The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has joined human rights organizations in urging the authoritarian leadership of Turkmenistan to immediately end the practice of threatening and harassing exiled journalists' family members and allow all Turkmen journalists living abroad to return to the Central Asian country and work there in safety.
Officers of the Ministry of National Security have "harassed and threatened" the relatives of two journalists -- Rozybai Jumamuradov and Devlet Bayhan -- on a number of occasions since March, the New York-based media freedom watchdog said in a statement on May 26.
It cited reports by the independent Vienna-based news site Khronika Turkmenistana, a joint statement by four human rights organizations, as well as Jumamuradov and Bayhan, who spoke to CPJ.
"The abhorrent practice of exerting pressure on journalists in exile by harassing their family members back home must stop immediately," said Gulnoza Said, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator.
"Instead of diverting vast resources into tracking and persecuting critical voices, Turkmen authorities should focus on addressing the serious social and political issues that these voices raise."
Earlier this month, four leading human rights groups -- Human Rights Watch, the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, International Partnership for Human Rights, and Amnesty International – criticized Turkmen authorities for "threatening" the relatives of Jumamuradov, Bayhan, and other exiled dissidents.
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has long been accused of suppressing dissent and making few changes in the restrictive country since he came to power after the death of autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov in 2006.
Jumamuradov, a former correspondent of RFE/RL in Turkmenistan who currently resides in Turkey, is an outspoken critic of the government. He is a reporter working with Khronika Turkmenistana.
Bayhan is based in Germany, where he says he is applying for refugee status. He collaborates with Khronika Turkmenistana and runs a video blog critical of the Turkmen authorities.
In one episode on May 4, Turkmen security services in Lebap region summoned Jumamuradov's nephew, cursed and shouted at him, and threatened to imprison him and his parents because of their contacts with Jumamuradov, the journalist said.
They also summoned the boy's mother to the police station and interrogated and intimidated her in the presence of her son before releasing them.
On May 17, the school director told Jumamuradov's 16-year-old niece that she could "forget about good grades" in upcoming exams on account of her contact with her uncle and the May 13 statement by the four human rights groups, according to the journalist and Khronika Turkmenistana.
Jumamuradov told CPJ he didn't feel safe in Turkey and was forced to frequently change addresses to evade the Turkmen security services.
The group quoted Bayhan as saying that national security officers had called on his relatives in the Mary region on "numerous occasions" since March 24, threatening to "make their lives hell" unless they convinced him to quit his journalistic and opposition activities.
Two of his relatives were fired from their jobs in early April in retaliation for his activism, he said, and officers warned one of his family members, whose son serves in the army, that he might not return alive unless Bayhan quit his activities.