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Turkmenistan Tries RFE/RL Correspondent

WASHINGTON, DC — A stringer for Radio Azatlyk, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s (RFE/RL) Turkmen language service, stands trial on Tuesday in a case that RFE/RL believes has been orchestrated by the Turkmen authorities in retaliation for his reporting.

Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev was detained on Tuesday, September 27 by regional police in Turkmenistan’s Akhal province and accused of “influencing or abetting” an attempted suicide by a family member. Yazkuliyev’s family members have protested the charges in a written appeal to Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and the country’s General Prosecutor, claiming that secret police interfered in the family’s private matters to intimidate Yazkuliyev for his journalistic activities. Family members say they were forced by secret police to pen complaints against him that they have since sought to retract, and have “sufficient documentation to prove that his case is politically motivated.”

Yazkuliyev recorded an audiofile the day before his arrest in which he described surveillance by security agents and intimidation of his family, stating, “I believe it was done because of my work for Radio Azatlyk.”

If convicted, Yazkuliyev faces a prison sentence of up to five years.

RFE/RL President Steve Korn called the case outrageous, saying, “Authorities made no secret of their displeasure with Yazkuliyev after his independent and unscripted reports on Abadan this summer, and these charges seem deceitful and intended to silence him for good.”

The case is reminiscent of one last April, when authorities used the pretext of a family conflict to forcibly confine Amangelen Shapudakov to a psychiatric hospital. Shapudakov had criticized a local government official for corruption in an interview with Radio Azatlyk.

Yazkuliyev received a stern warning from security officials in July after blogging about deadly explosions in the city of Abadan. He was told he would be charged with “disseminating defamatory information through the media” and “causing national, social, and religious provocations” if he continued to blog about sensitive information.

Yazkuliyev, 43, has worked for RFE/RL’s Turkmen service since 2007.

UPDATE: Reporters Without Borders has issued a statement on the trial, read here.