RFE/RL Contributor In Turkmenistan Given Suspended Sentence

Turkmen journalist and RFE/RL contributor Khudayberdy Allashov and his mother, Kurbantach Arazmedova, have been released from custody after spending 2 1/2 months in detention.

Sources in Turkmenistan told RFE/RL on February 22 that Allashov and his mother were released on February 15 after a court convicted them of possessing chewing tobacco and handed each a three-year suspended prison sentence.

Both are currently at home in the northern city of Koneurgench and under police surveillance. They are not allowed to use any communication tools, the sources told RFE/RL.

Allashov and his mother were arrested in December. Although chewing tobacco is illegal in the Central Asian country, the practice of using it is extremely widespread.

The arrest came weeks after another RFE/RL correspondent, Soltan Achilova, was attacked. In November 2016, officials threatened to enforce a suspended jail sentence against a third RFE/RL correspondent, Rovshan Yazmukhamedov.

In 2105, another RFE/RL contributor, Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, was sentenced to three years in prison on drug charges.

RFE/RL President Thomas Kent said, "We are thrilled that Khudayberdy is out of prison, but remain deeply concerned about our colleague Saparmamed Nepeskuliev," an RFE/RL contributor who has been held virtually incommunicado since July 2015.

"Turkmenistan has taken an important step," Kent said. "Now the government has an opportunity to establish a new standard by releasing Saparmamed and ending its unjust campaign against independent journalism."

Turkmenistan is ranked 178th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) World Press Freedom Index.

"We urge the country's foreign partners to press Turkmenistan to deliver serious human rights reforms and to uphold the right to freedom of expression," the Paris-based RSF said in a February 10 statement.