RFE/RL: Two of our correspondents have been in detention in Turkmenistan for eight days. Neither we nor their families know exactly where they are. What is your response to this situation?
Haraszti: The way my office was informed about these two arrests was the news from RFE/RL and the petitions of international human rights organizations worrying about the fate of these two RFE/RL journalists. So, right after we got the news, I contacted the Turkmen authorities and they informed me about the following:
They said that on March 7 there was a town-hall meeting with elderly people in the Vekilbazar region of Mary Province to the issue of preparations for the next people's council meeting. And the two persons that RFE mentions [Meret Khommadov and Jumadurdy Ovezov] were there at that meeting. According to the testimonies of people present, they behaved in a hooliganistic way, disrupting the meeting, shouting at officials, cursing at elderly people. That's the official description of what happened. And there were written claims against them filed by one of those elderly people.
According to this information, the two have been sentenced by an administrative court under Chapter 168 [of Turkmenistan's civil code] to 15 days of public or community work, and these people were not taken into custody based on their being journalists but on their alleged behavior.
What I did was that I asked the authorities to take note of the fact that our office considers that [the] Helsinki [Accords on human rights and fundamental freedoms] secured the right to correspond with the press, including the international press, regardless of their previous training, whether they were qualified as journalists by a relevant school or not. This is a civilian right and a civilian activity and it is free under Helsinki commitments. And I asked them to inform us after the 10 days that seemed to remain of their punishment and to make sure that they are accessible for public comment to the international community and whoever is interested. And, of course, we regretted that they didn't seem to have been accessible to family members or to outside people at the very beginning of this whole process.
So, this is what happened. And I hope we will know more after 10 days.
RFE/RL: In this point do you know -- or did the Turkmen authorities tell you -- in which place, in which area, the two are being kept?
Haraszti: No, my information does not extend to the place of detention. Public work was mentioned and that is all the information I have. The place of the alleged incident is mentioned in my information, which is the Vekilbazar region of Mary province.
RFE/RL: So, my understanding is that they will be kept in detention for 15 days.
Haraszti: Which would be, altogether, 10 more days. I asked [the Turkmen authorities] to make sure that these people are accessible at least after those 10 days, but I also mentioned that is regrettable that they were not accessible during this whole process.