(Washington/Prague--March 22, 2004) Recently jailed RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondents Rakhim Esenov and Ashyrguly Bayryev have been released by the National Security Ministry (NSM), Turkmenistan's successor to the Soviet-era KGB. Although they have been released, the charges filed against both men have not been dropped, and both have been warned to end their respective relationships with the Turkmen Service.
Rakhim Esenov was released from detention on March 10, but he remains confined to the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat. Esenov 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 it is believed that the root cause of his arrest is his work with RFE/RL.
Esenov's colleague, Ashyrguly Bayryev, was released three days later, but is also not allowed to leave Ashgabat. Bayryev was arrested March 1, after responding to a summons to appear at the NSM building in Ashgabat for questioning on slander charges tied to his reporting on Turkmenistan. 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.
According to Esenov, "The involvement of the international organizations [helped free me] -- the American Embassy, the British Embassy, the OSCE, sent protest notes demanding my release. But I also got very big support from you, Radio Liberty." Several human rights and media freedom organizations, including Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders, also called for the release of Esenov.