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An airport in Ashgabat features a portrait of Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in September 2016. Turkmen authorities threatened and detained journalist Soltan Achilova on May 9, 2018, as she was attempting to take pictures. (Reuters/Marat Gurt)

Journalist detained, threatened in Turkmenistan

May 15, 2018 10:19 AM ET

Turkmen police detained Ashgabat-based journalist Soltan Achilova on May 9, 2018, according to her employer, the Turkmen service of the U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), locally known as Azatlyk.

Achilova was on her way to photograph a commemoration ceremony for Victory Day, which is widely celebrated on May 9 across the former Soviet Union as the end to World War II, when several plainclothes officers stopped her, Azatlyk reported. The journalist told them she was taking pictures of the ceremony for her report and the men then insulted and threatened her, the same report stated.

Three men in police uniform then approached Achilova and asked her to follow them to the police station, which she refused to do, according to the report. The police then demanded that Achilova delete all the photographs she had taken, then grabbed her arms and dragged her into a waiting car, Azatlyk stated.

Achilova told RFE/RL that police threatened her with drug possession charges if she refused to delete the photos. When she again refused, the men took her camera by force and deleted the pictures, according to RFE/RL. Turkmen authorities tightly control the country's media and view any sort of journalistic activity with suspicion, according to CPJ research.

Police detained Achilova for two hours and demanded that she publicly denounce working for RFE/RL, the news website reported.

Achilova is a veteran journalist who has photographed everyday life in Turkmenistan. She has faced numerous physical assaults, threats, and robbery by police, thugs, and other unidentified assailants, CPJ has reported.

On May 7, 2018, Turkmen Deputy Foreign Minister Vepa Hadjiyev said at a hearing of the U.N. Human Rights Council on Turkmenistan in Geneva that "the fact that Radio Liberty correspondents work freely in the country" proves that there is media freedom in Turkmenistan, Azatlyk reported.

RFE/RL said that six of Azatlyk's correspondents quit their jobs between 2014 and 2016 because of a "deliberate, state-sponsored campaign of intimidation and abuse that targeted them because of their reporting." Its correspondent Saparmamed Nepeskuliyev has been in jail on trumped-up drug possession charges since July 7, 2015, according to CPJ research.

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