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Turkmenistan’s Nonstop Campaign Against An RFE/RL Journalist


Soltan Achilova reports for RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, known locally as Radio Azatlyk

Veteran Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Turkmen Service correspondent Soltan Achilova, 69, has been the target of no fewer than 11 physical attacks over the last two years in retaliation for her journalism. Her photographs and short dispatches have provided an uncensored glimpse of daily life in one of the world’s most closed societies, sometimes depicting hardship, and sometimes celebration. In return, she has been subjected to repeated assaults, threats, shouted obscenities, and accusations of treason by government authorities and willing thugs as part of an unrelenting campaign meant to silence her. The OSCE, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House and other international monitors have condemned the harassment of Achilova and other independent journalists in Turkmenistan. RFE/RL has deplored the attacks and the impunity granted her attackers, and demanded that Achilova be allowed to do her job. The campaign against her is illustrated here.

Achilova was accosted by two young men on bicycles and punched in the chest in the town of Yoloten, where she was visiting her relatives. The men demanded to know why she had taken pictures of their homes -- something she said she had not done. They snatched her bag, causing her to fall and injure herself. The same day, local police impounded her relatives' car and said it would not be returned until she left the town.

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June 9, 2018
As Achilova was on her way to photograph a ceremony marking Victory Day at the country’s new WWII memorial complex in Ashgabat, she was stopped by several men in plain clothes and three police officers who demanded she delete any photographs, dragged her down the stairs into a car, called her a “slut and traitor of the motherland,” and threatened her with arrest on drug-related charges. They detained her for two hours, demanding that she stop working for RFE/RL.

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May 9, 2018
Achilova was reporting about the demolition of private houses in the village of Koshi, on the outskirts of Ashgabat, when she was surrounded by four men who seized her camera and deleted the photos.

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November 27, 2017
Achilova was on her way to photograph people queuing for sunflower oil at a local shop when she was followed by a man who shouted obscenities at her and told her to stop taking pictures. He shouted, “I'll take a stone and break your head if you ever take a camera in your hands. I'll destroy it along with you." He told her to "go home, stay in the house. If you leave, you die.”

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November 14, 2017
Achilova was en route to take photos on Turkmenistan’s “Day of Bicycles” when she was threatened with her life by a man who identified himself as a police officer and said he was tasked with following her. He warned her that if she continued to take photos, she would be “finished.” Human Rights Watch cited the incident as evidence of the need to protect the rights of journalists and activists during the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games in Turkmenistan.

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July 29, 2017
Achilova was attacked twice during a 24-hour period. In the first incident, she was on a bus in Ashgabat photographing preparations in the capital for the Asian Indoor Games when a large man accosted her from behind and tried to snatch away her smartphone. The next day, a young man in his early 20s grabbed her by the shoulder and tried to seize her camera as she was leaving the Information Center of the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat. He ran away when he saw other people coming out of the building.

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July 27-28, 2017
A man tried to steal Achilova’s cellphone as she was about to take a photo.

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July 22, 2017
Achilova was returning home from the Information Center of the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat when she was hit from behind and realized she had been knocked to the ground. As she looked around she saw four men on bicycles who asked her if she was OK. She tried to photograph them, but they attacked her again and ran over her while she was on the ground. They tried to snatch her camera, but she quickly put it inside her bag.

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November 25, 2016
In an attack Achilova believes was meant for her, an elderly woman staying in a rehabilitation center where Achilova was receiving medical treatment was knocked to the floor by two unknown women who beat her and shouted, “This is for your taking pictures.” Later, the women accosted Achilova in the center’s cafeteria, yelling, “This is the one who takes pictures and pours dirt on Turkmenistan.”

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November 8, 2016
Achilova was threatened with arrest by police after taking photos of long queues at a state-owned store in the capital city Ashgabat. After her release several hours later, three men and a woman in plain clothes demanded she delete all the photos and then assaulted her, snatching her bag and her camera away. Human Rights Watch issued a statement decrying the attack, saying “Achilova’s ordeal was clearly yet another orchestrated attempt to silence a critic.”

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October 25, 2016
As Achilova took photos of shoppers queuing at a meat store in Ashgabat, five people in plain clothes flashed a police badge and grabbed her, took her camera away, and questioned her, demanding to see her ID. They asked her why she was not ashamed to work for RFE/RL.

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December 13, 2014

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