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Joint Letter: Turkmen Authorities Urged to Free RFE/RL Journalist Held Incommunicado
Dear Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov of Turkmenistan,
Dear Ambassador Meret Orazov,
We, the undersigned, are writing on the eve of the annual bilateral consultations between the United States and Turkmenistan, to be held on October 15 in Washington, DC, to urge you to release imprisoned reporter Saparmamed Nepeskuliev. We are convinced that his arrest and continued incommunicado detention are directly linked to his work as a reporter.
A freelance journalist for Alternative Turkmenistan News and the Turkmen Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Nepeskuliev went missing in Avaza on July 7, 2015. Only several weeks later, on July 28, did his family discover he was being detained in a prison in Akdash. An official there confirmed that Nepeskuliev was in custody and that he would be charged and tried for unlawfully “possessing pills with narcotic substances.” It is now believed that he has already been sentenced to three years in prison, but due to the clandestine nature of his detention, this cannot be confirmed. The authorities have not informed Nepeskuliev’s family of the status of his detention and his current, specific whereabouts, and have provided no details on his trial and sentence.
Neither his family nor his lawyer have been allowed to visit or have any contact with him. To date they have been unable to obtain a copy of the judgment against him in order to file an appeal. This failure to release information pertaining to his case has been attributed to a travel ban in the region surrounding Turkmenbashi, near the prison where Nepeskuliev’s family believes he has been transferred. Because of the abysmal prison conditions in Turkmenistan and because Nepeskuliev is being held incommunicado, we are very concerned for his health and safety.
There are grounds for concern that the Turkmen authorities are putting tremendous pressure on Nepeskuliev’s family. His mother unsuccessfully attempted to visit her son in prison. She tried a second time at the end of September, and since then we have lost all contact with her. We are now extremely worried for her safety.
Should the Turkmen authorities continue to conceal information about Nepeskuliev’s fate and whereabouts, Nepeskuliev would be the victim of an enforced disappearance, which is a grave crime under international law.
Turkmenistan has the highest number of enforced disappearances in Eurasia and it is ranked 178th out of 180 on Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index, only above North Korea and Eritrea.
The repressive actions taken against journalists in Turkmenistan have not gone unnoticed by the United States and the international community. For example, the 2014 US Department of State Report on Human Rights Practices said, with regard to Turkmenistan: “[T]he most important human rights problems were arbitrary arrest; torture; and disregard for civil liberties, including restrictions on freedoms of religion, speech, press, assembly, and movement;…. Officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government acted with impunity. There were no reported prosecutions of government officials for human rights abuses.”
We hope that these issues will be discussed during the upcoming bilateral talks with the US administration.
Nepeskuliev’s incommunicado detention, imprisonment on trumped up charges, and the authorities’ efforts to keep his family from contacting him and appealing his alleged conviction are serious violations of his rights and of Turkmenistan’s commitments under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We urge you to immediately release him.
We thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this urgent matter.
Daniel Calingaert, DPhil
Executive Vice President, Freedom House
Senior Adviser, Norwegian Helsinki Committee
Deputy Director, Europe and Central Asia Division, Human Rights Watch
Coordinator, Cotton Campaign
US Director, Reporters Without Borders
Editor, Alternative Turkmenistan News
Editor in Chief, RFE/RL