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Mother of Jailed Turkmen Journalist Deplores Official Silence

Turkmenistan--RFE/RL Freelance Correspondent Saparmamed Nepeskuliev. Youtube screengrab.

Turkmenistan--RFE/RL Freelance Correspondent Saparmamed Nepeskuliev. Youtube screengrab.

Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a free-lance photojournalist with RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, was reportedly sentenced to three years in a Turkmen prison on August 31.

Nepeskuliev had been held incommunicado since July 7, reportedly in a detention facility near the Caspian city of Avaza in the country's western Balkan province. Fearful about his disappearance, a family member visited the facility on July 28 to confirm his whereabouts, An official confirmed that Nepeskuliev was being held there on narcotics-related charges, but did not permit the relative to see him.

On September 7, RFE/RL contacted Nepeskuliev's mother at her home in Balkanabad, Balkan province's capital city. Speaking by telphone to a reporter from the Turkmen service, she confirmed the sentence and said her son is being held in Turkmenbashi, a city to the west of Avaza. She said she had received this information from her daughter, who had "her own sources," but not from Turkmen officials.

"Officials are not giving us any information. I went to officials to ask for information about him, but they did not say anything. They turned me away at the door. Now I wonder whether my son is alive. I don't know what to think."

Asked about the charges, she said, "They are accusing him of taking drugs, but the fact is we're surviving on my pension. So what kind of drugs are they talking about?"

Nepeskuliev's mother said that family members had not seen her son since he left for Avaza on July 7; nor were they allowed to deliver food to him after his detention was confirmed.

She said she had hoped to attend his trial, but roads to Turkmenbashi are currently closed in advance of an annual meeting of local elders, prohibiting travel to the city.

"Now I have no option but to wait. As soon as the roads are open, I will go there...The problem is that officials don't say anything. I don't know why."

Colleagues with RFE/RL's Turkmen service consider the charges against Nepeskuliev to be politically motivated, brought in retribution for his work. They cite several recent reports that they believe may have led officials to try and silence him. These include reports on water and electricity shortages in Balkanabad, the absence of local medical services in the city, and the lavish villas that local officials have built along the Caspian shore.

Turkmenistan. The village "Charam oba," where senior officials have built luxury villas. 27May2015

Turkmenistan. The village "Charam oba," where senior officials have built luxury villas. 27May2015

His reporting relies heavily on photographs and video.

"We think we know where he is, but our experience tells us that he is being held in miserable conditions, with no access to legal representation, and on false charges that are related to his journalism," said Muhammad Tahir, Director or RFE/RL's Turkmen service.

"He should be released, and allowed to return to his family and continue his important work."

Human rights and media advocacy groups have condemned Nepeskuliev's disappearance and imprisonment and demanded his release.

Official US-Turkmen bilateral consultations, including on human rights, are planned to take place in Washington in October.