The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has called on the authorities in Turkmenistan to «immediately» release RFE/RL contributor Khudayberdy Allashov.
Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE representative on freedom of the media, urged Turkmen authorities «to ensure journalists’ safety in Turkmenistan,» in a statement issued on December 6.
RFE/RL said in a statement earlier that Allashov was apprehended in Turkmenistan’s northern Dashoguz Province on December 3, when police officers entered his house, beat him, and rounded up his family.
Both Allashov and his mother were charged with possessing chewing tobacco, which, while illegal in Turkmenistan, is commonly consumed and not known to have led to arrests in the past.
Allashov’s wife was told that he had confessed to possessing 11 kilograms of the product and could expect to be sentenced to seven years in prison.
She believes that if he confessed, it was under duress.
Allashov’s arrest follows several cases which Mijatovic has previously raised with the Turkmen authorities.
In October, Soltan Achilova, an RFE/RL correspondent, was physically attacked, while threats to enforce a suspended jail sentence against another RFE/RL correspondent, Rovshan Yazmukhamedov, were made in November.
These cases came a year after another RFE/RL contributor, Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, was sentenced to three years in prison.
«We believe these charges are part of a targeted campaign intended to silence our Turkmen Service and intimidate the Turkmen people,» RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said in a December 5 statement. «Over the last 18 months, our reporters have been arrested, held incommunicado, beaten, interrogated, threatened, and arbitrarily jailed, and we hold the Turkmen government responsible.»
Rights groups say the authoritarian government of natural-gas-rich Turkmenistan, a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, stifles independent voices and tolerates little dissent.