RFE/RL reporter sentenced to six years jail in secret trial

New York, August 25, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is outraged by the six-year prison sentence handed down today to a radio reporter in Turkmenistan after a closed-door trial that lasted only a few minutes.

Ogulsapar Muradova, a correspondent in the capital Ashgabat for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), was tried without legal representation and convicted of “illegal possession of bullets and ammunition” under Article 287 of the criminal code.

Muradova’s attorney, Kakadzhan Kadyrov, told RFE/RL that soldiers prevented him from approaching his client who appeared in a municipal court in Ashgabat’s Azatlyk district with two co-defendants. The soldiers stopped Kadyrov from mounting a defense. Muradova denies the charges, RFE/RL said.

U.S. government-funded RFE/RL is the last foreign broadcaster to maintain correspondents in the secretive Central Asian state, which is tightly controlled by Saparmurat Niyazov, declared president for life in 1999.

“We condemn this mockery of justice,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We demand that Turkmen authorities release our colleague Ogulsapar Muradova at once, and overturn this bogus conviction.”

Muradova is to serve her sentence in a medium-security prison, RFE/RL reported. She
had already spent more than two months in jail. Colleagues and human rights activists fear she could have been tortured and drugged in prison, methods that Turkmen authorities have used to coerce other detainees to “confess” to “crimes,” sources told CPJ. Officers from the Ashgabat Interior Ministry arrested Muradova on June 18, and held her without charge and access to legal counsel.

Two other detainees, who were rounded up with Muradova, local human rights activists Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khadzhiyev, were sentenced to seven years in prison in the same closed trial and on identical charges, RFE/RL said.

On June 19, Niyazov made a statement on Turkmen national television, calling Muradova and the other detainees traitors to their motherland.

In May this year, a CPJ survey found Turkmenistan to be the third most censored country in the world, behind North Korea and Burma.

For background on Muradova’s arrest and jailing: