RFE/RL correspondents are released from prison

New York, March 24, 2004—Rakhim Esenov and Ashyrguly Bayryev, freelancers for the Turkmen Service of the Prague-based, U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), who were detained in late February and early March by agents from the National Security Service (MNB) in the capital, Ashgabat, have been released.

However, the charges against them are still pending. Both journalists have been told to stop reporting for RFE/RL and remain under surveillance, said a senior RFE/RL official.

Esenov, who was arrested on February 26 and charged by the MNB with instigating social, ethnic and religious hatred after smuggling 800 copies of his banned novel Ventsenosny Skitalets (The Crowned Wanderer) from Russia into Turkmenistan, was released on March 10. Esenov, who has been told to stop working for RFE/RL, cannot leave Ashgabat.

Bayryev was arrested on March 1, but the MNB has failed to specify the exact accusations against him. RFE/RL told CPJ yesterday that the MNB has charged Bayryev with slander but has not provided any explanation for the charge. Bayryev was released from detention on March 13 but like Esenov he cannot leave Ashgabat.

“CPJ is gravely concerned about the working conditions of independent journalists in Turkmenistan,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We urge Turkmen authorities to stop the persecution, harassment, and censorship of RFE/RL correspondents; drop all charges against Rakhim Esenov and Ashyrguly Bayryev; and let them practice their profession freely.”

For more information on this case, see CPJ’s March 5, 2004 letter.