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RFE/RL Turkmen Correspondent Dies in Prison

(Prague, Czech Republic — September 14, 2006) Journalist Ogulsapar Muradova, a Turkmen correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, has died in prison under unexplained circumstances. It is not known exactly when or where Muradova died. She was 58 years old.

Turkmen authorities declined the family’s request that a medical examiner at the morgue conduct an examination but allowed Muradova’s two adult daughters to take their mother’s body home after they appealed for help to the U.S. embassy in Ashgabat. Relatives said there was a visible head injury. The family called a medical examiner but Turkmen security have surrounded the apartment building and are allowing no visitors to the Muradova family.

Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, expressed “deep sadness” at the news. “Mrs. Muradova will be remembered for her courage and dedication to reporting the truth to the people of Turkmenistan.”

RFE/RL Acting President Jeff Trimble said “This is a terrible outcome of a long ordeal and a shocking indictment of the Turkmen regime’s callous and inhumane treatment of the people it rules. All of us at RFE/RL mourn the untimely loss of a colleague. Our hearts go out to Ogulsapar Muradova’s family.” Trimble added that RFE/RL will not let Muradova’s life be wasted: “We will keep her memory alive by carrying on her work, continuing through our broadcasting to bring truth to Turkmen citizens and to be their voice to the outside world.”

Sources in Ashgabat told RFE/RL that the first sign of trouble appeared yesterday when as many as four unmarked security vans took up position in front of the Muradova apartment building and the family was placed under 24-hour surveillance. This morning Turkmen security took Ogulsapar Muradova’s daughters Sona and Maral, to the city morgue and pressured them to sign a document, confirming they had taken custody of the body, without allowing them first to see it. The family was not permitted to see her while she was alive and was not told where she was incarcerated after her trial August 25.

Ogulsapar Muradova was put on trial with two other defendants — Sapardurdy Khajiev and Annakurban Amanklychev — behind closed doors with no counsel present, in a municipal court in Ashgabat’s Azatlyk district. In proceedings that lasted just a few minutes, all three were found guilty of being in illegal possession of bullets and ammunition under Article 287 of Turkmenistan’s penal code. Muradova was sentenced to six years in a medium security prison. Her family had not seen her since she was taken from her home in Ashgabat by police on June 18 and only twice before the trial were allowed to send her a package of food and medication.

The Director of the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation based in Bulgaria, Tajigul Begmedova said today “Ogulsapar Muradova “was an extremely healthy person, she had no problems with her health. Only after her arrest she started to ask for drugs and we started to worry… Now she is dead and if authorities claim it was because of ill health, it would be an absolute lie”. According to the family, the medication sent to Muradova in custody was for elevated blood pressure and a minor heart ailment.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), an independent federal agency that oversees U.S. international broadcasting, including RFE/RL, issued a statement July 13, demanding that Ogulsapar Muradova be released. Major U.S. and international human rights groups have also condemned the Turkmen government for imprisoning Muradova. They included Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, the International Helsinki Federation and Reporters Without Borders.

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; English-language news about events in Turkmenistan can be found on the RFE/RL website.