Turkmenistan: UN scrutiny in journalist’s death

More grisly news from the amusingly eccentric despotism of Saparmurat “Turkmenbashi” Niyazov. It is good to see the outside world paying attention to what goes on in this hermetically-sealed dictatorship, but this case raises the usual dilemmas. Journalist Ogulsapar Muradova was affiliated with the US-funded Radio Liberty, and Turkmenbashi’s defenders will doubtless portray this as being complicit with US designs to destabilize the regime, or at least pry it open for freer corporate access to its formbidable gas and oil resources. But should the penalty for this be death—and, more importantly, what option do independent journalists have in Turkmenistan? Have the Independent Media Centers attempted to give them any support? The IMCs don’t appear to have a single outlet in all Central Asia. A search of the main IMC website turns up nothing on Muradova’s case, although some affiliates, such Indymedia UK at least noted his arrest. From Al-Jazeera, Sept. 16:

Turkmen reporter’s death ‘disturbs’ UN

The United Nations has said it was “very disturbed” by the death in prison of a human rights activist and journalist in Turkmenistan, and called for an independent investigation.

Jose Diaz, spokesman for UN high commissioner for human rights, Louise Arbour, said officials at the global body were monitoring the case of Ogulsapar Muradova.

The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights announced that Muradova’s body had been seen by her relatives Thursday. The group’s director blamed the government for what he said appeared to have been her violent death.

At the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva, Diaz said: “We are very disturbed about the death in a Turkmen prison of Ogulsapar Muradova.

“We urge the Turkmen authorities to conduct a thorough, prompt and independent investigation into the cause of her death, including an independent medical examination of the body, and to make public the results of that inquiry.”


Muradova was affiliated with the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation, and was a reporter with US-funded Radio Liberty. She and two other rights activists were arrested in June and later sentenced ranging from six to seven years, according to the International Helsinki Foundation.

Diaz said authorities had charged her with “illegal arms possession after a trial widely reported to be unfair.” He called her “a human rights defender.”

The human rights group, Diaz said, was concerned about the fate of the Amankurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiyev, two other journalists who were arrested with Muradova.


The media freedom advocacy group, Reporters Without Borders, also has demanded a full investigation into Muradova’s death.

Another media rights group expressed dismay with how Turkmen authorities “have not yet made public the time and cause of death.”

“Their secretive conduct, combined with unofficial accounts of wounds found on her body, raise suspicions of foul play,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) has more questions:

Calling for a full investigation into how journalist Ogulsapar Muradova died, RSF voiced concern about the two people who were tried and convicted with her at the same secret trial on 25 August 2006, one of whom was a fixer for the French television production company Galaxie-Presse.

Reporters Without Borders has learned that police took Muradova’s adult children on the morning of 14 September to the Ashgabat morgue where they informed them of her death and showed them the body. There was a head wound and many marks on the rest of the body. Sources had previously reported that Muradova was mistreated following her arrest on 16 June and while she was awaiting trial.

“It is essential that the international community, especially the European countries, the United States and Russia, should demand to know what happened,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Impunity and indifference are the worst forms of treatment for journalists who fall victim to the enemies of press freedom and for their relatives.”

The organisation also voiced “great concern” about the fate of Muradova’s co-defendants, fixer Annakurban Amanklychev and human rights activist Sapardurdy Khajiyev, who received sentences of six and seven years respectively at the same trial, that was held secretly without any independent observers and lasted less than two hours.

See our last posts on Turkmenistan and the politics of Central Asia.