One of the few independent outlets covering Turkmenistan from inside the country is raising the alarm about the arrest of a correspondent.
Alternative News of Turkmenistan said Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, who lives in the city of Balkanabad, was detained on July 7 in the port city of Turkmenbashi after a reporting trip to the resort of Awaza. News of his arrest only reached his colleagues on July 28.
Nepeskuliev also worked as a freelance reporter for the Turkmen service of U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
Alternative News of Turkmenistan said that Nepeskuliev phoned relatives on the day of his disappearance to inform them that he was due to return to Balkanabad at 4 p.m. that same day and that he was going to take a swim before his departure.
Subsequently, there was no further communication and his telephone was turned off.
Nepeskuliev’s relatives contacted the police after several days to issue a missing person report. Police officers suggested Nepeskuliev might have drowned and contacted the morgue in Turkmenbashi, but nobody there could confirm they had processed anybody matching the description.
After investigations by the family, it was discovered that Nepeskuliev was being held in a prison in the village of Akdash, around 20 kilometres east of Turkmenbashi.
Relatives say Nepeskuliev was accused of carrying pills allegedly containing narcotic substances (presumed to be Tramadol) and that court hearings were to take place shortly.
Family members have not been permitted to see Nepeskuliev. Alternative News of Turkmenistan said there are concerns that Nepeskuliev may have been mistreated and that he has been given no legal representation.
Nepeskuliev’s friends and family have ample reason for concern as Turkmenistan has a history of appalling treatment of jailed reporters.
In June 2006, RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova was arrested and at least two human rights activists, along with her three adult children. Two months later, Muradova and the activists were sentenced to seven years in jail on charges of the illegal possession of weapons. Their supporters say the charges were trumped-up.
On September 14, Muradova died in prison. Relatives said her body had wounds to the neck and head, which activists argued indicated she had died a violent death while in custody. Authorities denied the accusation.
This is not Nepeskuliev’s first brush with the law, Alternative News of Turkmenistan said.
Around two years ago, he mounted a one-man picket during a visit by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov to the western Balkan region.
Nepeskuliev was protesting what he said was the unfair dismissal from his job as an assistant chef, which he had appealed through the courts for several years beforehand.
The protest landed Nepeskuliev in a psychiatric hospital, where he said he was forcibly administered powerful psychotropic drugs.
Alternative News of Turkmenistan said Nepeskuliev was a Russian citizen at some some stage, although his citizenship was stripped from him for reasons unknown.
The website said that it is convinced the pills were planted on Nepeskuliev.
Tramadol is banned in Turkmenistan, where the powerful painkiller is termed a psychoactive substance. Recreational use of the drug has become popular in some parts of Central Asia.