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Writer Persecuted in Turkmenistan

Turkmen author and journalist Rakhim Esenov received the Freedom to Write award from the American Center of International PEN, an international writers’ organization concerned with human rights. Mr. Esenov was one of three writers recognized by PEN for their efforts to defend freedom of expression.

In February 2004, Mr. Esenov was detained by Turkmenistan authorities and accused of smuggling eight-hundred copies of his banned novel, The Crowned Wanderer, into Turkmenistan from Russia. He was later charged with “inciting social, national and religious hatred using the mass media.” The charge is said to refer to Mr. Esenov’s novel, which portrays the life of sixteenth century Turkmen poet and philosopher Bayram Khan. The novel was banned for rightly portraying Khan as Shia rather than Sunni Muslim. Mr. Esenov was ordered to revise the work by Turkmenistan’s President Saparmurat Niyazov.

He refused. Mr. Esenov was released in March 2004, and forbidden to travel abroad. Charges against him are reportedly still pending. In response to international pressure, Turkmenistan authorities granted permission for the seventy-nine-year-old writer to travel abroad to receive the PEN award.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, another human rights monitoring group, recently placed Turkmenistan on its list of the world’s ten most censored countries. “The state owns all domestic media,” says the Committee, and President Niyazov’s administration “controls them by appointing editors and censoring content.” According to the U.S. State Department, during 2005, “persons expressing views critical or different from those of the government [of Turkmenistan] were arrested on false charges of committing common crimes and in some cases subject to abuse, harassment, and deprivation, including loss of opportunities for advancement and employment.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the U.S. is working with other democracies to defend human rights:

“We must call countries to account when they retreat from their human rights commitments and we must always stand in solidarity with the courageous men and women across the globe who live in fear, yet dream of freedom.”

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Richard Boucher says, “There is little or no freedom in Turkmenistan in any political sense – economic sense for that matter – and we need to do what we can.”

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.