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RFE/RL Turkmen Correspondent Arrested with Family

(Prague, Czech Republic, June 20, 2006) An Ashgabat-based freelance correspondent for RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, Ogulsapar Muradova was arrested on Sunday, June 18, apparently as part of a larger campaign by the Turkmen government that also involves the detention of several human rights activists. On Monday, June 19, Turkmen authorities also detained Muradova’s three adult children.

RFE/RL learned that Muradova was arrested on Sunday at 5:00 PM local time, after two Ashgabat police officers entered her apartment without presenting a warrant or any other documentation. The officers did not state a reason for the arrest. On Monday, police returned to the apartment and took away her three adult children, after they reportedly refused to hand over her computer, mobile telephone and fax machine to authorities. All are believed to be held at the Turkmen Interior Ministry building in Ashgabat. Human rights organizations including Amnesty International, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the Turkmenistan Initiative for Human Rights have denounced the detentions of Muradova and her children.

Broadcasting Board of Governors Chairman Kenneth Y. Tomlinson condemned the continued harrassment of journalists in Turkmenistan, including Mrs. Muradova: “This is just another attempt to prevent the people of Turkmenistan from learning the truth about what is happening in their country and around the world,” Tomlinson said. “In the long run it won’t work and the truth will get through.”

RFE/RL Acting President Jeffrey N. Trimble also deplored the arrests and called on the Turkmen government to take action: “None of us who care about human rights and free speech can stand by and remain silent when children are being arrested because their mother is a journalist.”

Muradova, a widowed 58-year old journalist and human rights activist, has reported on social and human rights issues for RFE/RL since March 2006. She informed RFE/RL that her phone was blocked in April and that officials have threatened to evict her and imprison her children unless she stops her work. Muradova documented and protested the harassment in open letters to Turkmenistan’s Prosecutor General, National Security Ministry and the head of the Ashgabat Municipal Police Department, to no avail. She told RFE/RL that she was put under a 24-hour watch three weeks ago: “We have been under full-scale surveillance for more than 20 days now and they videotape all my comings and goings.” Muradova said that an attempt was made on June 17 to burn her mother’s house down, but neighbors were able to douse the flames before they spread.

This is the third arrest this year of RFE/RL Turkmen correspondents. In March, two correspondents in Turkmenistan’s Mary region, Meret Khommadov and Jumadurdy Ovezov were arrested and sentenced but released after 10 days, following an international outcry. A fourth RFE/RL correspondent, Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev, incarcerated for two and a half years in a mental institution, was also released suddenly in April after an international campaign and intervention by 54 members of the U.S. Congress.

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. Turkmen Service programming is also available via the Internet, at; English-language news about events in Turkmenistan can be found on the RFE/RL website.