Freedom for Arrested Civic Activist and Freelance Journalist in Turkmenistan

Crude Accountability calls for the immediate release of Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a civic activist and freelance correspondent for the Turkmen service of Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty and Alternative Turkmenistan News (ATN), who was arrested on trumped up charges on 7 July in Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan, and has been secretly detained since.

The information about his arrest only just came to light in the international community due to the total clampdown on free media and speech in the country. According to ATN, Nepeskuliev never returned to his home city of Balkanabad from a fact finding trip to Avaza, a luxury resort on the Caspian Sea.  After a long search, Nepeskuliev’s family learned that he was being held in jail in the village of Akdash, close to Turkmenbashi, having been arrested for alleged possession of “Tramadol,” a pill containing narcotic substances. According to ATN, the family was told that he would soon be “tried and imprisoned.” Nepeskuliev has never used drugs; he does not even smoke cigarettes. Given that his phone had been tapped for years, and that he was most likely under surveillance, his arrest had likely been planned in advance and the charges trumped up. If convicted of drug related charges, he will not be eligible for amnesty or pardon. In violation of national legislation, Nepeskuliev does not have access to a lawyer, and has been denied family visits. There is fear that he has been tortured.

“Nepeskuliev is the latest in a long line of civic activists to be arrested for exercising his fundamental human right to freedom of speech and expression, which he did via Azatlyk and ATN, and he should be immediately released to his family,” said Kate Watters, executive director of Crude Accountability, a nonprofit organization that works to defend environmental and human rights in the Caspian Region.

Freedom of expression and information is not tolerated in Turkmenistan. Earlier this year, the Turkmen government initiated a campaign to remove all privately owned satellite dishes, which were the citizens’ last lifeline to the outside world, to the international press and independent information. All state controlled news sources and access to the internet are heavily censored, and both Radio Azatlyk and ATN are blocked in the country.

Crude Accountability urges Western governments to demand that Turkmenistan comply with the rule of law and international human rights obligations in Nepeskuliev’s case.