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Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

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CPJ calls on President Berdimuhamedov to lift restrictions on Turkmenistan’s press, release journalist Nurgeldi Halykov.

CPJ calls on President Berdimuhamedov to lift restrictions on Turkmenistan’s press, release journalist Nurgeldi Halykov.

President Serdar Berdimuhamedov Oguzhan Presidential Palace Independence Square Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Sent via email

Dear President Berdimuhamedov,

Following your recent inauguration as president of Turkmenistan, we at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent non-governmental organization advocating for press freedom worldwide, are writing to ask that you use this opportunity to end your country’s restrictions on a free and independent media. As a first step, we urge you to lift restrictions on the press and release imprisoned journalist Nurgeldi Halykov, who was sentenced two years ago today on charges that we believe are in retaliation for his reporting.

Our research at CPJ has documented comprehensive censorship by multiple state agencies which, together with state monopolies over print publishing, broadcasting, and internet services, ensure that little information enters the public domain unless approved by the government. Independent online news outlets such as Khronika Turkmenistana and Turkmen.news are forced to operate from abroad and remain blocked inside Turkmenistan. Such outlets generally rely on networks of undercover correspondents who are frequently jailed for extended periods when their work is discovered, while relatives of journalists who have fled abroad are harassed by law enforcement officers.

Despite this concerning record, as president you have a historic opportunity to chart a new course for your nation. In your inauguration speech on March 19, you rightly identified protecting the constitutionally guaranteed rights of Turkmen citizens as your fundamental duty. Article 42 of the constitution of Turkmenistan enshrines the rights of freedom of speech and freedom to seek, receive, and distribute information. Turkmenistan’s mass media law forbids media censorship, interference in the activities of the media, and monopolization of the media by natural or legal entities, and guarantees citizens’ access to foreign news media. CPJ calls on you to oversee the translation of these positive provisions into reality as an urgent and integral part of your duty to uphold the constitution and the law.

Given the imperative of reform and the existence of legislation that ought to promote press freedom, we are worried by reports of intensified online censorship in recent months. Turkmen journalists tell us that most foreign media and social media networks have long been inaccessible. A government campaign to block whole servers hosting the VPNs (virtual private networks) that citizens use – at risk of prosecution and official harassment – to circumvent this stifling censorship has reportedly led to “near complete internet shutdowns on several occasions this year. We urge you to lift these harmful restrictions, which deprive the Turkmen public of much-needed sources of information and in turn hinder the country’s development.

We are also deeply concerned by the plight of journalist Nurgeldi Halykov, convicted in September 2020 on trumped-up charges of fraud. A correspondent for the independent, Netherlands-based news website Turkmen.news, Halykov was arrested the day after he forwarded his employer a photo of a sensitive World Health Organization mission to Turkmenistan, and sentenced to four years in prison for allegedly failing to repay a loan. Halykov’s employer believes security services discovered Halykov’s wider work for Turkmen.news during interrogation and resolved to jail him for an extended period on fabricated charges. The outlet reported that Halykov was forced to admit to the fraud charges after being threatened with more serious fabricated charges of rape if he did not comply. We call on you to exercise your executive authority to overturn Halykov’s unjust conviction and release him without delay.

Easing restrictions on internet access and independent media and releasing Halykov would not only be the surest way for you to carry out your duty of upholding the constitution; such steps would also signal a commitment to reform to international institutions whose cooperation you have rightly identified as crucial to Turkmenistan’s development. We urge you to seize this important moment in your nation’s history to ensure that journalists are no longer jailed and harassed for their work.

We thank you in advance for your consideration and look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Jodie Ginsberg President Committee to Protect Journalists

Cc.

Merettagan Taganov, Minister of Justice Ministry of Justice of Turkmenistan Building Archabil Avenue, 150 Ashgabat, Turkmenistan support@minjust.gov.tm

Rashit Meredov, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ministry of Foreign Affairs Building Archabil Avenue, 108 744000 Ashgabat, Turkmenistan info@mfa.gov.tm

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