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Turkmen Party Leader To President: Free RFE/RL Reporter

RFE/RL Turkmen correspondent Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev was recently sentenced to five years in jail.
RFE/RL Turkmen correspondent Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev was recently sentenced to five years in jail.
The leader of an unregistered Turkmen opposition party has called on President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov to free an RFE/RL correspondent jailed last week, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports.

Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev was jailed for five years on October 6 after being convicted of helping convince a relative to attempt suicide in a trial RFE/RL described as "bogus."

Sazak Durdymuradov, the leader of the Bahbit (Advantage) party, told RFE/RL he has been in touch with Yazkuliyev's family who told him the court case was fabricated.

Durdymuradov said if Berdymukhammedov truly aspires to have the title "Arkadag" (protector) then this is an opportunity for him to show he protects his people from false accusations and wrongful imprisonment.

Durdymuradov said there were serious violations during the investigation and trial process.

RFE/RL President Steve Korn has called the case against Yazkuliyev an "outrage" and the sentence "predatory."

Rights groups say Yazkuliyev was convicted in retaliation for his independent reporting, including coverage of the deadly explosions at a weapons depot at Abadan, near Ashgabat, in July, which official media initially downplayed as a minor incident.

Durdymuradov has continued to campaign for greater rights in Turkmenistan despite having been forcibly committed to a psychiatric hospital for two weeks in 2008.

Prior to his detention, Durdymuradov worked as a contributor for RFE/RL's Turkmen Service and his release in July that year was conditioned on his signing a letter saying he would cease reporting for RFE/RL.

Durdymuradov says his Bahbit party has some 200 members, who prefer not to be named, and that Turkmenistan's Justice Ministry has still not refused or accepted the party's bid to be registered.

There is currently one registered political party in the country -- the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, led by Berdymukhammedov.