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RFE/RL Correspondent Forcibly Detained In Turkmenistan

Soltan Achilova
Soltan Achilova

RFE/RL correspondent Soltan Achilova was forcibly detained and threatened by security forces in Turkmenistan.

The incident occurred on May 9, when Achilova, 68, went to take photos of the flower-laying ceremony at the Eternal Flame near the memorial complex to the victims of World War II, located in the suburbs of the capital, Ashgabat.

On her way to the memorial, Achilova was stopped by several men in black suits. When she explained she was a journalist and was taking photos for a Victory Day report, the men insulted and threatened her.

Three uniformed police officers then appeared and demanded that she accompany them to a police station. She refused. The plainclothes police officers demanded that she delete the photos, grabbed her by the arms, and dragged her into a waiting car.

Achilova said she was again threatened with detention on drug charges if she refused to delete the photos. When she again refused, the men took her camera by force and deleted the pictures.

Achilova was detained for two hours, a period of time during which she was told to renounce working for RFE/RL. She was eventually released.

Achilova has worked for RFE/RL for years, reporting the experiences of ordinary Turkmen residents with her photographs. She has faced an onslaught of physical assaults by police, thugs, and other unidentified assailants.

The May 9 attack against her came two days after Deputy Foreign Minister Vepa Hadjiyev said at a hearing of the UN Human Rights Council on Turkmenistan in Geneva on May 7 that "the fact that Radio Liberty correspondents work freely in the country" proves that there is media freedom in Turkmenistan.

RFE/RL President Thomas Kent condemned Hadjiyev's statement on May 10, citing the violent attack on Achilova and calling the minister’s statement “outrageous and offensive.”

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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