As French ambassador for human rights François Zimeray begins a three-day visit to Turkmenistan today, Reporters Without Borders would like to use the occasion to reiterate its concerns and its still frustrated hopes for press freedom in this former Soviet republic.
The visit offers the Turkmen authorities a great opportunity to satisfy the expectations that were raised by the installation of a new president three years ago. They have a lot to gain by normalising the country’s situation on the international stage. This requires democratisation and, above all, an end to flagrant human rights violations.
Turkmenistan continues to be a hermetic fortress that admits no fundamental freedoms. Reporters Without Borders has learned that a Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty correspondent, Allamurad Rakhimov, was denied entry on 19 May, although he had a visa, and was put on a flight back to Prague without being told why.
Because of continuing harassment, independent journalists have to work clandestinely in an effort to provide their fellow citizens with domestic coverage that is not controlled by the government. They are often summoned for questioning, threatened with prosecution, and fired from their jobs, while their relatives are also exposed to the possibility of reprisals.
We reiterate our appeal to the Turkmen authorities to begin opening the door to dialogue. The prisoner amnesties regularly announced by President Berdymukhamedov could be extended to journalists, human rights activists and political prisoners. Such a gesture would clearly distinguish those now in power from their predecessors. And it would help to increase confidence in the country, especially as regards commercial relations.
We would like above all to point out that Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khadjiyev are still in prison after serving half of the 8-year jail sentences they were given for helping a French TV journalist make a report about Turkmenistan for France 2. Their conditional release or, pending that, an improvement in their prison conditions, would be valuable good-will gestures that would facilitate dialogue.
There must also be an investigation into journalist Ogulsapar Muradova’s death in detention on 12 September 2006 as a result of mistreatment, and the findings must be published.
On 7 April, France began examining its ratification of the EU’s partnership with Turkmenistan. On rapporteur Gaëtan Gorce’s initiative, the national assembly’s foreign affairs commission attached conditions to France’s ratification, including the release of the two imprisoned journalists.
Reporters Without Borders welcomes this move because, rather than representing interference in Turkmenistan’s internal affairs, the conditions would constitute concrete gestures that would help create an opening and pave the way for dialogue.
Turkmenistan is ruled by one of the world’s most closed and repressive regimes. No free press is permitted. All the Turkmen media are controlled by the state and the president runs each publication. The country was ranked 173rd out of 175 countries in the 2009 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.