After months without any news, Reporters Without Borders has finally obtained information about the prison in which two journalists and human rights activists, Sapardurdy Khadjiyev and Annakurban Amanklychev, have been detained for the past two and a half years. They are being held in a desert region that is extremely hot in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter, and their contact with the outside world is reduced to the barest minimum.
“We are deeply shocked by the inhumanity of the conditions in Turkmenbashi high security prison in western Turkmenistan, where Khadjiyev and Amanklychev have been held since September 2006 and where they still have several years of their sentence to serve,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The detainees are forced to endure conditions that few could resist.”
The press freedom organisation added: “We again appeal to the authorities to amnesty journalists and political prisoners. Additional prisoners are to be released on national flag day on 19 February but, according to what we have learned, they do not include any journalists.”
Turkmenbashi prison is located in a remote desert near the Caspian Sea, where the inmates spend much of their time in filthy, overcrowded cells with no access to drinking water. They do not get enough to eat and the quality of the food is poor. Temperatures can reach 40 centigrade in summer and -50 in winter. The detainees are forced to do agricultural work in these unbearable climatic conditions. The range of supplies that relatives may send them is very limited. Newspapers, including foreign publications, are banned.
Khadjiyev and Amanklychev were sentenced to seven years in prison in August 2006 on a trumped-up charge of “possession of illegal munitions” under article 287 of the criminal code. Fellow journalist Ogulsapar Muradova, who received a six-year sentence in the same case, died in September 2006 after being beaten by guards in Ovodan Depe high security prison (located north of the capital, Ashgabat).
The three journalists were arrested for helping the French TV production company Galaxie-Presse prepare a report on Turkmenistan for the French TV station France 2’s “Envoyé Spécial” programme.
Reporters Without Borders and seven other NGOs sent Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov an open letter on 3 February urging him to release imprisoned journalists as part of the amnesty to be announced on national flag day.
Requests for the provisional release of Khadjiyev and Amanklychev have been systematically refused since their arrest, and their relatives and friends have received very little news of them. They are listed as political prisoners by international organisations.
One the world’s most closed societies, Turkmenistan was ranked 171st out of 173 countries in the 2008 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. Its president is on the Reporters Without Borders list of “Predators of Press Freedom.”
Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press freedom throughout the world. It has nine national sections (Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). It has representatives in Bangkok, London, New York, Tokyo and Washington. And it has more than 120 correspondents worldwide.