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RFE/RL Correspondents in Turkmenistan Arrested

(Prague, Czech Republic — March 9, 2006) Two Turkmenistan-based correspondents working for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Turkmen Service were arrested on March 7, according to information confirmed by RFE/RL. In recent days, RFE/RL also has lost the ability to communicate with its entire network of correspondents inside Turkmenistan.

Distraught relatives told RFE/RL that Jumadurdy Ovezov and Meret Khommadov, both from the Mary region in southeastern Turkmenistan, were separately taken away by police. Their whereabouts remain unknown. Turkmen authorities refused to speak to the families of the two men or give a reason for the action.

Broadcasting Board of Governors Chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson said the arrests are another example of the courage shown every day by journalists around the world to work with U.S. international broadcasting services to get the truth out. “Governments may think they can prevent their own people from getting the news by targeting a few journalists, but it will never stop us from carrying out our mission,” Tomlinson said.

RFE/RL Acting President Jeff Trimble also deplored the arrests: “This persecution, without even a pretext of legality, is a blatant violation of media freedom and the human rights of these brave journalists. We at RFE/RL are gravely concerned about the fate of Mr. Ovezov and Mr. Khommadov.”

The Turkmen Service has been unable to contact its correspondents, who file on an irregular basis from inside the closed country, for 10 days. According to Trimble, “We are making a public appeal on behalf of our correspondents in Turkmenistan, who are guilty of nothing more than trying to do their jobs as journalists and report the news.”

To protect its journalists in repressive countries such as Turkmenistan, RFE/RL does not reveal precise data about their identities. Cell phones are the primary means of communication with them, but no calls have been getting through. RFE/RL has verified that telephone lines in Turkmenistan seem to be in good working order.

RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service is the only alternative Turkmen-language voice heard in the country, where all media are controlled by the state. RFE/RL broadcasts in Turkmen, currently at six hours a day on shortwave and medium-wave frequencies, have continued without interruption since 1953. All programming is produced in Prague.