Reporters Without Borders calls on the authorities to explain why they have been holding Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent Rovshen Yazmuhamedov in the northeastern city of Turkmenabat since 6 May.
“Yazmuhamedov’s unexplained detention for the past four days is completely arbitrary and represents a gross violation of his constitutional rights and the international conventions ratified by Turkmenistan,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“What is he accused of, and on what basis? When will he be tried and what are the grounds for holding him in the meantime? The authorities must answer these questions. In such a closed and repressive country as Turkmenistan, there is every reason to suspect that his detention is a reprisal for his journalistic activities.
“We are extremely worried for Yazmuhamedov because of the appalling conditions in Turkmen jails and the government’s attitude to independent media. The international community must do everything in its power to find out what has happened to him and to make sure he is freed.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “In particular, we urge the European Union’s representatives to raise Yazmuhamedov’s detention during the next session of its ‘human rights dialogue’ with Turkmenistan at the end of May, if this unacceptable situation goes on that long.”
Yazmuhamedov, who works for RFE/RL’s Turkmen service, disappeared on the afternoon of 6 May. His mother was told the next day that he had been arrested and was asked to bring his passport to police headquarters in Turkmenabat.
He is now thought to be in a prison belonging to the interior ministry’s Directorate No. 6, which specializes in terrorism and organized crime. His mother told RFE/RL yesterday that surveillance cameras were being installed around the family home. She could not be reached today.
“We have not succeeded in talking to Rovshen’s family today,” Muhammad Tahir, the head of RFE/RL’s Turkmen service, told Reporters Without Borders today. “Her phone line seems to have been disconnected. We still have not obtained any official comment [on the part of the authorities]. We are completely in the dark.”
Yazmuhamedov has worked for RFE/RL since September 2012, mainly covering social issues, which can be very sensitive in Turkmenistan.
A source familiar with his work mentioned a report he recently did about a young girl who was banned from attending a school for wearing an Islamic headscarf. The report elicited strong reactions. Independent journalism tends not to be tolerated in Turkmenistan, where all media are controlled by the state.
Despite some window dressing, Turkmenistan has made no real progress towards democracy in recent years and continues to have one of the world’s most authoritarian and ruthless regimes.
As the next round in the “human rights dialogue” approaches, Reporters Without Borders urges the European Union to hold firm on the conditions that Turkmenistan must fulfil in order to have a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with the EU.
Any relaxation of the conditions would be a betrayal of Turkmen civil society and a sign of weakness towards the authorities, one that would hurt all future negotiations.
Turkmenistan has for years shared the bottom three places in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index with North Korea and Eritrea.