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Turkmenistan8 February 2007

Open letter urges acting president to take concrete measures in favour of press freedom

Reporters Without Borders sent an open letter today to Turkmenistan’s acting president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, calling for measures in favour of freedom of expression in line with the comments he has made. The organisation said that, in the run-up to the 11 February presidential elections, “it takes note of your recent statements in favour of developing democracy and establishing freedom of expression and unrestricted Internet access in your country.”

The letter stressed the urgency of improving press freedom in a country “which unfortunately has a very poor record in this regard.” It pointed out that in the Reporters Without Borders classification of countries according to respect for press freedom in 2006, “Turkmenistan was ranked 167th out of 168 countries, which means it was judged to be the world’s worst country for press freedom after North Korea.”

With the presidential election just a few days away, the organisation urged Berdymukhamedov “to give a concrete demonstration of your desire to promote free expression.” The letter continued: “It would be incomprehensible and unacceptable if human rights violations such as these were to recur. Significant changes as regards press freedom and free expression must be implemented as quickly as possible.”

As a pledge of the intention to introduce democracy, the organisation also urged Berdymukhamedov “to consider the possibility of an amnesty for journalists and dissidents who are in prison.”

The letter referred to the case of the three journalists and human rights activists who were arrested last June for working for a foreign news organisation - Ogulsapar Muradova, Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardourdy Khajiyev - and to Muradova’s death while in prison.

“Their only crime was to help to make a documentary about Turkmenistan that was broadcast on France 2, a French public TV channel,” the letter said, adding: “Today, we deplore not only Muradova’s death but also the lack of any news of her co-defendants since the trial, as they are being held incommunicado.”

There is no independent press in Turkmenistan, the foreign media are not welcome, and the Internet is totally controlled by the state, with the result that the one per cent of the population that is online only has access to a filtered version. President Separmurad Niyazov had imposed a full-blown personality cult after taking power in 1991. His death on 21 December raised hopes of a move towards democracy.

For the first time Turkmenistan, there is more than one contender in next Sunday’s presidential election but Berdymukhamedov is the favourite by far of the four candidates.




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