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RFE/RL Calls For Turkmen Journalist’s Release

RFE/RL Freelance Contributor Saparmamed Nepeskuliev
RFE/RL Freelance Contributor Saparmamed Nepeskuliev

WASHINGTON -- On the one year anniversary of the imprisonment of Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a contributor to RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service and other independent news outlets, RFE/RL joined a chorus of international organizations calling for his freedom.

Little is known about the whereabouts and well-being of Nepeskuliev, who, in one of the world’s most closed countries, boldly produced video reports for RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service documenting decrepit infrastructure, financial hardship, economic inequality, and depressed schools in the country’s western region. He disappeared on July 7, 2015 in Turkmenistan’s Caspian Sea resort city of Avaza, and was held incommunicado before a Turkmen court, in a closed session on August 31, 2015, sentenced him to three years in prison on narcotics charges that rights groups believe were fabricated in retaliation for his reporting.

RFE/RL President Thomas Kent called Nepeskuliev’s imprisonment “outrageous and thoroughly inhumane,” and said, “Authorities obviously believe they can act with impunity to silence, without any due process whatsoever, a journalist who is reporting honestly about the society he lives in.”

U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Daniel Baer expressed concern about Nepeskuliev’s ongoing detention in a tweet today, calling on Turkmenistan to “respect shared OSCE #MediaFreedom commitments”.

U.S. Congressman Adam B. Schiff, who co-chairs the Congressioinal Caucus on Freedom of the Press, and six other Members of Congress have sent a letter to Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimukhammedov calling for Nepeskuliev’s immediate release.

In late June, RFE/RL and twelve other media and human rights organizations signed a joint letter to President Berdymukhammedov calling for “an end to [Nepeskuliev’s] wrongful imprisonment” and urging his immediate release. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found Nepeskuliev’s detention “arbitrary” and lacking due process in December 2015.

Turkmenistan is consistently ranked as one of the worst violators of press freedom by numerous media monitoring groups, including Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders.

About RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service

Because of prohibitive political conditions, RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service has no presence inside Turkmenistan, but it works through a local network of contributors to provide the country’s only Turkmen-language alternative to state-controlled media. The Service actively engages its audience via cross-border radio, the Internet and on social networks, logging an average of over 650,000 visits and 1 million page views to its website every month during the past year. In the year prior to Nepeskuliev’s arrest, six of the Turkmen Service’s nine correspondents were forced to resign from their jobs in response to government pressure.