Turkmen authorities on July 7, 2015, jailed Saparmamed Nepeskuliyev, a contributor to the independent news website Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN) and the Turkmen service of the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), according to the ATN site.
The journalist’s family filed a police report on when Nepeskuliyev stopped responding to phone calls and failed to return on home on July 7 from a reporting trip to Turkmenistan’s western city of Awaza on the Caspian Sea, Ruslan Myatiyev, the director of ATN, told CPJ.
Nepeskuliyev had reported on water shortages and the poor social and economic conditions in Turkmenistan and photographed expensive villas said to belong to state officials, according to Myatiyev and a statement by the New York-based group Human Rights Watch.
According to Myatiyev and news reports, when the family filed a police report, authorities told them Nepeskuliyev had been arrested. Myatiyev, citing the journalist’s family, told CPJ that authorities accused Nepeskuliyev of possessing a banned medication. The charge carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years, according to CPJ’s review of the Turkmen criminal code.
On August 31, 2015, authorities sentenced Nepeskuliyev to three years in prison for drug possession, according to ATN.
A week later, Nepeskuliyev’s mother told RFE/RL’s Turkmen service that authorities had denied her family access to information about the journalist’s status and whereabouts, and barred her from visiting him because of security concerns over a visit to the region by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.
Human rights activists and journalists raised Nepeskuliyev’s arrest during their address to the Turkmen delegation at a Warsaw conference on human rights and democracy in September 2015, held under the auspices of the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, ATN reported. In his response, Vepa Khadzhiyev, Turkmenistan’s deputy foreign minister, denied that Nepeskuliyev is a journalist.
The U.N. Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded in December 2015, after diplomatic discussions with the country, that Nepeskuliyev’s detention was arbitrary and called on authorities to release him. On July 8, 2016, seven members of the U.S. Congress sent a letter to Berdymukhamedov calling the journalist’s imprisonment “unlawful.”
RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service told CPJ on September 22, 2016 that the reporter had been held incommunicado in jail in the Balkan province, and that it had been unable to reach his family since September 2015.
RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service confirmed to CPJ in September that Nepeskuliyev was still in jail, but they were not able to get updates on the reporter’s health.