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Turkmenistan: Another RFE/RL Correspondent Recounts Arrest

  • Bruce Pannier

On March 7, two correspondents for RFE/RL's Turkmen Service were arrested by Turkmen authorities. Since their release 10 days later, one -- Meret Khommadov -- has recounted his ordeal for RFE/RL listeners. On April 4, the second of those correspondents, Jumadurdy Ovezov, talked about his experience.

PRAGUE, April 5, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Ovezov insists he has no doubt why he was jailed or why he has subsequently been followed by security agents: It was for making comments like the following: "The situation for people is very difficult, because there is unemployment. People do not have the means to make a living; they don't know how they can make a living," Ovezov says. "It's very hard. Now, simply getting bread is a problem. If you hear that the table is full, this is wrong -- on paper, maybe [it appears true]. [But] finding one piece of bread is difficult. Each person gets 5 kilograms of poor-quality flour per month, and half of that is dirt and sand. It crunches when you chew it. It's no secret to the people what kind of bread they are eating."

Ovezov's comments fly in the face of claims by Turkmen authorities that last year's record grain harvest will soon allow Turkmenistan to become a grain exporter. Ovezov concedes that it is possible to buy flour at stores and bazaars, aside from one problem: Virtually no one has any money.

Ovezov has reported for RFE/RL on the bread shortage and unemployment. He stands by those reports and suggests they are at the heart of his official problems. Ovezov and Khommadov were taken from their homes by police on March 7. The two met at the Hakimlik, the Mary provincial governor's office.

"They invited three or four village elders [to the provincial governor's office]," Ovezov says. "Most of these elders did not even know why they were invited. If they had known in advance, they would not have come. They know us [Ovezov and Khommadov]. But the officials there forced them to accuse us of telling lies, of giving false information because 'Life here [in Turkmenistan] is good,' they said. This is the 'Golden Age' [as proclaimed by President Saparmurat Niyazov]. What kind of Golden Age is this? There is no such thing."

Ovezov says the elders did what the provincial officials asked.

"[The elders] yelled at us, told us we were traitors, enemies of the people," Ovezov says. "They told me I was a scoundrel and a liar. 'What are you doing?' they said. 'Who gave you the right?' they said. 'People like you don't have any rights,' they said."

After the elders verbally abused the two correspondents, Ovezov says "a man from Ashgabat who would not give his name" arrived and was joined by an officer from the local branch of the country's security service. Ovezov picks up the story from there:

"The security officer from the Wakil Bazaar district (where Ovezov and Khommadov live) told me, 'If you don't care about yourself, think about your two daughters. We can take them, too,'" Ovezov says.

Ovezov finishes his account of his detention with a suggestion that -- although he is out of jail -- he is far from free.

He also laments the current plight of his Turkmen compatriots: "Now they are following me, and I'm worried about my children. This is a very hard situation because there are no rights. The authorities do what they want, close what they want, open what they want. It shouldn't be this way. If you tell the truth, why should you be afraid? If the people are really living well, then what are [the authorities] afraid of? There would be nothing to fear. The truth remains, but the people no longer have the strength to tell the truth."

No charges have been filed against either Ovezov or Khommadov.

(Rozinazar Khoudaiberdiyev of RFE/RL's Turkmen Service contributed to this report.)
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