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Turkmenistan11 December 2008

President told it is time to end country’s isolation

With three days to go to Turkmenistan’s parliamentary elections, Reporters Without Borders wrote to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov today urging him to “implement reforms that show a real political desire for liberalisation” and to end the isolation of his country and people.

Although foreign observers have for the first time been invited to monitor the elections, it is virtually impossible for candidates to run without backing from the country’s sole political party. This highlights “the extremely limited nature of the measures” so far taken, the letter said.

According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, the pressure on certain categories of the population, including independent journalists, has even increased.

Reporters Without Borders has written to the Turkmen authorities several times in recent years, and it reiterates its appeal in this letter for the government to undertake to:

-  free political prisoners and imprisoned journalists, including Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiyev
-  abolish censorship
-  allow the creation of privately-owned news media
-  allow the foreign news media to operate in Turkmenistan
-  allow unmonitored access to an uncensored Internet
-  allow NGOs to operate in Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan was ranked 171st out of 173 countries in this year’s Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. It is also one of the countries which the organisation has identified as “Enemies of the Internet.”

No independent news media are allowed in Turkmenistan. The foreign news media cannot work there freely and the population is closely watched by the national security services, especially when using the Internet, which was only recently allowed for individuals.

Radio Free Europe correspondent and human rights activist Ogulsapar Muradova was arrested in June 2006 along with Amanklychev and Khajiyev for helping a French TV journalist do a report on Turkmenistan. Muradova was sentenced to six years in prison. The other two got seven years.

Reporters Without Borders learned on 12 September 2006 that Muradova had died in prison as result of injuries apparently sustained in the course of repeated beatings. Her family still does not know all the circumstances of her death and no investigation had been carried out, despite repeated appeals from the international community.

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