Turkmen authorities have confined an RFE contributor to a psychiatric hospital after he criticized a local government official for corruption in an interview with RFE’s Turkmen Service, Radio Azatlyk.
Amangelen Shapudakov, 80, was summoned to local police headquarters in his home district of Magtymguly in southwestern Turkmenistan on March 7 and has not been seen since.
An official at a psychiatric facility in the regional capital of Balkanabat confirmed to Radio Azatlyk that Shapudakov had been committed at least 10 days ago for medical exams and was expected to remain at the hospital for another month. Magtymguly police officers have also confirmed that he was institutionalized.
“This is horrific, but unfortunately it’s not surprising,” says RFE Vice President John O’Sullivan. “RFE journalists, and anyone associated with them, suffer extreme persecution in Turkmenistan.”
Boasting one of the world’s most repressive regimes, Turkmenistan is perpetually rated “unfree” in Freedom House’s annual “Freedom of the Press” report. In 2010, Radio Azatlyk journalists were interrogated and prevented from entering or exiting the country by the Turkmen government. Authorities have also targeted their family members, who have been black-listed, threatened with arrest, and arbitrarily dismissed from jobs.
Shapudakov’s confinement marks the second time in three years that Turkmen officials have committed an RFE contributor to a psychiatric facility. In 2008, Radio Azatlyk commentator Sazak Durdymuradov was forcibly institutionalized for two weeks in a case that aroused international outrage.
Police briefly detained Shapudakov in February, after he had complained to international organizations about official harassment. Earlier this year, Shapudakov was barred from leaving his home district, and photos suggesting he was a criminal were posted in public places.
Shapudakov is known to suffer from diabetes and hypertension. He has no known record of psychiatric problems.