10.13.06

Schiff Calls On President of Turkmenistan To Halt Persecution of Journalists

Washington, DC – Representative Adam Schiff, Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus for the Freedom of the Press, has written to the President of Turkmenistan calling on him to investigate the death of journalist Ogulsapar Muradova and restore the right to a free press in his country.  It is believed that Ms. Muradova was falsely tried and sent to jail solely for her work as a journalist.  While in jail, Ms. Muradova appears to have been assaulted or tortured, and died of her injuries.   Rep. Schiff was joined by a group of seventeen bipartisan colleagues in signing the letter.

“The censorship, intimidation, imprisonment, and murder of journalists violate not only their personal liberty, but also the rights of those who are denied access to [important] ... ideas and information,” the letter to President Niyazov reads.  “International law clearly guarantees freedom of expression and the right to a free press, and we urge the restoration of these rights in Turkmenistan.”

The text of the letter is below.

His Excellency Saparmurat Niyazov
President of Turkmenistan and Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers
The Embassy of Turkmenistan
2207 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20008

October 12, 2006

Dear President Niyazov,

We are writing regarding the journalist Ogulsapar Muradova, correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), who late last month died in Ovodan Depe high-security prison.  The circumstances of Ms. Muradova’s death, the fate of her family, and the treatment of her co-defendants are of great concern to us. 

As you may know, Ms. Muradova was tried with human rights activists Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiyev, all of whom received sentences of six or seven years.  The trial was held secretly without any independent observers and lasted less than two hours.

According to the results of an investigation by the German public radio station Deutsche Welle, Ms. Muradova’s body bore “marks on the neck characteristic of strangling.”  The investigation, based on an autopsy that was carried out on September 12th in the presence of the police, also concluded that Muradova’s body had a large head wound and that she had suffered internal bleeding. Her death was probably caused by strangulation or by blows to the back of the head that were inflicted seven to ten days before she died. It is believed that these findings were recorded in an official document, which the police may have altered subsequently, as it is in their possession.

These findings confirm reports by a member of Muradova’s family who managed to exchange messages with her while she was in prison.  Muradova told her relative she could not stand the mistreatment.

We are also concerned about a report from Reporters Without Borders that indicates you have ordered the families of Ms. Muradova, and Messrs. Amanklychev and Khajiyev be transferred to an unknown location by mid-October. The same report states that Ms. Muradova’s three children are currently cut-off from the outside world. Their home is under active surveillance by the security services making it virtually impossible for them to travel outside their home and their telephones have been disconnected.  They have been fired from their jobs and have no income.  If this report is true, we encourage you to immediately reverse this decision and allow these families to live in peace without the interference of the government. 

We strongly encourage you to conduct a full investigation of the circumstances surrounding the death of Ms. Muradova and that those responsible be prosecuted.  A free and open press is an essential guarantor of human rights.  The censorship, intimidation, imprisonment, and murder of journalists violate not only their personal liberty, but also the rights of those who are denied access to these ideas and information.  International law clearly guarantees freedom of expression and the right to a free press, and we urge the restoration of these rights in Turkmenistan.