Reporter gets five years in Turkmenistan

New York, October 5, 2011 — The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the sentencing today of Dovletmurad Yazguliyev, a local correspondent for the Turkmen service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), to five years in prison on charges of inciting a relative’s suicide attempt.

Authorities detained Yazguliyev on September 27 in his native Akhal region in eastern Turkmenistan and put him on trial on Tuesday, RFE/RL said in a statement. The trial lasted roughly two days and proceeded without a defense lawyer, press reports said.

According to Oguljamal Yazliyeva, RFE/RL’s Turkmen service director, authorities pressured Yazguliyev’s relatives in mid-September to sign a statement saying that Yazguliyev had tried to get his sister-in-law to commit suicide. His relatives later tried to withdraw the statement to no avail, Yazliyeva said.

Today, an Akhal district court convicted Yazguliyev of inciting suicide and sentenced him to five years in jail, RFE/RL reported. Yazguliyev’s family members, including the one who attempted suicide, testified in court in his defense, but their statements were ignored, Yazliyeva told CPJ. Yazguliyev will be appealing the verdict, Yazliyeva said.

“This conviction is none other than an attempt to silence an independent reporter,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on the appeals court to overturn this verdict.”

Yazguliyev and his colleagues believe he is being punished for his critical journalism. He was one of the first journalists to break news of deadly arms storage explosions in the eastern town of Abadan on July 7. Following his reporting for RFE/RL and blogging about the blasts, Yazguliyev was summoned by police and threatened with “consequences” if he did not stop reporting the story, the independent regional news website Fergana News said.

 Initially authorities maintained silence about the blasts, and state-controlled press did not cover the accident. After the news spread out of the country via social networks and mobile phones, the government acknowledged the explosions by releasing a vague statement, the independent regional news website EurasiaNet reported.

Turkmenistan remains one of the world’s most closed societies. Government persecution of independent reporters, human rights defenders, and social activists has all but eradicated critical voices, CPJ research shows. For years, correspondents and contributors of RFE/RL have been singled out for particularly zealous retaliation. They have been subjected to harassment, imprisonment, forced hospitalization, and exile. In 2006, RFE/RL correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova died in prison shortly after her arrest; relatives and colleagues believe she was tortured to death. Authorities continue to refuse an independent investigation into her death. In 2009, CPJ ranked Turkmenistan among the 10 worst countries to be a blogger.