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Turkmenistan: Rights Groups Outraged At RFE/RL Reporter's Death In Custody

Ogulsapar Muradova at her son's wedding in Ashgabat in 2004 (Courtesy Photo) PRAGUE, 15 September 2006 (RFE/RL) -- International rights organizations have expressed outrage at news that RFE/RL's Turkmen Service correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova died in custody.

They blame Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's government for what they say appears to be an extrajudiciary execution and call upon the international community to press Ashgabat to shed light on the journalist's death.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it was "shocked" by reports of Muradova's death.

In a statement issued on September 14, the group urged the international community -- "especially the European countries, the United States, and Russia" -- to demand that Turkmen authorities explain the circumstances of Muradova's death.

The same day, RSF organized a protest rally outside the Turkmen Embassy in Paris. Some 30 group members and journalists briefly entered the embassy, demanding to see the ambassador. French police removed them without violence; it was unclear whether the Turkmen envoy met with any of the protesters.

Protest In Paris

Talking to RFE/RL from Paris ahead of the demonstration, the RSF's Elsa Vidal said the group has called for a protest meeting in the French capital.

"It appears that she has been summarily executed by the authorities."

"We have decided to demonstrate outside Turkmenistan's Embassy in Paris so that this murder will not be left unpunished and at least we [do not remain] silent," she said.

Muradova's children say security officials notified them of their mother's death on September 14. It is still unclear when she died, however.

Signs Of Violence

Family members were eventually permitted to see Muradova's body.

They were subsequently quoted by the exiled Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (THF) as saying the corpse had marks on the neck and a "large wound" on the forehead.

Security officials have claimed that Muradova died of natural causes.

But THF Chairwoman Tajigul Begmedova said there is no doubt in her mind that Muradova was killed.

"We're confronted with the active political assassination of Ogulsapar Muradova, an RFE/RL journalist and a former human rights activist," she said. "We have every reason to say that [she] died of a violent death after being tortured and offended."

Aaron Rhodes, the executive director of the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), also said he believes Muradova died violently.

Trumped-Up Charges?

"It appears that she has been summarily executed by the authorities, which she certainly doesn't deserve, and nobody does," he said.

In a statement issued on September 14, the New York-based Committee to Protest Journalists said the Turkmen authorities' "secretive conduct, combined with unofficial account of wounds found on [Muradova's] body, raise suspicions of foul play."

In London, Amnesty International said it was "concerned at allegations that [Muradova] was subjected to torture and ill treatment in detention."

Mysterious Detention

Muradova was arrested in mid-June with several human rights activists and her three adult children without explanation.

Her children were later released. But the journalist and two codefendants -- THF activists Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiev -- were sentenced on August 25 to up to seven years in jail on charges of illegally possessing ammunition, charges that rights groups say were fabricated.

Rhodes says his and other organizations have had serious concerns about the detentions and the trial.

Seeking An Explanation

"IHF and quite a few other human rights groups have appealed to the Turkmen authorities about this case beginning on July 17," he said. "We have been worried about the status of these prisoners who [were] detained without explanation and eventually sentenced in a kind of a show trial which does not meet international standards of due process and to which no member of the international community was allowed to access to observe. The trial lasted something like 10 minutes and does not satisfy anyone that there was a serious examination of guilt or innocence before the law."

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) today called upon Turkmen authorities to shed light on Muradova's death.

Miklos Haraszti, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, told RFE/RL's Turkmen Service that he was "quite shaken" and "very sad" by news of the journalist's death.

"[On September 14] I contacted the [Turkmen] authorities and asked them to handle this death in a transparent way in providing information about all the circumstances surrounding [Muradova's] death," Haraszti said.

Haraszti also said he regretted that Muradova did not have time to appeal the court decision that sentenced her to jail.

Human Rights In Turkmenistan

Human Rights In Turkmenistan
Tajigul Begmedova speaking at RFE/RL in Prague on July 21 (RFE/RL)

LIFE UNDER NIYAZOV: On July 21, RFE/RL's Prague broadcasting center hosted a presentation by TAJIGUL BEGMEDOVA, chairwoman of the Bulgaria-based Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (THF). Begmedova discussed the human rights situation in Turkmenistan under President Saparmural Niyazov, focusing on the arrests in June of THF activists and RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova. Begmedova, who graduated from the Institute of Economy in Moscow in 1987, fled Turkmenistan in 2002 and lives in exile in Sofia.


Listen to the complete presentation (36 minutes; presentation in Russian with consecutive translation into English):
Real Audio Windows Media

Some RFE/RL Coverage Of Human Rights In Turkmenistan:

Media Coverage Of Leader Distracts From Real Problems

Authorities Cast Wide Net In Conspiracy Allegations

Embattled Turkmen Writer Honored Abroad

RFE/RL Correspondent Recounts Arrest


RFE/RL coverage of Turkmenistan.

THE COMPLETE STORY: Click on the icon to view a dedicated webpage bringing together all of RFE/RL's coverage of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

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