Jailed, Harassed RFE/RL Correspondent Leaves Turkmenistan

A Turkmen correspondent for RFE/RL has left Turkmenistan after serving a three-year prison term on drug charges that human rights groups and a UN panel denounced as politically motivated.

Turkmen journalist and RFE/RL contributor Saparmamed Nepeskuliev reportedly flew from Turkmenbashi to Istanbul on March 23 after obtaining an exit visa from Turkmenistan’s government two days earlier.

Nepeskuliev was released from prison on May 19, 2018, after serving his full sentence on charges of possessing a medical drug, tramadol, that is banned in Turkmenistan.

Rights groups have accused authorities in Turkmenistan of planting the drugs in a hotel room where he was staying while he was away working on a story.

They say the charges against him were fabricated in retaliation for his reporting.

Nepeskuliev disappeared on July 7, 2015, and was held incommunicado for weeks before a court in Turkmenistan found him guilty on the narcotics charges.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention designated Nepeskuliev’s detention as "arbitrary" in December 2015, saying that the journalist had been "deprived of liberty for having peacefully exercised his right to freedom of expression."

In July 2016, seven U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov calling Nepeskuliev’s imprisonment "unlawful" and urging his immediate release.

In video reports for RFE/RL, Nepeskuliev documented decaying infrastructure and economic inequality in western Turkmenistan.

Other RFE/RL reporters and contributors in Turkmenistan have faced physical attacks, threats, and prosecution on charges that critics say are groundless.

With reporting by Turkmen.news