International rights organizations have expressed outrage at news that RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova died in custody. They blame Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov’s government for what they say appears to be an extrajudiciary execution and call upon the international community to press Ashgabat to shed light on the journalist’s death.
PRAGUE, 14 September 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) media watchdog said it was "shocked" by reports of Muradova’s death.
Talking to RFE/RL from Paris, the RSF’s Elsa Vidal said the group has called for a protest meeting in the French capital.
"We have decided to demonstrate outside Turkmenistan’s Embassy in Paris so that this murder will not be left unpunished and at least we [do not remain] silent," she said.
Talking to RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service from the embassy’s building a few hours later, RSF editor Jean-Francois Julliard said some 30 people had gathered there and were seeking to meet with the Turkmen ambassador.
"We won’t leave the embassy until we have news about what [really] happened to Ogulsapar," he said.
Muradova’s children say security officials notified them of their mother’s death today. Family members were eventually authorized to see Muradova’s body.
They were subsequently quoted by the exiled Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (THF) as saying the corpse had marks on the neck and a "large wound" on the forehead.
Security officials, however, claim Muradova died of natural causes.
But for THF chairwoman Tajigul Begmedova, there is no doubt Muradova was killed.
"We’re confronted with the active political assassination of Ogulsapar Muradova, an RFE/RL journalist and a former human rights activist," she said. "We have all reasons to say that [she] died of a violent death after being tortured and offended."
Aaron Rhodes, the executive director of the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), also says he believes Muradova died violently.
Trumped Up Charges?
"It appears that she has been summarily executed by the authorities, which she certainly doesn’t deserve, and nobody does," he said.
Muradova was arrested in mid-June with several human rights activists and her three adult children without explanation.
Her children were later released. But the journalist and two codefendants -- THF activists Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiev -- were sentenced on August 25 to up to seven years in jail on charges of illegally possessing ammunition, charges that rights groups say were fabricated.
Rhodes says his and other organizations have had serious concerns about the detentions and the trial.
Seeking An Explanation
"IHF and quite a few other human rights groups have appealed to the Turkmen authorities about this case beginning on July 17," he said. "We have been worried about the status of these prisoners who [were] detained without explanation and eventually sentenced in a kind of a show trial which does not meet international standards of due process and to which no member of the international community was allowed to access to observe. The trial lasted something like 10 minutes and does not satisfy anyone that there was a serious examination of guilt or innocence before the law."
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) today called upon Turkmen authorities to shed light on Muradova’s death.
Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, told RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service that he was "quite shaken" and "very sad" by news of the journalist’s death.
Haraszti also said he regretted that Muradova did not have time to appeal the court decision that sentenced her to jail.
RFE/RL September 14, 2006