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France/Turkmenistan7 July 2006

Reporters Without Borders demonstrates outside Turkmen embassy for release of three journalists and human rights activists

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Chanting “Freedom in Turkmenistan,” some 30 French and foreign journalists and Reporters Without Borders staff members demonstrated outside the Turkmen embassy in Paris this morning to demand the release of three journalists and human rights activists held in Ashgabat for the past three weeks. The Reporters Without Borders staff carried signs with the names and photos of the three detainees.

Annakurban Amanklychev, a contributor to the production company Galaxie-Presse and the French TV station France 2, Ogulsapar Muradova, the Turkmenistan correspondent of the US radio station Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, and Sapardurdy Khajiev were arrested on 16-18 June and taken to the headquarters of the national security ministry (the former KGB office). All three are International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights activists. They are accused of spying and face long prison terms.

Reporters Without Borders previously wrote to the first secretary of the Turkmen embassy proposing that he should meet with its secretary-general, Robert Ménard, during today’s demonstration to discuss the Turkmen government’s position on the imprisoned journalists and human rights activists. The first secretary agreed and called back twice, on 6 and 6 July, to confirm the meeting.

But to Reporters Without Borders’s astonishment, it found the door to the embassy closed this morning and the planned meeting with the first secretary did not take place.

Ménard nonetheless delivered a short address outside the embassy, calling Turkmenistan a news and information “black hole” and accusing its president of banning all forms of press freedom. He said the foreign media were never welcome there and he feared for the lives of the three detainees, who have already been tortured since their arrest.

Galaxie-Presse president Bernard Vaillot, who also took part in the demonstration, insisted that Amanklychev was not a spy, just someone who works with Catherine Berthillet of Galaxie-Presse and who was preparing a report about Turkmenistan for the France 2 programme “Envoyé Spécial.” Amanklychev was carrying a hidden camera only because the Turkmen government does not allow TV reporters to operate, he said, adding that TV reports are necessary so that the public can be informed about Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan was ranked third from last in the 2005 Reporters Without Borders classification of countries according to their respect for press freedom. Only North Korea and Eritrea were considered worse.


Pictures credits= Véronique Vincent and German Guzman

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