Four-year jail term for independent website’s correspondent

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) urges the OSCE’s new representative on freedom of the media to press for the release of a journalist in Turkmenistan – one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists – who has been jailed for simply posting a photo on a news website.

Sentenced on 15 September to four years in prison on a trumped-up charge of fraud, Nurgeldi Halykov, 26, has been held since 13 July, the day after he reposted a photo of a visiting World Health Organization delegation on, a website based in the Netherlands for which he works clandestinely.

Halykov’s family was reluctant to talk about the case because it was hoping that he would be amnestied on International Day of Neutrality, which is celebrated on 12 December. This didn’t happen.

“Turkmenistan is a black hole for news and information,” said Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “The media are completely controlled by the state and few journalists take the risk of doing independent reporting. Nurgeldi Halykov’s conviction exemplifies the absurdity of the trumped-up charges used by the authorities to gag the free press’s few remaining representatives. He risks being tortured in prison. We urge the authorities to free him at once and we ask Teresa Ribeiro, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s representative on freedom of the media, to firmly condemn his arbitrary detention.”

Halykov found the photo of the visiting WHO experts on the Instagram account of a former classmate, who was harassed by the authorities after they spotted it on the site, which specializes in covering human rights in Turkmenistan.

The former classmate deleted the photo and asked Halykov if he was the person who had reposted it. Halykov was then promptly summoned to a police station and placed in preventive detention. He was finally charged on 26 July with fraud in connection with a debt he allegedly failed to repay at the start of the year. It was a former friend, tennis champion Yuriy Rogusskiy, who ended up filing the complaint about the debt.

Turkmenistan is one of the world’s most closed countries and, despite an increase in “pneumonia” cases, is one of the world’s only two countries to have not yet recognized any Covid-19 cases. The other is North Korea.

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov continues a policy of systematically persecuting journalists working for independent media. Those failing to present Turkmenistan in a “positive light” are subjected to arbitrary arrest. They have included two correspondents of Radio Azatlyk (the local branch of US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty) – Khudayberdy Allashov, who was detained for illegal possession of chewing tobacco in 2017, and Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, who spent three years in prison on a trumped-up charge of drug possession.

Turkmenistan is ranked 179th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.