WASHINGTON – A U.N. decision finding the Turkmen government responsible for the death in custody 12 years ago of a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) contributor is particularly significant because of continuing government actions against the news service’s correspondents, says RFE/RL President Thomas Kent.
“We welcome the U.N. finding, which confirms what rights groups have long contended: that the death of Ogulsapar Muradova was a politically motivated crime by Turkmen authorities because of her human rights advocacy and reporting,” Kent said. “But the abuses continue. Twelve years later, at this very moment, our Turkmen colleagues, current and former – including Soltan Achilova, Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, Rovshen Yazmuhamedov and Khudayberdy Allashov – are persecuted by the government and its agents, and risk imprisonment because of their journalism. This must also be condemned and stopped.”
Muradova was a co-founder of the independent Turkmen Helsinki Foundation and reported about several hundred dissidents she identified as being imprisoned under the regime of then-President Saparmurat Niyazov. She was arrested in June 2006, sentenced the following August in a closed court proceeding in Ashgabat to six years in prison, and died in custody one month later.
The complaint to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was filed by lawyers with the Open Society Justice Initiative on behalf of Annadurdy Khadzhiyev, Muradova’s brother, who was also detained at the time and only released from prison in 2013. The complaint alleges acts by the Turkmen government, including retaliation for her journalism and torture leading to her death in custody, that constitute violations of the state’s obligations under the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights.
In a lengthy response to the complaint issued on May 24 this year, the UNHRC determined that Muradova “was arrested and detained for her journalistic and human rights work.” It condemned the government’s conduct, drawing attention to its responsibility “to care for [the] life” of individuals who are arrested and detained; its failure to properly investigate allegations of torture and the cause of her death in custody, including its failure to release the results of an autopsy; and numerous violations of Muradova’s due process rights.
The council declared that the Turkmen government is obligated to conduct an impartial investigation, compensate the family, and rehabilitate Muradova’s name, and instructed it to “to take all steps necessary to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future.”
Journalists associated with RFE/RL and their family members have suffered harassment, violence, and imprisonment for decades in Turkmenistan, a country that ties with North Korea for the world’s worst record on press freedom, according to Freedom House’s Freedom of the Press 2017 survey. In 2014-2015, RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service lost half of its reporting network to a systematic, government-sponsored intimidation campaign.
The targeted campaign has continued well into 2018, with veteran correspondent Soltan Achilova suffering no fewer than eight physical assaults over the last 15 months.
Known locally as Azatlyk Radiosy, RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service has for 65 years provided audiences with accurate and uncensored news and information as an alternative to the state-run media monopoly. In 2018, its website has been visited an average of 1.2 million times and its YouTube page has logged 1 million video views monthly.