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Turkmenistan17 March 2005

Russian journalist detained and expelled

Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage today at the way the Turkmen authorities treated Viktor Panov of the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti, who was deported on 12 March after being held for two weeks in Ashgabat. A foreign ministry official who did not want to be identified said Panov was accused of spying for Moscow.

"Even if Russia and Turkmenistan have not been on very good terms since 1991, journalists should not have to pay the consequences by being detained and expelled by force," the press freedom organization said. "Viktor Panov’s expulsion constitutes yet another violation of press freedom in a country where diversity of opinion has completely disappeared."

Panov, who holds both Turkmen and Russian nationality, was initially detained by police for several hours on 23 February for alleged "hooliganism." The next day he was arrested by two foreign ministry officials and placed in custody until he was put on a flight to Russia on 12 March.

The Russian human rights group Memorial said witnesses saw a handcuffed Panov at Ashgabat airport being escorted by several men in plain clothes on to a Moscow-bound flight.

Relations between Turkmenistan and Russia have been strained since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, with Russia taking a great interest in its neighbour’s gas reserves but bristling at the treatment which the Russian minority receives from a government led by the "Father of all Turkmen," President-for-life Separmurad Nyazov.

Nyazov has ruled with an iron hand since 1985 and all the media have been turned into propaganda tools in the service of his personality cult. The few foreign journalists have been virtually all been "invited" to leave and expulsions are not uncommon.




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