PRAGUE, April 12, 2006 -- Durdykuliev sent the letter to President Niyazov in early January 2004. He wanted permission to hold a two-day political demonstration on the main square of the western Turkmen city of Balkanabad. And he wanted the demonstration to take place on February 18 and 19 -- coinciding with celebrations marking Niyazov's birthday.
In his letter, Durdykuliev wrote that he wanted the demonstration to express "disagreement with the policies of the president and other senior government officials" -- and to call on them to correct the situation. About a month later, medical personnel and security officials arrived at Durdykuliev's home to take him to a psychiatric hospital at Garashsyzlyk in eastern Turkmenistan.
On April 11, Durdykuliev was freed from the hospital. He arrived back at his home early this morning.
Durdykuliev told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service that he has been "worn out" by his ordeal in the hospital. But he said he already feels better because he is no longer a patient there:
"They [put me in the hospital] with the aim of driving me crazy," Durdykuliev said. "They kept me detained with lunatics and criminals. Among them were people who had cut off their wives' breasts, or killed their wives or children. I was kept with them so I would lose my mind. They kept me there for two years and two months. The [health] commission came and confirmed that I was not [mentally] ill."
Durdykuliev said health commission officials did not return after that sole visit. He said he was told that there was no reason for the commission to see him because he was not mentally or physically ill.
Durdykuliev also said officials told him during the health commission's visit that he was a political prisoner. He said he posted letters from the hospital to both the provincial health center and the local prosecutor to inform them about his case. But he received no response. He said he also wrote to an international court about bringing legal action for being falsely committed to the hospital. But again, he said he received no response.
Then, Durdykuliev said, life became more difficult for him. "Recently, they stopped giving permission for my wife and daughter to come visit me," he explained. "They told my wife -- since her name was Annagul Anayeva -- that she was not a relative. After March 22, my daughter came here because her name is Durdykulieva. But [the hospital authorities] refused to pass on to me whatever she brought. Previously, my wife and daughter brought me things to eat. But they stopped that. I haven't eaten hot food since March 22."
Durdykuliev said his fortunes changed on the afternoon of April 11 when hospital personnel came to him. But he wasn't immediately aware of his imminent release.
"They told me to be quiet. Do not gossip. Remain silent," Durdykuliev said. "And then they said, 'Maybe things will be worse [for you].' I said: 'We will see. Let's go.' After two years and two months [in the psychiatric hospital], they had done everything to me. Worse things they could no longer do. So I told them, 'We will see.'"
Durdykuliev said he only realized he was being set free when he was told to gather together his personal belongings.
"They said, 'Get ready.' But they didn't say where I was going," he said. "I thought my letters got to the international court and they would take me to The Hague. It was only when we got to Charjou that they said, 'We are going to take you home.' They didn't say anything else. There was no one from the [health] commission there. There were seven to 10 people there -- the chief doctor, his assistant and some nurses. They took me out. And in Charjou, they wanted to put me on a plane. But then they said: 'You have no passport and you need it. So you cannot fly.' And then they put me in a car."
The people accompanying Durdykuliev were under orders not to stop for food, drink, or to use a toilet. He arrived home at 3 a.m.
Durdykuliev said he plans to bring a law suit against the Turkmen government in international court. He said he wants $5 million as compensation for his physical suffering and financial loses.
Durdykuliev also is thanking those that he credits for helping obtain his release -- particularly 54 members of the U.S. Congress who sent a letter to President Niyazov earlier this month calling for his release.
"I want, through your radio, to say thank you very much to international organizations and to the U.S. Congress," Durdykuliev said. "And also to the many people who sent telegrams, postcards, and letters to me -- 40 or 50 of them. [Hospital officials] showed them to me once. But they are still kept by the head of the psychiatric hospital. I want to thank them."
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other rights groups are welcoming Durdykuliev's release. But Durdykuliev said he is under surveillance. He also says he does not have any means of earning a living for himself or his family.
Durdykuliev's release comes one month after pressure from international organizations and Western governments helped obtain the release of two RFE/RL correspondents who were held for 10 days without charge by police in Turkmenistan.
(Contributors to this report include RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier, and RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondents Rozynazar Khudaiberdiev and Guvanch Geraev.)
RFE/RL Journalist Grateful For Support
A statement from MERET KHOMMADOV:
Respected brothers and dear listeners,
I am grateful for the struggle you have made for our release. I am especially grateful to international NGOs, international human rights organizations, the Congress of the United States, the Embassy of the United States in Turkmenistan, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OCSE), the management of RFE/RL, and my collogues working for the Turkmen Service of RFE/RL. I want to say thank you very much for all of your humanitarian support. May God bless you.
Regarding me, I don’t think that I am a particularly strong man. I am a simple and ordinary man.
Commenting on the [recent] events, I don’t blame anyone. I would say and think that such misunderstandings could happen in any country. And I also believe that bad and good things happen by God’s will. I think a dispute between two Muslim should not last longer than it take a wet piece of cloth to get dry. In the words of our Turkmen elders, I hope these events produce results in the interests of both sides.
I have a request for the leadership of Turkmenistan: If I am allowed to work as a reporter, as a journalist, I promise to pay all of my taxes, and also I will try to give truthful information to my listeners based on democratic and objective principles of journalism.
March 23, 2006
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