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Imprisoned RFE/RL Correspondents in Turkmenistan Released

(Prague, Czech Republic — March 17, 2006) Two Turkmen correspondents working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Turkmen Service, arrested on March 7, have been released unharmed according to information received by RFE/RL today.

RFE/RL was notified, in a phone call from a correspondent in Ashgabat to its Prague operations center, that Jumadurdy Ovezov and Meret Khommadov were released late yesterday and were on their way to their homes in the Mary region in southeastern Turkmenistan.

RFE/RL Acting President Jeff Trimble expressed deep appreciation for the many statements of support and concern RFE/RL received and the efforts of the international community to secure the release of RFE/RL’s correspondents. He said “the international outcry on behalf of these two brave local journalists surely contributed to their release.” But Trimble said he deplored the circumstances under which Ovezov and Khommadov were set free, noting that: “Turkmen authorities made it a condition of their release that Ovezov and Khommadov sign a statement that they will no longer work for RFE/RL. This shows clearly the real reason for their arrest — to stop their journalistic activities,” Trimble said.

The two Turkmen journalists were arrested separately on March 7 and held incommunicado for several days. After expressions of support and concern from the OSCE and international human rights organizations, the Turkmen government confirmed that Ovezov and Khommadov had been arrested and said they had been sentenced to 15 days in detention on charges of “minor hooliganism.” They were released five days early, after they signed the statement pledging that they would no longer provide reports to RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service.

RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service broadcasts six hours of programming a day to Turkmenistan, produced in Prague and transmitted to listeners via shortwave, medium-wave and satellite broadcasts. English-language news about events in Turkmenistan can be found on RFE/RL’s website.