A Turkmen court has convicted Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev, a stringer for Radio Azatlyk, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Turkmen-language service, and sentenced him to five years in prison. The trial was conducted after normal business hours, behind closed doors, and Yazkuliyev was not represented by a lawyer during the proceedings.
Yazkuliyev was detained on September 27 by regional police in Turkmenistan’s Akhal province on charges of “influencing or abetting” an attempted suicide by a family member. In a written appeal to Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and the country’s General Prosecutor, Yazkuliyev’s relatives sought to retract false statements against him that they had been forced to make by secret police. His relatives assert that the entire case is an effort to intimidate Yazkuliyev for his journalistic activities and say they have “sufficient documentation to prove that [Yazkuliyev’s] case is politically motivated.”
RFE/RL President Steven Korn called the case against Yazkuliyev “an outrage,” noting that, “This was a bogus trial and a predatory sentence that shows that Turkmenistan authorities respect no law and no standards when it comes to their treatment of the media. RFE/RL protests the sentence vigorously and calls on others in the international community to condemn it as well.”
Prior to the sentencing, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it was “extremely worried” about what it called the “sham trial” of Yazkuliyev. “It is clear from the absurd charge that has been brought against Yazkuliyev that he is being made to pay for his outspoken reporting for Radio Azatlyk and in his blogs,” RSF said in an official statement.
Yazkuliyev received a stern warning from security officials in July after blogging about deadly explosions in the city of Abadan. He was told he would be charged with “disseminating defamatory information through the media” and “causing national, social, and religious provocations” if he continued to blog about sensitive information.
He recorded an audiofile the day before his arrest in which he described surveillance by security agents and intimidation of his family, stating, “I believe it was done because of my work for Radio Azatlyk.”
The case is reminiscent of one last April, when authorities used the pretext of a family conflict to forcibly confine RFE/RL contributor Amangelen Shapudakov to a psychiatric hospital. Shapudakov had criticized a local government official for corruption in an interview with Radio Azatlyk.
Yazkuliyev, 43, has 10 days to appeal the conviction. He has worked for RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service since 2007.