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U.S. OSCE Envoy Condemns Punitive Actions Against Journalists In Central Asia

RFE/RL Turkmen Service Director Farruh Yusupov interviewing U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Daniel Baer
RFE/RL Turkmen Service Director Farruh Yusupov interviewing U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Daniel Baer

WASHINGTON -- Speaking to RFE/RL on December 14, on the sidelines of 18th Central Asia Media Conference, organized in Vienna by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE Daniel Baer expressed concern about the Turkmen government’s imprisonment of two RFE/RL journalists, while singling out the government’s punishment of their family members for special censure.

Taking punitive measures against the families of journalists or activists is a practice that really is reserved for the most horrible regimes around the world,” Ambassador Baer said. Baer was discussing the plight of RFE/RL contributor Khudayberdy Allashov, who was arrested by Turkmen authorities on December 3 on charges of possessing chewing tobacco and, if convicted, faces a potential prison sentence of seven years. Police have also jailed his mother.

Ambassador Baer also mentioned the case of RFE/RL contributor Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, who has been held incommunicado by Turkmen authorities since July 2015, after being arrested and convicted on narcotics charges that rights groups believe were fabricated in retaliation for his reporting. He noted Turkmenistan's OSCE commitments and obligations under international law to respect media freedom, adding that "the protection of a free media and freedom of expression is...part of building a stronger, more stable future in a difficult region." Ambassador Baer said that the U.S. continues to raise both cases with the Turkmen government, both publicly and privately.

On December 8, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Nisha Desai Biswal called the treatment of RFE/RL journalists in Turkmenistan “absolutely unacceptable,” during an interview with RFE/RL on the sidelines of an OSCE meeting in Hamburg, Germany.

Ambassador Baer was also asked about Uzbekistan, a country RFE/RL has had no presence in since being forced to close its bureau after the 2005 Andijon massacre, and yet where its reporting continues to draw retaliatory attacks from the government. In the last year, authorities have targeted the relatives of RFE/RL's Prague-based staff, imprisoning the brother of one journalist in Ferghana and seizing an apartment belonging to the brother of another in Tashkent.

Asked whether Uzbekistan’s new leadership might demonstrate greater respect for basic freedoms, Ambassador Baer said that newly elected President Shavkat Mirziyaev has an opportunity “to turn a page and to welcome a…more democratic era” for his country, but that it is “probably too soon to make any judgements” about what trajectory the country’s political transition will take.

Uzbekistan is rated “not free,” and ranked 197 out of 199 countries assessed in Freedom House’s 2016 Freedom of the Press survey; Turkmenistan was also rated “not free,“ and ranked 198 out of 199 countries.