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Turkmen Journalist Posts Rare Public Rebuke Of President On YouTube

Turkmen journalist Soltan Achilova (file photo)

A 71-year-old Turkmen journalist Soltan Achilova has issued a rare rebuke of the Central Asian nation's authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, criticizing him and his government in a video posted on YouTube for failing to provide proper heating and water supply to Ashgabat residents during winter.

In the video statement that appeared on YouTube late on February 18, Achilova, who has previously worked as a reporter for RFE/RL’s Turkmen Service, said she will no longer call Berdymukhammedov "respected" because "millions of Turkmen had stopped respecting you long ago."

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (file photo)
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov (file photo)

Such an act of public dissent is a rare occurrence in Turkmenistan, where Berdymukhammedov has run the former Soviet republic with an iron fist since 2006, becoming the center of an elaborate personality cult.

"You have always said that your main goal is to take care of your people. But in fact, you are taking care of such things as to listen to how others praise you, to ride a horse, to drive a race car, to swim in a lake, to fish, and to sing songs," Achilova said, pointing to numerous television programs showing Berdymukhammedov's hobbies and his leisure activities.

Turkmenistan's Singer, Race-Car Driver, Jockey, Autocrat
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Achilova added that the heating system in her apartment had been switched off several times in recent days, which she called an intentional warning over her journalistic activities.

Last month, Achilova was named as one of three finalists for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders for her reports from Turkmenistan, one of the most repressive countries in the world.

In her video statement, Achilova said that seven letters she sent to Berdymukhammedov had been rejected by Ashgabat's central post office. According to Achilova, post office officials told her that the letters had not been sent to the president due to an equipment malfunction.

"Those letters were intentionally destroyed. This is what our country is facing now," Achilova said, accusing the government of refusing to talk to people.

Achilova also criticized Berdymukhammedov and his government for what she called a "failure to provide" ordinary people with decent food at acceptable prices, adding that "miserable pensions and salaries in the country" do not provide people with the means to shop for regular items at local markets.

"Our fellow Turkmen citizens working in foreign countries have staged several protests recently demanding your resignation. We join those protests and demand your resignation as well because you are incapable of carrying out your duties. We are suffering and you do not even care about it. All you are capable of is ruining our homes and causing our people to suffer," Achilova said.

Based in Ashgabat, Achilova is currently a contributor to the Vienna-based independent news website Khronika Turkmenistana (Chronicles of Turkmenistan), which focuses on news and developments in Turkmenistan.

Turkmen authorities, who don't tolerate an independent press, have targeted Achilova in the past for her work as a journalist.

A 71-year-old Turkmen journalist Soltan Achilova has issued a rare rebuke of the Central Asian nation's authoritarian President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov

This year's Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders was given to jailed Chinese lawyer and human rights activist Yu Wensheng earlier this month.

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