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Turkmenistan26 June 2008

Radio Free Europe contributor arrested and tortured while government promises EU to improve human rights

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Reporters Without Borders “strongly condemns” the action of the Turkmen police in arresting and torturing Sazak Durdymuradov in an attempt to get him to sign a pledge to stop working for US-funded Radio Free Europe (RFE). His wife located him by chance in a detention centre used by the national security agency (the former KGB) on 24 June, four days after he was arrested at his home.

“The methods used by the security services in this case are unfortunately common,” the press freedom organisation said. “The authorities displayed an appalling cynicism in arresting a journalist just as Turkmenistan was holding talks with the European Union about improving respect for human rights.”

Durdymuradov was arrested at his home in Bakharden, 200 km west of Ashgabat, on 20 June and was taken to a psychiatric hospital near the capital. But he was no longer there when his family went to the hospital the next day. His wife finally found him in a detention centre in Bakharden on 24 June. He has now gone on hunger strike.

The security services tortured Durdymuradov when he refused to sign a letter promising to stop working as a commentator for the Prague-based RFE’s Turkmen service. He told his wife he would rather die than sign.

RFE President Jeffrey Gedmin said: “This is a hideous incident, made all the more so by the fact that President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s government was engaged in a EU dialogue about human rights at the same time that Mr. Durdymuradov was being tortured by its agents.”

The Turkmen authorities use every possible means to hound RFE’s correspondents. One of them, Osman Halliev, said he has been put under a form of house arrest without warning. “My mobile phone has been disconnected,” he said. “My home is being watched from all sides. If I leave home, they follow me. There are police officers among them. The situation is getting worse by the hour. Even my grandson, who needs to go to the kindergarten, is afraid to go out.”

Halliev said his 23-year-old son Umyt was expelled from his university on 20 June after being told by university officials several times that his father should stop working for RFE. Officially, Umyt was expelled for failing an exam but one of his teachers admitted being pressured by the authorities.

Gurbanburdy Durdykuliev, a civil society activist who is often interviewed by RFE, has also been targeted by the authorities. The police went to his home and “recommended” that he undergo a psychiatric examination. His 10-year-old son Aman was sent to a summer camp last week after an official told him “the KGB would not want him to be there.” Durdykuliev said the authorities wanted to intimidate him and reduce him to silence, but “they have made an enemy of a 10-year-old boy.”

Two other journalists are currently imprisoned in Turkmenistan. Khudayberdi Kurbandurdiev has been held since December 2005. Annakurban Amanklychev was arrested on 16 June 2006 for helping the French TV station France 2 prepare a report on Turkmenistan for its “Envoyé Spécial” programme.

Turkmenistan was ranked 167th out of 169 county in the latest Reporters Without Borders world press freedom index. President Berdymukhammedov is on the organisation’s list of Press Freedom Predators and its list of Internet Enemies.

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