Defiant Turkmen Reporter Wins Free Speech Award

WASHINGTON — Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev, a correspondent for RFE/RL’s Turkmen language service, received a 2012 Hellman/Hammett grant for his fearless reporting in Turkmenistan, one of the world’s most closed societies.

Yazkuliyev was recognized for his reporting, in defiance of an official information blackout, on an explosion in Abadan, near the capital of Ashgabat in July 2011 and its aftermath, including the government’s failure to provide assistance to victims. In retaliation, security officials threatened him with criminal charges for “disseminating defamatory information” and “causing domestic unrest.” He was later imprisoned on fabricated charges that he and other observers believe were further intended to impugn his character and silence him.

In a statement to RFE/RL this past weekend, Yazkuliyev said, “This award is the highest moral support. I also regard it as evidence that international institutions recognize those who fight for truth”.

RFE/RL president Steven Korn commended Yazkuliyev, calling the prize “a tribute to Dovlet’s courage and his contribution to the public interest in Turkmenistan.” He added, “It is also a summons to rights advocates everywhere to redouble our efforts to promote and protect media freedom.”

Turkmenistan has the second-worst ranking in Freedom House’s 2012 Freedom of the Press report and has numbered among the “Worst of the Worst” countries for freedom overall in the monitoring group’s surveys of the last several years.

Yazkuliyev’s imprisonment in September 2011 drew public expressions of outrage from human rights advocates, international organizations, foreign governments and members of the U.S. House and Senate.

He was released by presidential pardon in October 2011, although charges against him have not been dropped.

The Hellman/Hammett grants are awarded by Human Rights Watch to journalists, bloggers, essayists, poets, playwrights and other writers for their commitment to free expression and their courage in the face of persecution.