Turkmen journalist Nurgeldi Halykov was released on June 8, 2024. He had been jailed since September 2020 on fraud charges. (Photo: Turkmen.news)

Turkmenistan releases journalist imprisoned for 4 years for COVID photo

Stockholm, June 10, 2024—The Committee to Protect Journalists is relieved by the Saturday release of Nurgeldi Halykov, a freelance correspondent for independent Netherlands-based news website Turkmen.news, after he completed a four-year prison sentence on trumped-up fraud charges.

“We are relieved that Nurgeldi Halykov is free after enduring a shockingly unjust prison term in one of the world’s most opaque and fearsome prison systems,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Turkmen authorities must ensure that no more journalists are jailed for their reporting and work to improve the country’s international reputation by liberalizing the media environment so that independent reporters do not have to work clandestinely or under fear of arrest.”

Police arrested Halykov on July 13, 2020, in the capital, Ashgabat, the day after he forwarded to Turkmen.news a photo that he found on social media of a World Health Organization delegation at a local hotel during the COVID-19 pandemic. A court in September 2020 sentenced him to four years in prison on fraud charges for allegedly failing to repay a loan.

Turkmen.news director Ruslan Myatiev told CPJ  in March 2021 that he suspected authorities discovered Halykov’s wider work for Turkmen.news during questioning, and that was the reason for the extended prison sentence.

Turkmenistan is the only country in the world that says it has not recorded a single case of COVID-19.

The media environment in Turkmenistan is one of the most restrictive in the world, and international news outlets rely on networks of correspondents who often publish anonymously, a number of whom have previously been jailed on retaliatory charges.

The Prove They Are Alive! campaign, a coalition of human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, has recorded dozens of enforced disappearances in Turkmenistan’s prisons.

Ogulsapar Muradova, a reporter for U.S. Congress-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Turkmen service, died in prison in 2006 after sustaining unexplained injuries.