three days in a NSM prison, where he was tortured and injected with drugs. In November, Ovezberdiev was abducted from his home by two assailants and taken to a cemetery, where he was severely beaten, tortured and threatened with death if he continued his work with RFE/RL. Although Ovezberdiev was later able to identify one of his assailants an NSM officer, no charges have been filed in the case.
All three correspondents have been told by NSM officials that the security service holds copies of electronic communications they had with Turkmen Service colleagues at RFE/RL's Prague Broadcast Center. All three were also asked to reveal details about their work for RFE/RL and to disclose the names of other RFE/RL correspondents.
For more information on Turkmenistan's harrassment of RFE/RL journalists, please contact:
Roman Traycey, Associate Director of Broadcasting (firstname.lastname@example.org; telephone in Prague: +420-221-122-170
Naz Nazar, Director of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service (email@example.com; telephone in Prague: +420-221-122-370)