The Broadcasting Board of Governors has called for an investigation into the death of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) Turkmen correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova, while the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) says it "deplores the death."
Reporters Without Borders is also joining the call for an inquiry into what is being described as a summary execution.
"We are deeply saddened by the news of the death of Mrs. Muradova," said BBG Board Chairman Ken Tomlinson. "She will be remembered for her courage and dedication to reporting the truth to the people of Turkmenistan."
According to her family, Muradova died on or before Sept. 14 in the custody of government officials in Turkmenistan after being arrested in June and sentenced to six years in prison, forced to confess to a foreign conspiracy to smear the country, according to CPJ, which reports the government refused to disclose cause of death or to conduct an autopsy, and only released the body under pressure from Western diplomats.
RFE/RL acting President Jeff Trimble had blasted the trial as a "mockery of justice."
The 58-year-old mother of three had been working for RFE/RL for less than a year.
The Central Asian Republic that borders Iraq and Afghanistan is considered o dangerous that they don't have a bureau there or send correspondents. It is one of only three places (the others are Uzbekistan and Iran), where they feel it is too dangerous to send anyone. It has to depend on in-country freelancers "if they want to be brave enough to report for us," says RFE/RL public affairs director Don Jensen.
The reporters have to try and get the information out however they can, in this case by cell phone and via the Internet.
CPJ last month said it was "deeply concerned" for her safety after she was arrested, held without charge, then labeled a traitor on Turkmen TV by President Saparmurat Niyazov.
The Turkmen Helsinki Foundation, a human rights group, says detainees are frequently drugged and forced to confess to crimes, and reports that Muradova's three children said she had appeared dazed and incoherent during prison visit.
A BBG spokesman Friday said the family has also indicated there were wounds on the body.
The BBG board adopted the resolution Sept 14 calling for the investigation by the Turkmen government.
Given that BBG also points out that the country is ruled by a "repressive government that has consistently violated not only the right of the RFE/RL's Turkmen journalists to gather and report the news, but the right of all the Turkmen people to free expression," the odds are long on the "immediate, impartial, transparent, and thorough" inquiry it has called for.
CPJ reports that Muradova told RFE/RL before her arrest that she was being followed and her apartment watched, and that there were threats against her son and two daughters if she did not stop contributing to the RFE/RL. Muradova has also complained the day before her arrest that arsonists had set fire to her mother’s home, the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation said.
On March 7, two correspondents for RFE/RL's Turkmen Service were arrested by Turkmen authorities. Since their release 10 days later, one -- Meret Khommadov -- has recounted his ordeal for RFE/RL listeners. On April 4, the second of those correspondents, Jumadurdy Ovezov, talked about his experience.
In March, two other RFE/RL Turkmen correspondents were jailed then released 10 days later. One, Jumadurdy Ovezov, old RFE/RL listeners he knows why--his reporting on bread shortages.
"It's very hard. Now, simply getting bread is a problem," he had reported. "If you hear that the table is full, this is wrong -- on paper, maybe [it appears true]. [But] finding one piece of bread is difficult. Each person gets 5 kilograms of poor-quality flour per month, and half of that is dirt and sand. It crunches when you chew it. It's no secret to the people what kind of bread they are eating."
The government, by contrast, claims record grain harvests that will allow it to become a grain exporter, says RFE/RL. Ovezov says grain is available, but unfortunately noone has money to buy it.