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Another Turkmen Reporter Silenced

By News Briefing Central Asia

The conviction of Turkmen journalist Dovletmyrat Yazguliev has outraged human rights defenders, who say that only if the government is pressured by the international community is there any chance the sentence will be overturned.

Yazguliev, who reported for RFE/RL’s Turkmen service, was given five years in jail on October 5 after a short trial. He was accused of inciting a relative to commit suicide, an allegation that colleagues and activists say was fabricated to punish Yazguliev for his reporting, and more generally as a warning to others.

In July, Yazguliev was instrumental in getting out news of a major explosion in the town of Abadan. He reported on the authorities’ tardy response to the arms dump blast which devastated the town, and noted their reluctance to release information about it. (See Web Users Evade Controls to Report Turkmen Blast.)

Earlier in the year, he had covered the revolutions sweeping the Middle East and draw analogies with the situation in Turkmenistan. According to one colleague, this annoyed the authorities and prompted them to act.

"It all started right after the Arab unrest," he said. "The authorities were displeased with his reporting and he was summoned to the national security agency in Ahal province, and warned he would face dire consequences."

Other commentators note that Yazguliev’s trial came just before the official start of campaigning for a presidential election next February. The incumbent, Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov, who came to power after the death of Turkmenistan’s long-term leader Saparmurat Niazov, will seek re-election as a formality.

"Of course Yazguliev would have produced reports on the election campaign, in which Berdymuhammedov has invited the opposition to participate, and on the election itself," an Ashgabat-based activist said. "How can the authorities allow objective points of view to come out of Turkmenistan?"

The activist urged foreign media and international organisations to exert more pressure on the Turkmen government and require it to quash the fraudulent verdict and to stop persecuting journalists.

Tajigul Begmetova, leader of Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation on Human Rights based in Bulgaria, agreed that this was the only possible route to securing justice for the jailed reporter.

"Yazguliev will appeal against the verdict, but that process doesn’t work in Turkmenistan," she said. “We can do nothing but appeal to international institutions.”

The French human rights group Reporters Sans Frontieres has voiced its concern about the judgement, while the Kazakstan Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law says it is prepared to provide Yazguliev with legal assistance for his appeal.

This article was produced as part of IWPR's News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.