WASHINGTON -- Turkmen authorities have arrested contributor Khudayberdy Allashov on charges of possessing chewing tobacco only days after one RFE/RL correspondent was threatened with arrest and another was physically injured in a series of violent attacks.
“We believe these charges are part of a targeted campaign intended to silence our Turkmen Service and intimidate the Turkmen people,” said RFE/RL President Thomas Kent. “Over the last 18 months our reporters have been arrested, held incommunicado, beaten, interrogated, threatened and arbitrarily jailed, and we hold the Turkmen government responsible.”
Allashov was apprehended in Turkmenistan’s northern Dashoguz province on December 3, when a group of policemen carrying weapons and video cameras entered his house, beat him, and rounded up his family, including his mother and wife. Both he and his mother were charged with possessing chewing tobacco, which, while illegal in Turkmenistan, is commonly consumed and not known to have led to arrests. Allashov's wife was told that, under suress, he had allegedly confessed to possessing 11 kilograms of the product, and could expect to be sentenced to seven years in prison. Both he and his mother were scheduled to appear before a court on December 5.
The dealer who sold Allashov the tobacco was also briefly detained and questioned, and later told RFE/RL that she had seen him at the police station severely bruised and unable to hold his head up or speak.
Allashov began contributing to RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service in October this year, reporting local stories about food shortages, wage delays, salaries, and cotton-picking under the pen name Mekan Tashliyev.
While Turkmenistan has long been intolerant of any independent media, the government has escalated its repression of RFE/RL journalists recently. Correspondent Soltan Achilova was subject to three separate physical attacks in connection with her journalism in November. Correspondent Rovshen Yazmuhamedov was also threatened in November with enforcement of a suspended jail term he received in 2013. Video journalist Saparmamed Nepeskuliev is serving a three-year prison sentence on narcotics charges that rights advocates believe were fabricated and brought in retaliation for his reporting, and no fewer than six contributors quit their jobs in response to pressure during 2015.