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Fated To Go To A Turkmen Prison

  • Bruce Pannier

Saparmamed Nepeskuliev

Saparmamed Nepeskuliev

There are things that happen in life that you know in advance are going to happen, and when they do, knowing in advance does not lessen the shock, the outrage, or the disappointment.

Our correspondent in Turkmenistan, Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, was detained on dubious narcotics charges in early July, held incommunicado for two months, and apparently was recently sentenced to three years in prison.

Nepeskuliev worked in southwestern Turkmenistan's Balkan Province and had reported about issues such as shortages of water and electricity and the lack of medical services in the province, as well as the luxurious homes some local officials built for themselves along Turkmenistan's Caspian Sea coast.

Reporting on such topics is risky in many countries, but in Turkmenistan it is guaranteed to bring trouble. Reporters Without Borders ranks Turkmenistan near the bottom of its World Press Freedom Index, 178th out of 180 countries, followed by North Korea and Eritrea.

RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, known locally as Azatlyk, spoke by telephone with Nepeskuliev's distraught mother, Raysina. Speaking from her home in the western city of Balkanbat, Raysina said that her daughter -- Nepeskuliev's sister -- had learned of his trial and conviction.

She continues to deny her son had any involvement with narcotics and says authorities have been entirely uncooperative in helping learn about her son's situation.

Reporters Without Borders issued a statement about Nepeskuliev on September 8 that asked: "Where exactly is Nepeskuliev now? Has he had a lawyer?"

In the statement, Johann Bihr, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said, "The continuing silence from the authorities about Saparmamed Nepeskuliev's fate is completely illegal."

Bihr said, "The silence is a nightmare for his family and increases our concern about his safety," and added, "We yet again call on the authorities, as a matter of urgency, to provide full details about his current status and his possible conviction, and to free him without delay."

In August, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Nisha Biswal told Azatlyk that U.S. officials had raised the issue of Nepeskuliev's detention with Turkmen officials. Apparently that had no effect on the outcome of Nepeskuliev's case.

It's not surprising. It's the way in Turkmenistan (and in Uzbekistan, too). There are people the Turkmen government perceives as enemies, troublemakers -- and authorities move against them quickly and decisively. In their system, being detained for a crime means being guilty. The trial is a formality, lip service to a judicial process that in fact does not exist.

There was only way Nepeskuliev's case was going to end -- exactly the way it did.

Azatlyk director Muhammad Tahir and Toymyrat Bugayev of the Azatlyk contributed to this report

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.

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