Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter on Friday to Turkmenistan’s President about threats and intimidation against Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalists. Reporters associated with RFE/RL and their families have faced imprisonment, interrogation, been dismissed from jobs, and prevented from traveling abroad.
“Freedom of information and expression is a cornerstone for the development of democracy and pluralism, and I am very concerned that Turkmen officials are taking aggressive steps against journalists in their effort to deny this basic right,” said Congressman Berman. “Turkmen officials must follow the principles set out in their own constitution to guarantee these freedoms, and put an end to the targeting of RFE/RL journalists.”
In the letter, Mr. Berman urged President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to “end threats and harassment of RFE/RL journalists and their family members as well as reaffirm a commitment to support basic rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression.” Berman commented that, “The free transmission of ideas and opinions are a necessary foundation for opening up Turkmen society and improving the lives of the Turkmen people.”
RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, which was established almost sixty years ago, is the only independent source for news and information in a country that tightly controls the media. Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press Index tied Turkmenistan with Burma, placing it ahead only of North Korea.
Please find a copy of the letter to President Berdimuhamedov below. February 11, 2011 His Excellency Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov President Turkmenistan c/o Embassy of Turkmenistan 2207 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20008
Dear Mr. President:
I am writing to express my strong concerns regarding the treatment of Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) journalists and their associates in Turkmenistan.
As you know, RFE/RL is an international broadcaster, supported by the U.S. Congress, which covers news and information in the Turkmen language from its offices in the Czech Republic. These broadcasts reflect a commitment to pluralism and freedom of information and expression that your country, like the United States, has pledged to honor through membership in the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
However, there have been reports that individuals associated with RFE/RL have been the targets of serious threats and intimidation by agents of the Ministry for National Security because of their work as, or relationship to, RFE/RL journalists. Family members have been subject to imprisonment, arbitrary interrogations, job dismissals, interference with personal and professional communications, and restrictions on travel or “blacklisting”.
My concern for the well-being of these RFE/RL journalists and their family members is heightened by your statement as reported by a Turkmen government website on September 30, 2010. In the address, which recognized the anniversary of the Ministry of National Security, you call on security officials to combat dissent from anyone who would “defame our democratic law-based secular state and try to destroy the unity and solidarity of our society.” These remarks raise serious concerns about the state of freedom of opinion and expression as protected by the Turkmen Constitution and the safety of RFE/RL journalists and associates.
Earlier last year, you signaled interest in broader political participation in your country by calling for the creation of a multi-party system and expanding the role of local governments. Importantly, freedom of expression is a cornerstone for the development of democracy and pluralism in Turkmenistan.
I will continue to follow developments in this area and urge you to end threats and harassment of RFE/RL journalists and their family members as well as reaffirm a commitment to support basic rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression, in Turkmenistan.
Sincerely, HOWARD L. BERMAN Ranking Member