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Turkmenistan20 March 2006

Two radio journalists freed in exchange for stopping work

Reporters Without Borders today welcomed the release from prison of two correspondents in Turkmenistan of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Djumadurdy Ovezov and Meret Khommadov, but deplored the fact that this was conditional on their stopping work for the radio station.

The two journalists, arrested on 7 March, were given 15-day prison sentences on 16 March for alleged “hooliganism”. They were freed the same day and have returned to their homes in the southwestern town of Mary.

Jeff Trimble, head of the radio station, said the fact they were forced to sign a promise to stop working showed clearly they were arrested for their journalistic activities. He thanked international organisations, including Reporters Without Borders, for their support and for helping to raise an international outcry against their imprisonment.

17 March 2006

Radio Free Europe journalists get 15 days in prison for “hooliganism”

Reporters Without Borders today condemned the 15-day prison sentences for “hooliganism” that were imposed yesterday on Djumadurdy Ovezov and Meret Khommadov, correspondents for the Turkmen-language service of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty. Their relatives and the public were barred from attending their trial.

The two journalists, who were arrested on 7 March, were alleged to have disrupted a meeting between officials and a group of elderly people in Mary province, but the lack of transparency surrounding the case suggests that this was not the real reason for their arrest.

Reporters Without Borders called on the authorities to give an public explanation for the summary trials and sentences.

Miklos Haraszti, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s representative on Freedom of the Media, called on the authorities to allow the two journalists to be contacted by the international community after their release.

14 March 2006

Two Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty correspondents arrested for unknown reasons

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about the arrests of Djumadurdy Ovezov and Meret Khommadov, two correspondents for the Turkmen-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the reported disappearance of a third journalist who contributed to the station. Ovezov and Khommadov were arrested at their homes on 7 March.

“The complete absence of information about the reasons and circumstances of the arrests of these journalists is a perfect illustration of the lack of transparency in Turkmenistan,” the press freedom organisation said. “Not only must the press stay silent, but the country itself is closed, No information is allowed to emerge.”

Reporters Without Borders added: “Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is in the Turkmen government’s sights and so the work these two journalists do could have been the reason for their arrests. We condemn these repressive methods and we call for their immediate release.”

The Russian human rights organisation Memorial quoted sources inside Turkmenistan as saying it is assumed the two journalists were taken to the national security ministry and that their arrests were linked to their journalistic work.

The Turkmen-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is the only alternative news source accessible inside Turkmenistan. Ovezov and Khommadov tackled a rage of subjects on the air including jobs, education and retirement.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is a privately-owned station that is funded by the US government. It was created in 1953 to broadcast western news and promote democratic values and institutions in countries on the other side of the Iron Curtain.

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