WASHINGTON - Seven Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chair of the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press, recently sent a letter to Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, in which they call for the release of RFE/RL Turkmen Service contributor Saparmamed Nepeskuliev.
Rep. Schiff was joined on the letter by Rep. William Keating (D-MA), Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.), Rep. James McGovern (D-Mass.), Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Penn.), and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.).
In their letter, the Members state, "we believe his [Nepeskuliev's] imprisonment is unlawful," noting that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in December 2015 "designated his detention 'arbitrary' and called for his immediate release."
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.
In late June, RFE/RL and twelve other media and human rights organizations signed a joint letter to President Berdimuhamedow calling for “an end to [Nepeskuliev’s] wrongful imprisonment” and urging his immediate release.
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.
The text of the letter follows:
July 8, 2016
His Excellency Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow
President of The Republic Of Turkmenistan
c/o H.E. Meret Orazov, Ambassador
Embassy of the Republic of Turkmenistan
2207 Massachusetts Ave NW
Washington, DC 20008
Dear President Berdimuhamedow:
July 7, 2016 marks one year since Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a contributor to RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, was imprisoned in your country. We believe his imprisonment is unlawful and are writing to urge his release.
Mr. Nepeskuliev courageously reported about economic development, infrastructure, social services, and education in Turkmenistan’s western regions with the aim of informing citizens about challenges facing their communities and helping them improve their lives. He was detained and held incommunicado in July 2015, before being convicted of fabricated narcotics charges and sentenced to three years in prison in closed proceedings in a Turkmenbashi city court on August 31, 2015.
Mr. Nepeskuliev’s case has been reviewed by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which in 2015 designated his detention “arbitrary” and called for his immediate release, declaring that “the [Turkmen] Government failed to demonstrate that Mr. Nepeskuliev was tried, convicted and sentenced in a due process.” Numerous rights groups have protested his detention on humanitarian grounds, citing deteriorating health, his isolation, and lack of any access to family members or lawyers. Indeed, some groups have questioned whether he is alive. We are aware that EU officials raised his case in May 2016, during annual bilateral human rights consultations with Turkmenistan. The OSCE, Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, Committee to Protect Journalists, and Reporters Without Borders have condemned his detention and demanded his release.
As members of the U.S. Congress, we have vowed to promote and protect the same international conventions and standards guaranteeing international law and human rights that Turkmenistan has pledged to uphold. Our support of RFE/RL, and its journalists around the world, is part of that commitment.
During these days as the United States of America celebrates its own independence, we appeal to you, Mr. President, to release a journalist who has been arbitrarily imprisoned and deserves his freedom.
Adam B. Schiff
William R. Keating
James P. McGovern
Joseph R. Pitts