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INTERNATIONAL OUTCRY OVER JOURNALIST'S DEATH

Many IFEX members have expressed outrage at the death of a journalist and human rights activist in a Turkmenistan prison and have called for an independent investigation into the circumstances that led to the tragedy. Turkmen authorities revealed on 14 September 2006 that Ogulsapar Muradova, a reporter for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and an activist associated with the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation, died while in custody.

The suspicious circumstances surrounding Muradova's death have prompted calls of concern from Human Rights Watch, the International Press Institute, the World Association of Newspapers, Reporters Without Borders, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Federation of Journalists.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has also urged Turkmen authorities to conduct a "thorough, prompt and independent investigation into the cause of Ms. Muradova's death, including an independent medical examination of the body, and to make the findings public."

According to Human Rights Watch, Muradova's son was summoned by authorities to collect his mother's body. He noticed that his mother had a wound on her head. Authorities rejected the family's request for an autopsy and did not disclose the cause or date of death.

CPJ says security forces surrounded the Muradova home and prevented people from seeing the body or contacting Muradova's relatives, whose telephones have been cut. There are also reports that authorities have intensified surveillance and intimidation of Muradova's family.

Muradova, 58, had been held incommunicado since 18 June. Denied access to a lawyer, she was convicted of possessing illegal weapons and sentenced to six years in jail on 25 August after a closed-door trial that lasted minutes, Human Rights Watch said.

Two other human rights activists affiliated with the Turkmenistan Helskini Foundation - Amandurdy Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiev - were also convicted alongside Muradova for possessing illegal weapons. Each received seven year prison sentences.

Following Muradova's death, there are heightened fears that these two individuals face the risk of torture and ill treatment.

Turkmenistan is one of the most repressive and closed countries in the world, say Human Rights Watch and Freedom House. The government tolerates no dissent, allows no media or political freedoms, and has driven into exile or imprisoned political opponents, human rights defenders and independent journalists.

The government controls all radio and television broadcasts and print media. Reports of dissenting political views are banned, including mild forms of criticism of President Saparmurat Niazov. Subscriptions to foreign newspapers and magazines are forbidden, and foreign journalists have few opportunities to visit Turkmenistan.

Visit these links:

- Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2006/09/15/turkme14201.htm
- CPJ: http://www.cpj.org/news/2006/europe/turkmen14sept06na.html
- WAN: http://www.wan-press.org/article11911.html
- Freedom House: http://www.freedomhouse.org/uploads/WoW/2006/Turkmenistan2006.pdf
- IPI: http://www.freemedia.at/
- RSF Appeals for Aid: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=18342
- RFE/RL: http://www.rferl.org/

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