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Turkmen RFE/RL journalist sentenced to half a decade

Written by on Sunday, 9 October 2011
Media and Internet, Turkmenistan

Turkmen Journalist Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev (Yazgulyev, Довлетмурад Язгулиев), 43, employed since 2007 with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)’s Turkmen language service Radio Azatlyk, has been sentenced to five years in prison by a court in Kahka (in the Turkmen province Akhal), after only a 2 day hearing.

The reason for his detention?

The journalist was detained on September 27th for supposedly influencing his relative to attempt to commit suicide. He went on trial on October 4th and was just charged with the maximum sentence, under article 106.2 of the criminal code. Family members were forced to sign statements about these false suicide accusations, and when they tried to revoke them in fear of the damage they would do to the detention and trial Dovletmyrat, they were unable to. However, relatives told RFE/RL “…they have “sufficient documents proving that his case is politically motivated.””

The real reason for his detention?

Yazkuliyev was one of the first journalists to cover the deadly explosion, in an Ashgabat suburb of Abadan this past summer on July 7th, against the will of Turkmen authorities.

Yazkuliyev’s covering of the July 2011 explosion lead him to be

“…told he would be charged with “disseminating defamatory information through the media” and ”causing national, social, and religious provocations” if he continued to blog about sensitive information.”

Back on August 18th, neweurasia highlighted the plight that Turkmen bloggers and journalists who spread the word about the explosion through traditional and social media outlets were facing, due to their courageous work covering the situation. For an in-depth look, check out “Turkmen bloggers and journalists in trouble…” And journalist Yazkuliyev is indeed one of these newsmakers unjustly suffering the consequences.

On August 18th, neweirasia said:

“Yazguliyev was summoned by security officials on July 14th and made to appear at the police department in his small home town of Annau. Yazguliyev was accused by the security officer of “slandering and disseminating provocative information” regarding the Abadan blasts.”

“In spite of the fear and intimidation imposed by Turkmenistan’s ‘Big Brother’, Turkmens went online, on their own, and actively participated in making the news and telling the truth of what had happened to everyone outside their borders.”

On October 6th, the Center for Eastern Studies said:

“Yazkuliyev’s family and human rights activists have described the charges as absurd. They linked the conviction to his articles on explosions at an arms depot in Abadan in July of this year which caused a large number of fatalities, and articles exposing corruption in the police force.”

Also on October 6th, Index on Censorship said:

“Yazguliyev and his colleagues believe that the arrest is an attempt to silence the journalist for his critical reports: he was one of the first journalists to break news of deadly arms storage explosions in the eastern town of Abadan on 7 July.”

Similarly, The Telegraph said:

“Mr Yazkuliyev’s supporters say that his real crime was to report on the blasts on July 7 in the town of Abadan and expose the government’s version of events as incorrect.”

In support of what the international community is saying – that he is in-fact being imprisoned for his journalism work – Yazguliyev’s even said that family members, including the one who attempted suicide, testified in court in his defense… but their statements were ignored. If their very words don’t prove he is innocent, and the accusations being held against him are bogus, then what will?

Hence, this is a clear-cut-case of one being targeted for their independent journalism work that does not favor and puppet the Turkmen State.

RFE/RL President Steven Korn called the case against Yazkuliyev “an outrage.” He said:

This was a bogus trial and a predatory sentence that shows that Turkmenistan authorities respect no law and no standards when it comes to their treatment of the media. RFE/RL protests the sentence vigorously and calls on others in the international community to condemn it as well.”

And indeed that is what the international community has been doing – condemning the unjust target against this journalist.

The Committee to Protect Journalists’ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator, Nina Ognianova, said in a press release on October 5th:

This conviction is none other than an attempt to silence an independent reporter.”

On October 5th, about his sentence, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) said:

“We are dismayed and shocked.”

“Yazkuliyev’s fate was decided in just a few hours and in violation of all normal judicial procedures. It is still too soon to say with certainty whether lawyers and journalists attended today’s hearing of whether they were banned, as they were yesterday.”

“Either way, the judges participating in this sham trial have unfortunately demonstrated that the reign of the arbitrary continues unchecked in Turkmenistan, in marked contrast to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s promises of democratization, which he reiterated yet again yesterday.”

Johann Bihr, from the Europe and Central Asia Desk of RWB, told the Associated French Press:

On Wednesday, the trial started at 4:00 pm and after a few hours of proceedings he was sentenced to five years.”

The whole process looked like a sham trial.”

On October 5th, about his sentence, Freedom House said:

“Freedom House condemns the harsh sentence for Yazkuliyev and calls for authorities to drop all charges against him. The Turkmen government must cease its suppression and intimidation of local and foreign media in an effort to promote press freedom.”

On October 7th, American Congressman Berman made a statement regarding the journalist’s arrest, reported the Broadcasting Board of Governors:

“Rep. Berman told RFE/RL “By doing this interview and speaking out on this issue, I hope [it] will help to persuade the Turkmen officials — during the time that Mr. Yazkuliyev is appealing his case — that they will reexamine the facts in the light of the unfairness of the trial and come to the correct decision and free him.””

“”The government of Turkmenistan has to understand that the people of Turkmenistan are entitled to freedom of expression and that for Turkmenistan to evolve into a truly just country, they have to develop democratic governance, respect different opinions, ensure freedom of speech, and freedom of the press. I have written the president of Turkmenistan six or seven months ago about this issue, apparently to no avail. The government seems to be [pursuing] the same kind of harassment and criminalization of conduct that in a free society would not be tolerated.””

Yazkuliyev now has 10 days to file an appeal before the regional court. neweurasia stands firm with the international community in supporting Yazkuliyev in his unjust case and in the overall fight for media freedom in Turkmenistan – to which this Radio Azatlyk journalist has clearly been a victim of.

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