Accessibility links

Breaking News

RFE/RL Correspondent Accosted, Roughed Up In Turkmenistan

Turkmen journalist Soltan Achilova (file photo)
Turkmen journalist Soltan Achilova (file photo)

RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondent Soltan Achilova says she was accosted by two men over the weekend and punched in the chest, the latest in a long string of attacks on the 69-year-old journalist.

The incident occurred on June 9 in the town of Yoloten on June 9, when she was visiting her relatives, Achilova said.

She said she noticed a car following her when she was on her way to the home of her relatives' neighbor.

When she left the neighbor's home 30 minutes later, two young men on bicycles blocked her way and demanded to know why she had taken pictures of their homes -- something she said she had not done.

One of the men punched her in the chest and she fell down.

The same day, local police impounded her relatives' car and said it would not be returned until she leaves Yoloten for the capital, Ashgabat, where she lives.

Achilova says her relatives in Yoloten have been under pressure for a long time over her work for RFE/RL.

Achilova, who has been reporting on the experiences of ordinary Turkmen residents with her photographs for years, has faced an onslaught of physical assaults by police, thugs, and other unidentified assailants.

On May 9, Achilova was detained and threatened by security officers in Ashgabat when she was taking pictures of the flower-laying ceremony at the Eternal Flame near the Memorial Complex to victims of World War II.

That incident came two days after Deputy Foreign Minister Vepa Hajiyev said at a hearing of the UN Human Rights Council on Turkmenistan in Geneva on May 7 that "the fact that Radio Liberty correspondents work freely in the country" proves that there is media freedom in Turkmenistan.

RFE/RL President Thomas Kent, citing the violent attack on Achilova, condemned Hajiyev's statement on May 10, calling it "outrageous and offensive."

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

The natural-gas-producing Central Asian country has been ruled with an iron fist by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov since 2006, when he came to power following the death of longtime autocrat Saparmurad Miyazov.