The Prove They Are Alive! campaign is pleased to learn that Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a civic journalist and contributor to RFE/RL and Alternative Turkmenistan News, was released on May 19, 2018 after serving out his three year sentence. In July 2015, Nepeskuliev was arrested on drug possession charges, which are widely believed to have been politically motivated. In fact, he was arrested for his critical reporting. It is clear that the persistent and public international campaigning on behalf of Mr. Nepeskuliev by diplomats and government representatives, international bodies, and international civil society played an important role in ensuring that he was released from prison at the end of his term and not resentenced as others have been.
Nepeskuliev disappeared on July 7, 2015, and was charged on July 28, 2015. During those three weeks, his family had no idea of his whereabouts. On August 31, 2015 he was sentenced to three years of imprisonment in a colony. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention published an opinion on December 14, 2015, designating Mr. Nepeskuliev’s detention as “arbitrary” since he was held “incommunicado with no access to a legal representative; he was deprived of his right to legal assistance of his own choosing,” and he was “deprived of liberty for having peacefully exercised his right to freedom of expression.”[i]
The Prove They Are Alive! campaign included Mr. Nepeskuliev in its list of Turkmenistan’s disappeared in 2017 when the government of Turkmenistan failed to provide any information about his whereabouts for more than half a year after it informed the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media (OSCE RFoM) in August 2016 that Nepeskuliev had been transferred to medical facility MRK-15 with “exacerbation of peptic ulcer disease, hypovitaminosis, protein-vitamin insufficiency, cachexia, secondary chronic anemia.” As the Prove! campaign documented in its List of the Disappeared, Nepeskuliev was only admitted to the medical facility after the government received an inquiry from the UN Committee against Torture in June 2016 and an inquiry from OSCE RFoM in July 2016. Turkmen authorities refused to provide any further information in response to a follow-up inquiry from OSCE RFoM in November 2016 and a statement from the European Union at the meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on March 2, 2017. The whereabouts and health condition of Mr. Nepeskuliev remained unknown for 18 months until he was finally released after having served his full sentence.
The campaign is concerned about the state of Mr. Nepeskuliev’s health after his time in prison and hopes he will fully recover. Persecution by the Turkmen authorities of Saparmamed Nepeskuliev and other journalists and activists who cooperate with international media should stop immediately.
We encourage the government of Turkmenistan to heed the international call to prove that the other disappeared in Turkmen prisons are alive, and to immediately allow them access to their families, legal counsel, and medical care.
[i] http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Detention/Opinions2015AUV/Opinion%202015% 2040_Turkmenistan_Nepeskuliev_AUV%20final.pdf