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How CPJ investigates and classifies attacks on the press

FEBRUARY 23, 2004
Posted: March 22, 2004

Rakhim Esenov, RFE/RL

Esenov, a freelance journalist for the Turkmen Service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), was called in for questioning by agents from the National Security Ministry (MNB) who accused him of smuggling 800 copies of his novel Ventsenosny Skitalets (The Crowned Wanderer) from Russia into Turkmenistan. The book, a historical account of the Mogul Empire, was published for the first time in Russia in 2003 after being banned in Turkmenistan for 10 years.

Esenov, a respected writer and historian, has been subjected to official harassment since 1998 and has periodically been called in for questioning by MNB agents and pressured to sever his collaboration with RFE/RL. In 2003, the Chief Prosecutor's Office forced Esenov to sign a handwritten statement promising that "he will become a law-abiding citizen, will always be loyal to [Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov] and support his policies," RFE/RL told CPJ. In a letter to RFE/RL regarding this incident, Esenov said, "Authorities want to condemn my relation with Radio Liberty as an illegal activity."

During the February 23 questioning, Esenov was asked to reveal who helped him finance and ship the book to Turkmenistan. MNB officials also pressured him to reveal names of other RFE/RL correspondents working in Turkmenistan, said RFE/RL.

Esenov, 78, is in poor health, said RFE/RL. He recently suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized with a stroke after the MNB questioned him on February 23. Two days after his stroke, while still in the hospital, Esenov was questioned again by MNB agents. Following this round of questioning, the journalist was moved to an intensive care unit. On February 26, MNB agents arrested Esenov and placed him in an MNB prison.

The MNB has charged Esenov with instigating social, ethnic, and religious hatred. According to Article 177 of Turkmenistan's Criminal Code, he faces up to four years in prison if convicted, RFE/RL reported. MNB officials have also arrested Esenov's son-in-law, Igor Kaprielov, as part of the government's broader policy of imposing collective punishment against the families of journalists and opposition activists. The MNB has charged Kaprielov with illegal smuggling under Article 254.2 of the Criminal Code.

On March 9, 2004, Esenov was conditionally released from prison but is not allowed to leave his house, RFE/RL told CPJ. The charges against him have not been dropped.

MARCH 1, 2004

Posted: March 22, 2004
Updated: April 22, 2004

Ashyrguly Bayryev, RFE/RL

Bayryev, a freelancer for the Turkmen service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), was detained by the National Security Ministry (MNB), reportedly because of his friendship with fellow-RFE/RL freelancer Rakhim Esenov-a respected writer and historian arrested by the MNB on February 26.

Initially, authorities did not specify the charges against Bayryev. However, the MNB later charged him with slander but did not provide any explanation for the charge.

On March 13, Bayryev was released from prison, but he cannot leave the capital, Ashgabat.

Bayryev, a close friend of Esenov who has been an RFE/RL freelancer since 1998, has also been persecuted for working with the radio service, a senior RFE/RL official told CPJ. On April 4, 2003, police detained Bayryev, took him to an Ashgabat police station, accused him of being in contact with RFE/RL's Ashgabat correspondent Saparmurat Ovezberdiev, and warned him to end his communication with Ovezberdiev.