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Turkmenistan: Journalist’s mother banned from travelling abroad

Turkmenistan: Journalist’s mother banned from travelling abroad
Turkmenistan: Journalist’s mother banned from travelling abroad

The authorities should reverse ban, cease imposing arbitrary travel restrictions

Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) are deeply concerned about a recent incident at Ashgabat airport, in which Parcha Yazmuhammedova was barred from boarding a flight bound for Germany in apparent retaliation for her son’s journalistic work. This case fits into a broader pattern in which the Turkmenistani authorities arbitrarily restrict citizens’ freedom of movement as part of their relentless campaign against dissent. We call on the authorities to immediately lift the travel ban imposed on Parcha Yazmuhammedova and cease all forms of intimidation and harassment against Rovshen Yazmuhammedov and his family.

TIHR learned that Parcha Yazmuhammedova was denied permission to board a flight to the German city of Frankfurt on 24 February 2024. According to Yazmuhammedova, a migration service official at Ashgabat airport informed her that her name appeared on a list of people prohibited from leaving the country and that she was not allowed to board the flight, despite her travel documents being in order. The official did not provide any explanation for the ban but advised her to contact a local migration service department for further information. This incident occurred as Yazmuhammedova was on route to Germany to visit close relatives who live there.

Parcha Yazmuhammedova is the mother of Rovshen Yazmuhammedov, a journalist and former freelance correspondent for Radio Azatlyk, the Turkmen service of Radio Liberty/Free Europe (RFE/RL). Since he began working with Radio Azatlyk over a decade ago, Rovshen Yazmuhammedov has faced persistent harassment from law enforcement agencies due to his journalistic activities. In May 2013, police in the city of Turkmenabad detained him for two weeks following the publication of several articles on Radio Azatlyk’s website that sparked lively discussions. An international outcry is believed to have contributed to his eventual release. However, he was later summoned and questioned by police because of his cooperation with RFE/RL. Both he and his family members have been subjected to ongoing psychological pressure, which he believes contributed to his father’s death from a stroke in 2019. Rovshen Yazmuhammedov has also been banned from travelling abroad. He has nevertheless continued his journalistic work, although he recently stopped working with Radio Azatlyk.

Against this background, TIHR and IPHR view the recent denial of exit from Turkmenistan of Parcha Yazmuhammedova as yet another deplorable attempt to intimidate and silence her son.

The Turkmenistani authorities have repeatedly barred individuals known for criticising the authorities, as well their family members from travelling abroad. One recent example is that of journalist Soltan Achilova, who was prevented from going to Geneva in November 2023. This visit was organised in follow-up to her selection as a finalist for the Martin Ennals Foundation’s prestigious human rights award. Achilova and her daughter were stopped at passport control after border officials intentionally damaged their passports using wet napkins, rendering the documents invalid for travel. In another instance, in January 2024, lawyer and activist Pygambergeldy Allaberdyev was prevented from travelling to Iran, where he was planning to seek treatment for health issues resulting from his previous imprisonment on politically motivated charges. Border officials cited the conditions of his parole as the reason for denying him permission to travel abroad. However, he has not received any official notification explaining this restriction.

The Turkmenistani authorities should immediately cease using arbitrary travel bans and ensure that journalists, activists and their family members are not unduly prevented from travelling abroad. They should take concrete steps toward ensuring an enabling and protective environment in which journalists and activists can exercise their rights without fear of reprisal, in accordance with recommendations they received and undertook to implement during the recent Universal Periodic Review of Turkmenistan’s human rights record.

***

Fore more information on the situation with respect to the protection of fundamental freedoms in Turkmenistan, see the following briefing paper prepared by IPHR and TIHR for the EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue in December 2023.

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