New York, May 12, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is appalled by the brutal April 30 attack on Mukhamed Berdiyev, a correspondent for the Turkmen Service of the U.S. government–funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), who was beaten by unknown assailants in his apartment in Moscow. He was discovered lying unconscious three days later by the apartment’s landlord, who had come to collect the monthly rent.
CPJ spoke with Mukhamed’s son, Shanazar Berdiyev, who recounted what his father had told him about the incident. Early in the evening of April 30, Mukhamed, who immigrated to Russia from Turkmenistan in 1995 after he and his family were repeatedly harassed by Turkmen authorities, received a phone call from a man claiming to have just returned from Turkmenistan with letters from Mukhamed’s friends. The man asked for Mukhamed’s address and, when Mukhamed gave it to him, said he would bring them shortly.
An hour later, three unknown men came to Mukhamed’s apartment and, when he opened the door, stormed in and began beating him without explanation. Following the attack, the assailants cut the phone line and electricity in the apartment and broke the journalist’s computer.
Mukhamed was discovered in critical condition by his landlord on May 4. The landlord notified Shanazar, who arrived immediately and called an ambulance. According to the doctor, Mukhamed suffered from two broken ribs, a severe brain concussion, partial loss of sight, a vast hematoma, and numerous bruises. He spent two days in a Moscow hospital but requested to be treated at home because of poor hospital conditions, Shanazar told CPJ. Mukhamed is currently at his son’s apartment, but his vision remains impaired and he moves with difficulty.
Pattern of attacks
Both Mukhamed and Shanazar Berdiyev work as freelance correspondents for RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, which Turkmen authorities have targeted for its independent and critical reporting. MNB agents arrested and questioned freelancers Rakhim Esenov and Ashyrguly Bayryev in early March. Following their conditional release, they were warned to stop working for RFE/RL and to sever all contact with the broadcaster. The arrests of Esenov and Bayryev were preceded by the intense persecution of RFE/RL correspondent Saparmurat Ovezberdiev in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat. (See CPJ’s March 5 protest letter).
The Berdiyevs have also been previously targeted. One day before the April 30 assault on Mukhamed, unknown individuals broke into Shanazar’s Moscow apartment and ransacked it. “Nothing was taken,” he told CPJ, “but everything was lying around in a complete disorder.”
On July 29, 2003, Mukhamed was attacked and beaten unconscious in Moscow by two unknown assailants on the street while walking home. The beating came after an article appeared on the information site www.Centrasia.ru advising President Niyazov’s “ill-wisher,” Mukhamed Berdiyev, to stop criticizing the Turkmen government and “return to normal life.”
Shanazar was attacked at his doorstep on September 2, 2003, when an unidentified man in a police uniform came from behind and hit him hard on the head. Shanazar fell on the floor but managed to roll on his back and see his attacker before losing consciousness. The assailant warned him: “This better be the last time I see you.”