August 14, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- A Vienna-based Turkmen dissident group says former presidential spokesman Kakamurat Ballyev has been sentenced to 17 years in jail, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports.
The Turkmen Human Rights Initiative group says the verdict was reached last week in Ashgabat. It says Ballyev was tried behind closed doors and that even his closest relatives were not allowed to attend.
The charges against Ballyev were unclear. He was dismissed shortly before his arrest for "serious shortcomings in his work and participation in criminal activities."
Ballyev, who contributed to President Saparmurat Niyazov's personality cult during his years in office earlier this decade, was arrested in Ashgabat on June 24.
Ballyev was Niyazov's chief spokesman until 2002.
He was then appointed editor-in-chief of "Esger" (Warrior), the official Defense Ministry newspaper that was awarded a prize last year for propagating "Rukhnama," Niyazov's book of moral and spiritual guidelines.
(with additional information from gundogar and turkmenistan.ru)