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Turkmenistan23 January 2006

President personally sentences journalist to eight years in prison

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The detention of Khudaiberdy Kurbandurdyev, the editor of the official weekly Adalat, is “arbitrary and outrageous,” Reporters Without Borders said today. Kurbandurdyev was convicted of treason and sentenced to eight years in prison by President Separmurad Nyazov in person last month. He is alleged to have illegally employed two people suspected of contacts with terrorists who tried to assassinate Nyazov in 2003.

In Turkmenistan, the president himself imposes prison sentences and punishments on senior government officials, while the state prosecutor just administers the sentence. As the press is under complete government control, journalists are treated as civil servants working for the president.

“Nyazov’s methods are terrifying and archaic,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The press is completely under his control. He imposes an absolute dictatorship, even assuming broad judicial powers. He can hire and fire any journalist. Only a handful of countries in the world are run along such crude lines.”

The press freedom organisation added: “We are very concerned for Kurbandurdyev’s fate. We have no information about his prison conditions and state of health. According to reports, Turkmenistan’s prisons are overcrowded, food is strictly rationed and the hygiene is absolutely deplorable. No medical treatment is available. Kurbandurdyev’s life is probably in danger.”

Kurbandurdyev began his career in the presidential administration as an interior ministry press officer. Because of his dedication to state propaganda, he ended up being promoted to the editorship of Adalat (Justice), one of the country’s most popular newspapers.

He was immediately placed in provisional custody when an investigation was begun against him last June. He was transferred to a prison after his conviction in December, but it is not known in what prison he is now being held.

The Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights told Reporters Without Borders he could be in a special prison near the western city of Turkmenbashi that is reserved for former military officers, intelligence officials and politicians who run afoul of the regime, or at Avadan-DP prison about 30 km south of the capital, Ashgabat, where ordinary political dissidents are held.

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