Freed Turkmen Journalist Says International Pressure Aided Release

world | Nov 09, 2011 | By RFE/RL 

An RFE/RL reporter in Turkmenistan who was amnestied last month from a five-year jail term says international support helped free him, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports.

Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev told RFE/RL in an interview that the "international pressure, especially by U.S. [senators] and efforts by the U.S. State Department, played a big role in my release. I am very thankful to them."

He said he thinks another reason he was freed from prison is because "there were some high-level government and security officials [in Turkmenistan] who knew that I was being kept in prison on fake charges and they understood it would damage the image of the country" to keep him jailed.

Yazkuliyev was sentenced to five years in prison in early October after being found guilty of "encouraging a relative's suicide attempt." Family members said they had been forced by police to sign statements against him, and that their efforts to retract those statements were ignored in the trial that ensued.

He was officially released on October 26 under what officials said was a general presidential amnesty to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence.

Yazkuliyev's family and supporters said the case against him was retaliation for Yazkuliyev's outspoken investigative reporting, including coverage of deadly explosions at a weapons depot near Ashgabat in July, which were downplayed by the official Turkmen media.

Yazkuliyev's trial and sentence drew widespread condemnation from media-rights groups, including Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, and prompted four senior U.S.senators to express their concern in a letter to the Turkmen ambassador in Washington.

"I was not physically abused while I was in prison, but I lost my health from the strong psychological pressure that I faced there," he told RFE/RL. "Now I cannot sleep more than three to four hours a day."

Yazkuliyev added that the head of the Kaka district police department, district prosecutor Ilmurad Babaev, and others who interrogated him "did not talk about the charges and official accusations they made [against me], but they were very interested in my work with RFE/RL."

Yazkuliyev has been threatened several times by Turkmen officials in recent years because of his work as a journalist.

RFE/RL President Steve Korn after Yazkuliyev's release called him "the victim of policies in Turkmenistan that are aggressively hostile to media freedom" and said "the international community must continue to condemn efforts to silence free speech."

In 2006, RFE/RL Turkmen correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova died in prison shortly after her arrest, prompting international demands for an investigation that never took place. Family members who saw her body before burial said it bore signs of torture and abuse.



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