Turkmenistan : RFE/RL reporter hounded for snapping supermarket line
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the repeated attacks and acts of harassment targeting Soltan Achilova, an RFE/RL correspondent in Turkmenistan, who has been assaulted twice in the past few weeks.
Aged 67 and employed by RFE/RL’s Turkmen-language service, Achilova was chased by a policeman and the manager of a supermarket in Ashgabat on 25 October after taking photos of a long line outside the supermarket.
When she went to a sanatorium later the same day, two plainclothes policemen questioned her about her family and place of residence and accused her of taking photos without permission.
After being interrogated for several hours in the street and refusing to go to a police station, she was eventually allowed to leave. But she was attacked, insulted and robbed by a woman and three men just a few minutes later. In a state of shock, she finally managed to return home.
While visiting a sanatorium again on 8 November, Achilova was accosted by two women who accused her of maligning Turkmenistan. The same day, a woman staying in the same building as Achilova was beaten and thrown to the ground by two other women, who shouted: “This is for taking photos.” They had clearly mistaken her for Achilova.
“We firmly condemn these attacks on Soltan Achilova,” RSF editor-in-chief Virginie Dangles said. “The international community must react to the human rights violations in this country. Despite repeatedly trampling on freedom of information and other freedoms, Turkmenistan continues to enjoy good economic relations with many countries including France.”
Turkmenistan is ranked second from last – 179th out of 180 countries – in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index. The regime tolerates no dissent and persecutes the correspondents of the Prague-based RFE/RL’s Turkmen service, which is one of the very few media outlets providing independently-reported news in the Turkmen language.
Turkmenistan has just one Internet Service Provider and, for most people, the only access is available in Internet cafés, where they have to show an identity document whenever they want to connect. Most of the websites providing independent information on Turkmenistan remain blocked in the country. A campaign to remove satellite TV dishes is currently under way.
Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a freelance journalist who was arrested in July 2015, is still being held on a trumped-up charge of drug possession. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is on the list of 35 press freedom predators that RSF compiled this year.