Granted, you have to give (very minor) props to Turkmenistan’s president for his guitar chops (see above). But don’t be fooled into thinking he’s helming a nation any less repressive than the one he inherited from his infamous predecessor. The Turkmen government has zero patience for those who might dare question its absolute authority to do whatever the hell it pleases:
“The people regularly broadcast reports on events that take place in Turkmenistan, about human rights, for example, and they share their opinions. It’s fine for them to do so,” Turkmen Deputy Foreign Minster Vepa Hadjiyev told the committee. “However, when it comes to journalism, that is somewhat different. People are allowed to collect information and disseminate it. Radio Azatlyk has the right to do so.”
This must come as news to RFE/RL correspondent Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev, who was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison in October 2011 on false charges that he had aided in the attempted suicide of a family member. The government’s scurrilous allegations were widely believed to be connected to Yazkuliyev’s reporting about an arms depot explosion that killed dozens in the Turkmen city of Abadan. He was later pardoned and released only after complaints from international advocacy organizations and intense diplomatic pressure from the United States led the Turkmen government to reconsider its position.
Yazkuliyev made out relatively lightly compared with Azatlyk contributor Sazak Durdymuradov, who in June 2009 was arrested and confined to a psychiatric institution known as the “Turkmen Gulag,” where he was beaten and psychologically abused by Turkmen authorities.
And if she could still raise her own objections, Ogulsapar Muradova — an RFE/RL correspondent who died in 2006 while in government detention on trumped-up charges — might have a thing or two to say about Hadjiyev’s response to UN inquiries.
Here’s a slightly more thorough list of Turkmen journalists who’ve faced abuse (or worse) for simply doing their jobs. Alas, I see no reason why the situation should start to get better before it gets worse.