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RFE/RL Contributor Being Held At Infamous Turkmen Psychiatric Hospital

Sazak Durdymuradov
RFE/RL has learned that Sazak Durdymuradov, a contributor to its Turkmen Service, is being held at an infamous psychiatric clinic in eastern Turkmenistan, one week after his arrest and reported beating by police.

It remains unclear why officials have targeted Durdymuradov, a history teacher who is well respected in his local community and known for his moderate views.

Durdymuradov's relatives tell RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service that he is now confined to a mental hospital in eastern Lebap Province, 700 kilometers from the capital, Ashgabat. Many government critics are held in the remote facility.

The information comes after Turkmen officials claimed for three days to have no information regarding Durdymuradov, a frequent nonpaid guest on RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service programs. He was detained on June 20 at his home in Baharden, some 200 kilometers west of Ashgabat.

His family last saw him on June 24, when Durdymuradov’s wife visited him in a Baharden detention center. According to relatives, Durdymuradov told his wife that he had been beaten and tortured. He reportedly also said that he was subjected to electric shocks after refusing to make a written promise not to work for RFE/RL.

Visited By Uniformed Men

Durdymuradov’s son, Atajan, told RFE/RL that authorities visited him on June 26. He says two uniformed men told him they wanted his father's passport and mobile phone. He says he refused to hand them over, and the officers left.

The case came as EU and Turkmen officials met in Ashgabat on June 24 to talk about the country’s human rights record.

One member of the EU delegation told RFE/RL that the group only learned of Durdymuradov’s case after the talks had concluded. But in a wide-ranging interview with the Turkmen Service, Riina Kionka, the personal representative on human rights for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, said that she and her colleagues would be following up on Durdymuradov’s case "on a number of different levels."

A 59-year-old history teacher, Durdymuradov was a frequent guest on Radio Azatlyk, as the Turkmen Service is known. His commentaries and analyses often focused on educational and constitutional reforms.

In a program aired on June 14, Durdymuradov spoke about constitutional reforms initiated by Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, saying, "People should benefit [from the reforms]. Improvements in living standards of the people should be the focus of the reforms. If not, there is no need for such reforms.”

Active In Community

Durdymuradov has been active in his community. He wrote an open letter to the Education Ministry and organized a petition signed by hundreds of students in support of a proposal to cut back on the study of the “Ruhnama.” Translated as the ”Book of the Soul,” "Ruhnama" was allegedly authored by late President Saparmurat Niyazov. A spiritual guide and autobiography, it remains compulsory reading in schools and is one of three entrance exams for universities.

During Niyazov’s rule, Durdymuradov wrote an open letter to the president and asked to be appointed a minister without portfolio, saying he wanted to oversee implementation of laws in Turkmenistan.

One of Durdymuradov's neighbors, speaking to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity, says Durdymuradov is respected in his community, where he is often asked to help organize weddings, funerals, and other events. She described him as friendly, polite, and calm.

'Always Ready To Help'

“If there were financial problems, we asked for his help," she says. "He was always ready to help as much as he can. If there’d be a quarrel between a husband and wife -- you know these things happen in life -- Sazak is always there and ready to solve a problem. Everyone sought his help and his opinion.”

She said the whole community is concerned about Durdymuradov’s arrest and awaits his release.

“All the neighbors want to see him free,” she says.

RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin has condemned Durdymuradov's arrest and apparent ill treatment.

"The only appropriate response to this act is condemnation," Gedmin said. "I call on the EU and international community to hold Turkmenistan accountable for its human rights abuses, and not allow the government to escape censure with empty promises of reform."

Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists, as well as local and regional human rights organizations, also condemned Durdymuradov's treatment, while noting the incident occurred during an EU-Turkmen dialogue on human rights.

“The Turkmen regime is demonstrating nothing but scorn for human rights," the CPJ said in a statement. "The international community must, in turn, show that it would not tolerate such unabashed mockery of its fundamental principles, demand the immediate release of Durdymuradov, and the due punishment of all perpetrators of his abduction, torture, and forced hospitalization."

Harassment On The Rise

Turkmenistan-based journalists for Radio Azatlyk say government intimidation and harassment has been on the rise in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, Turkmen authorities blocked several RFE/RL reporters from traveling to a training conference in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. In another case, an RFE/RL journalist was told that her work is putting her family at risk.

RFE/RL journalists in Turkmenistan have also been denied accreditation, deprived of Internet and telephone connections, placed under surveillance, and prohibited from visiting family members abroad.

In 2006, 58-year-old Ogulsapar Muradova, a human rights activist and former RFE/RL correspondent, died while in Turkmen custody, apparently from ill treatment. No one has been charged or brought to account for her death.

RFE/RL Turkmen Service Director Oguljamal Yazlieva and correspondent Rozynazar Khudaiberdiev contributed to this report