RFE/RL reporter dies in prison

New York, September 14, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists deplores the death in prison of a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Turkmenistan. CPJ called for an inquiry into the death of Ogulsapar Muradova of RFE/RL’s Turkmen service whose body was released to her family today.

One Turkmen human rights group which had spoken with relatives said Muradova had suffered head and neck injuries.

Authorities in the capital Ashgabat handed over the body only after Western diplomats accompanied Muradova’s children to the morgue, the station’s Turkmen service director Aleksandr Narodetsky told CPJ. They declined the family’s request for an autopsy and did not disclose the cause or date of death.

Security forces surrounded the Muradova home and prevented people from seeing the body or contacting Muradova’s relatives whose telephones have been cut.

Following her detention, Muradova, 58, was held incommunicado and denied legal counsel. She was convicted of possessing ammunition and sentenced to six years in jail on August 25 after a closed-door trial that lasted only minutes. See CPJ’s news alert: http://www.cpj.org/news/2006/europe/turkmen25aug06na.html

“We mourn the death of our colleague Ogulsapar Muradova,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Authorities have not yet made public the time and cause of death but their secretive conduct, combined with unofficial accounts of wounds found on her body, raise suspicions of foul play.”

The Turkmen Helsinki Foundation, a human rights organization operating from Bulgaria, released a statement, saying that Muradova’s body showed a large head wound and bruises around the neck. It spoke with her adult children Sona and Maral before the telephones were cut. RFE/RL’s Narodetsky also said that the children reported that their mother had a head wound.

An official at the Turkmen embassy in the United States said that the embassy was unaware of Muradova’s case.

The Turkmen Helsinki Foundation said Muradova had been drugged in jail, tortured, and coerced to confess to “illegal activities.”

The fate of two local human rights activists, who were tried and imprisoned on identical charges along with Muradova remains unknown. Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khadzhiyev, were sentenced to seven years in prison in the same closed trial.

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