CPJ alarmed by reports of abuse in journalist’s detention

New York, August 14, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about the fate of Ogulsapar Muradova, Ashgabat correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), who has been in a Turkmen prison for almost two months. Officers from the Ashgabat Interior Ministry arrested Muradova on June 18 and have been holding her without charge and access to legal counsel. Muradova’s colleagues and human rights activists fear she could be tortured and drugged in prison, methods that Turkmen authorities have used to coerce other detainees, sources told CPJ.

“We’re greatly concerned about the welfare of our colleague Ogulsapar Muradova, given credible allegations of torture and abuse of political prisoners in Turkmenistan,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We’re alarmed as well by President Niyazov’s statement labeling as traitors Muradova and other detainees.”

Tadzhigul Begmedova, chairwoman of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation, a human rights organization, said Muradova’s three adult children reported seeing the journalist dazed, incoherent, and apparently drugged in prison. During her detention, she said, Muradova was forced to “confess” to taking part in a foreign conspiracy to smear the country.

The foundation, based in Bulgaria because it cannot operate under President Saparmurat Niyazov’s regime, said political detainees are often drugged in Turkmen prisons and forced to confess to elaborate schemes of spying for foreign powers or slandering Turkmenistan.

In June, for instance, Turkmen security officials claimed to have stopped a foreign plot to destabilize the country. One of the alleged plotters, local human rights advocate Annakurban Amanklychev, was described by witnesses as “unrecognizable” after three days of abusive interrogation, Begmedova told RFE/RL. Amanklychev and two other Turkmen human rights activist, Sapardurdy Khadzhiyev and Yelena Ovezova, have been held without charge for two months, CPJ sources said.

Turkmen authorities have not specified the reasons for holding the journalist and three activists. But the state-controlled press has accused Muradova of smearing Turkmenistan’s international reputation. The newspaper Neitralny Turkmenistan, for example, said in June that Muradova had reported “slanderous information” about Turkmenistan to Begmedova in Bulgaria.

On June 19, Niyazov issued a statement on national television condemning Muradova, Amanklychev, Ovezova, and Khadzhiyev. “I don’t know why [the detainees] are engaged in such dirty business in Turkmenistan, a peaceful country where justice is ruling and where nobody is disgraced. … Let people condemn the traitors. The entire population is proud of their motherland, whereas they are trying to harm it,” Amnesty International quoted Niyazov as saying.

The pressure on Muradova mounted this year. In May, she told RFE/RL and the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation that she was being followed by security agents. She said agents were watching her apartment around the clock, threatening her with eviction from her home, and threatening to imprison her son and two daughters if she did not stop contributing to RFE/RL.

The day before her arrest, Muradova said that arsonists set her elderly mother’s home on fire. Neighbors helped put out the blaze, the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation reported. Authorities also jailed Muradova’s three adult children for two weeks in late June, according to international press reports. For more information, see CPJ’s June 21 alert.

Turkmenistan is one of the world’s most censored nations. Read CPJ’s report.