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Turkmenistan: French Media Watchdog Protests Detentions --> Turkmen President Niyazov (file photo) ( The media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) held a demonstration today in Paris at the Turkmen Embassy to press for the release of two human rights activists and a RFE/RL journalist who are being held in custody in Ashgabat.

PRAGUE, July 7, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The protest began this morning with the participation of about 50 activists and RSF members.

They chanted: "Freedom for Turkmenistan! Freedom for Turkmenistan! Freedom for Turkmenistan!"

"We were supposed to meet the first secretary of the Turkmen Embassy...unfortunately he is not here -- he hasn't come or he is hiding behind his curtains so we cannot talk with him."

Human Rights Demo

Some held posters with the photos of detained rights activists Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiev, as well as RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova.

Others had banners protesting the violations of freedom of expression in Turkmenistan.

The country is described by media watchdog groups and human rights organizations as one of the worst in the world in terms of respect for human rights and press freedom.

One banner read: "You don't often hear about Turkmenistan because those who would like to talk about it are in prison."

Detainees Still Not Charged

Amanklychev, of the Bulgarian-based Turkmen Helsinki Foundation (THF); RFE/RL's Turkmen Service correspondent Muradova; and Khajiev -- the brother-in-law of THF Chairwoman Tajigul Begmedova -- were arrested between June 16 and June 19.

Officially, no charges have been brought against them. But authorities claim the THF is part of a conspiracy to destabilize the country.

Several rights groups have expressed fear that they could be at risk of being physically abused in their Ashgabat prison cells.

Several other human rights organizations and media groups have also called on Turkmen authorities to release the three people.

The Amnesty International representative for Europe, Thamar Bourand, attended today's protest and told RFE/RL that Turkmen authorities have so far not reacted.

"We expect all the people who have been arrested to be released; it's highly probable that they have been tortured, they must be freed immediately," she said. "We haven't received any response to our demands but I think the mobilization of public opinion is the only defense and attack possible against this terrible regime of [Turkmen President Saparmurat] Niyazov."

Turkmen Officials Don't Show

RSF Secretary-General Robert Menard also told RFE/RL that his group is seriously concerned about the detained rights activists and RFE/RL correspondent.

He said Turkmen Embassy officials did not show up at a scheduled meeting today.

"We were supposed to meet the first secretary of the Turkmen Embassy in Paris," Menard said. "He had confirmed this meeting -- unfortunately he is not here -- he hasn't come or he is hiding behind his curtains so we cannot talk with him."

Menard added that RSF will continue to press for the release of Amanklychev, Muradova, and Khajiev.

Call For International Support

"We are going to increase the pressure; this demonstration is a first step, there will be more," he said. "French authorities are ready to mobilize themselves, we are going to grasp the international community, we are not going to stay [inactive], it's too dangerous. We know that there are cases of maltreatment, we know that there is torture. So we have to mobilize ourselves and we will continue doing it."

RSF says the international community must "react urgently to protect freedom of expression in Turkmenistan."
RSF has called upon the leaders of the Group of Eight most-industrialized nations -- who will be meeting in Russia next week, to help secure the release of the detainees.

On July 4, the World Association of Newspapers sent a letter to Turkmen President Niyazov calling for the release of Muradova and the detained human rights activists, and for all charges against them to be dropped.

(Mirali Hosseini, Radio Farda's correspondent in Paris, contributed to this report.)

World Press Freedom Day
NOT REALLY SO FUNNY: The Paris-based World Association of Newspapers asked French cartoonist Michel Cambon to produce a series of cartoons on the theme of jailed journalists to mark World Press Freedom Day (May 3). Below, RFE/RL reproduces several of Cambon's cartoons.





RFE/RL's Press Freedom Day stories:

Iraq: Covering The Most Dangerous Beat On Earth

Afghanistan: Women In Journalism Battle Restrictions, Threats

Iran: State Maintains Tight Control Over Information

CIS: Press Freedom In Former Soviet Union Under Assault

Central Asia: Bureaucratic Obstacles Hinder Journalists

Central Asia: Governments Wary Of Independent Media

Central Asia: Journalists Still Face Harassment, Threats


To view an archive of RFE/RL's coverage of media-related stories, click here.


For regular news and analysis on media issues throughout RFE/RL's broadcast area by e-mail, subscribe to "RFE/RL Media Matters."