September 15, 2022
President Serdar Berdimuhamedov
Presidential Palace of Ogoujan
Sent by email
Dear President Berdimuhamedov,
Following your recent inauguration as President of Turkmenistan, we at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent non-governmental organization that defends press freedom around the world, are writing to urge you to seize this opportunity to end your country’s restrictions on free and independent media. As a first step, we urge you to lift restrictions on the press and release imprisoned journalist Nurgeldi Halykov, who was convicted two years ago today on charges we believe are retaliation for his reporting. .
Our research at CPJ has documented extensive censorship by multiple state agencies which, along with state monopolies on print publishing, broadcasting, and Internet services, ensure that little information enters the public domain unless be approved by the government. Independent online news outlets such as Khronika Turkmenistana and Turkmen.news are forced to operate from abroad and remain stuck inside Turkmenistan. These outlets typically rely on networks of undercover correspondents who are frequently imprisoned for long periods when their work is discovered, while relatives of journalists who have fled abroad are harassed by law enforcement.
Despite this worrying record, as president you have a historic opportunity to chart a new course for your nation. In your inauguration speech of March 19, you rightly identified the protection of the constitutionally guaranteed rights of Turkmen citizens as your fundamental duty. Article 42 of the Constitution of Turkmenistan enshrines the rights to freedom of expression and the freedom to seek, receive and impart information. Turkmenistan’s Mass Media Law prohibits media censorship, interference in media activities, and media monopolization by natural or legal persons, and guarantees citizens’ access to foreign news media. CPJ calls on you to oversee the translation of these positive provisions into reality as an integral and urgent part of your duty to uphold the constitution and the law.
Given the imperative for reform and the existence of legislation that should promote freedom of the press, we are concerned by reports of increased online censorship in recent months. Turkmen journalists tell us that most foreign media and social networks have long been inaccessible. A government campaign to block entire servers hosting the VPNs (virtual private networks) citizens use – on pain of prosecution and official harassment – to circumvent this stifling censorship has reportedly led to “almost complete” internet shutdowns several times this year. We urge you to lift these harmful restrictions, which deprive the Turkmen public of vital sources of information and in turn hamper the country’s development.
We are also deeply concerned about the fate of journalist Nurgeldi Halykov, convicted in September 2020 on false charges of fraud. A correspondent for the independent Netherlands-based news site Turkmen.news, Halykov was arrested the day after he handed his employer a photo from a sensitive World Health Organization mission in Turkmenistan, and sentenced to four years in prison for allegedly failing to repay a loan. Halykov’s employer believes security services discovered Halykov’s broader work for Turkmen.news during interrogation and decided to jail him for an extended period on fabricated charges. The outlet reported that Halykov was forced to admit the fraud charges after being threatened with more serious bogus rape charges if he did not comply. We ask that you exercise your executive power to overturn Halykov’s wrongful conviction and release him without delay.
Easing restrictions on internet and independent media access and releasing Halykov would not only be the surest way for you to fulfill your duty to uphold the constitution; such steps would also signal a commitment to reform the international institutions whose cooperation you have rightly identified as crucial for the development of Turkmenistan. We urge you to seize this important moment in your country’s history to ensure that journalists are no longer imprisoned and harassed for their work.
We thank you in advance for your attention and look forward to your response.
Journalists Protection Committee
Merettagan Taganov, Minister of Justice
Building of the Ministry of Justice of Turkmenistan
Rashit Meredov, Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs Building
744000 Ashgabat, Turkmenistan