“The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is deeply concerned about the fate of Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, an independent journalist and activist who is still unaccounted for following his arrest near the seaport town of Turkmenbashi (formerly Krasnovodsk) in Turkmenistan on 7 July 2015”, said Ivar Dale, Senior advisor in the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC). “On the international level, the Turkmen government has made promises to improve the human rights situation in the country. Yet, time and again, we see evidence of the opposite happening. Nepeskuliev’s arrest is yet another grave example of this. He must be released immediately.”
Nepeskuliev had been working for Alternative Turkmenistan News, one of few websites devoted to independent reporting on Turkmenistan, as well as for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) prior to his arrest, covering i.a. health care issues in the Central Asian republic.
While members of Nepeskuliev’s family in Turkmenistan have received informal indications by authorities that his arrest was connected to narcotics, no formal charges against him have been made public. Nor have authorities provided any credible evidence regarding links to criminal activity on the part of Nepeskuliev.
Rather, the case bears strong similarity to numerous other cases in Turkmenistan where representatives of a marginalized civil society have been arrested and sentenced to prison without access to legal aid or with the chance to communicate with the outside world, on clearly trumped-up charges.
Turkmenistan remains one of the most closed and repressive countries in the OSCE region, and indeed in the world. Foreign human rights organizations do not have access to the country, the media is under strict government control and any public criticism of government policy is routinely met with arrest and imprisonment.
While there has been greater openness to foreign investments in the years since Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov took over as the country’s president in 2007, civil society reports that no improvement on human rights has taken place. The cult of personality that surrounded late president Niyazov has merely shifted to the incumbent, and reactions against those holding alternative viewpoints remain as harsh as ever.
“Working with Turkmen authorities is highly challenging for non-governmental organizations”, said Dale. “We see it as a moral obligation of those who do have access, such as diplomats and business persons, to raise such cases with the authorities. The families of those who have disappeared into the Turkmen prison system have a right to know whether their loved ones are still alive.”
For years, the NHC and other human rights organizations have asked Turkmen authorities to release Gulgeldy Annaniyazov, an activist with family in Norway, who remains incommunicado in one of the country’s prisons.
“Nepeskuliev’s family has been told that he was taken to Turkmenbashi for trial”, said Marius Fossum, NHC Regional Representative in Central Asia. “However, as authorities have not permitted his relatives to visit him, there is great uncertainty connected to his actual whereabouts and indeed of his well-being. The international community must ensure that Nepsekuliev does not suffer the same fate as Annaniyazov and other political prisoners”, he added.
Along with a number of other international organizations, the NHC is part of the “Prove They Are Alive!” campaign, through which dozen of cases of enforced disappearance of Turkmen citizens has been thoroughly documented.
In the absence of any credible charges against Nepeskuliev, the NHC urges Turkmen authorities to immediately release him and to ensure that his rights as a journalist are respected.