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Turkmenistan19 March 2004

Second Radio Free Europe journalist released

Journalist Ashyrguly Bayryev, correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Ashkabad, was released on 13 March 2004. He is however forbidden to leave town and legal action against him continues.

Journalist Rakhim Esenov, correspondent in Turkmenistan for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, was released to house arrest overnight on 9-10 March. He is still the subject of legal action. „The main reason for my arrest is my work with RFE/RL‰, he said. The authorities have told him to stop working for the US-run radio. His colleague Ashyrguly Bayryev is still being held for unknown reasons.

Reporters Without Borders has called for the release of two Radio Free Europe (RFE) journalists and writers, Rakhim Esenov and Ashyrguly Bayryev, who have both been arrested by agents of the National Security Ministry (NSM).

It is feared that they could be tortured or ill-treated in detention. The two were arrested respectively on the 26 February and 1 March.

The international press freedom organisation expressed its indignation at the arrests, in a letter to President Separmurat Nyazov. It said it was particularly concerned about the state of health of Esenov and would hold the authorities responsible if anything happened to him in detention.

The 78-year-old suffers from heart problems and had a heart attack after being interrogated on 23 February. He was receiving intensive care in hospital when he was moved to the NSM prison in Achkhabad on 26 February.

The authorities initially accused him of "smuggling", for having brought into the country copies of his historical novel set in the 16th Century, published in Russia. President Nyazov blocked publication of the book for ten years on the grounds that it contained "historical errors" which he unsuccessfully tried to have changed.

Esenov was then accused of "incitement to social, ethnic and religious hatred" an offence that carries a four-year jail sentence under Article 177 of the criminal code. His son-in-law, Igor Kaprielov, was also arrested.

Bayryev, aged 50, was interrogated on 1 March before being transferred to the NSM prison. The official reason for this arrest is not known, but head of RFE’s Turkmenistan service, Naz Nazar, said she was convinced that both journalists had been arrested because of their work with the station, which is known for its commitment to democratic values.

She said that the authorities had been regularly harassing the service. In 2003, another RFE journalist, Saparmurat Ovezberdiev, had twice been illegally arrested by security forces who had beaten, threatened and drugged him.

Turkmenistan, placed 158th out of 166 countries in Reporters Without Borders 2003 world press freedom ranking, is one of the most repressive countries in the world for journalists.

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