RFE/RL unable to reach reporter


New York, July 11, 2008—A contributing reporter for the Turkmen Service of the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) who was forcibly held for two weeks in two different psychiatric facilities has now had his phone disabled, according to RFE/RL.

Bowing to international pressure, authorities freed Sazak Durdymuradov on July 3. A security officer warned him to “go and tell the truth” about his treatment in detention, and not to “slander” in his broadcasts, he said. Reports of Durdymuradov’s unlawful detention and alleged torture had outraged the international community, which called for his immediate release. CPJ attempted to interview Durdymuradov today, but was unable to get through to him.

Durdymuradov was due to participate today in an RFE/RL broadcast on human rights in Turkmenistan along with three other local contributors. But shortly after the Prague-based Turkmen service made contact with them, all the participants’telephone lines were simultaneously disabled. “We had to record our program with a different panel of participants,” RFE/RL Turkmen Service Director Oguljamal Yazliyeva told CPJ. CPJ also repeatedly tried to reach Durdymuradov today to confirm the details of his detention and release, but was unable to reach him on either his landline or cell phone. 

“We are concerned that we and others are unable to contact our colleague Sazak Durdymuradov and by reports that his phone has been disabled,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “We ask that authorities ensure that Durdymuradov is able to communicate with the outside world.”
Durdymuradov, 59, returned to his home in the Western city of Bakharden on July 4, RFE/RL reported. On July 7, in his first interview since being released, Durdymuradov told the broadcaster that Turkmen security officials said they set him free on the condition that he does not commit what they call slander. Of his detention at the Bezmein psychiatric clinic near the capital, Ashgabat, Durdymuradov said he was “thrown in there,” along with at least 30 mental patients, and left without supervision. “I did not sleep. If I’d fallen asleep, anything could have happened to me,” Durdymuradov told RFE/RL.

The day of his arrest, on June 20, school officials fired Durdymuradov from his full-time job as a high school history teacher. Yazliyeva told CPJ. As part of their efforts to stifle independent reporting, Turkmen authorities often put pressure on journalists and their family members, often by depriving them of their sources of income, CPJ research shows. Durdymuradov’s family of five now has to survive on the meager monthly salary of his younger daughter—330,000 Turkmen manat (about US$65), RFE/RL reported.

In his July 7 interview, Durdymuradov told RFE/RL he would continue his work despite his ordeal. He confirmed that the Turkmen security service coerced him to sign a statement of commitment to stop his collaboration with the radio when he was detained, but he refused. Upon his release, he said, a security officer told him:  “You can collaborate [with RFE/RL] without problems. But don’t slander. Don’t give false information to people. There won’t be problems if you give correct information.”