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Turkmenistan26 November 2003

Authorities harass Radio Liberty correspondent

Reporters Without Borders today called on the authorities of Turkmenistan to stop their alarming harassment of Saparmurat Ovezberdiev, the correspondent in Ashgabat of the Turkmen-language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, who has been tailed, beaten, drugged and illegally detained by police in the course of the past few months.

The organisation wrote to Turkmen President Saparmurat Nyazov urging him to do everything possible to ensure that Ovezberdiev is allowed to work freely as a journalist, without fear of physical or bureaucratic reprisals.

"As a member of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Turkmenistan has undertaken to respect press freedom, but it is the country in Europe where journalists have the most intolerable conditions of work," the letter said.

On 14 November, Ovezberdiev was forcibly taken by two men who were probably secret service agents to a cemetery in Ashgabat where he was brutally beaten, threatened and then dumped on the side of a road. The two men said: "We’ve had enough of you, we’re going to get rid of you." Ovezberdiev sustained head injuries in this incident.

Previously, on 11 September, Ovezberdiev was arrested by officers of the national security ministry and was detained for three days. They drugged him, manhandled him and threatened to imprison him for 20 years as a traitor.

Ovezberdiev is in charge of two programmes, "Vox Pop" and "Open Microphone." In the second, listeners have a opportunity to speak out when their rights are violated and to get in touch with legal experts and human rights organisations abroad. Representatives of the national security ministry have several times called for an end to these programmes.

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