Defamation / Reputation, Hate Speech, Political Expression
Awan v. Levant
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In August 2015, Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, a journalist and human rights activist working with the Turkmen language service of Radio Liberty and Turkmenistan News was sentenced to three years in prison for possession of illegal narcotics.
As Nepeskuliev has been shedding light on various issues in Turkmenistan, including the shortage of public services and government corruption, civil society organizations have condemned his detention and alleged that his arrest was based on trumped-up charges and that it reflects the government’s long record of suppressing its critics. On December 02, 2015, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that the journalist’s arrest and continued detention violated his basic civil rights. It concluded the Turkmen government arbitrarily denied his liberty for exercising his right to freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify the official legal and government records on the case and that the information contained in this report was derived from secondary sources. It must be noted that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding this legal matter will be updated as an official source becomes available.
On July 07, 2015, freelance journalist Saparmamed Nepeskuliev for Radio Liberty and a correspondent for Alternative Turkmenistan News, a Netherlands-based human rights group, was conducting a video report. His family later reported him missing as he did not return home and his phone appeared to be permanently disconnected. More than 20 days later, a prison official confirmed that Nepeskuliev was in custody for possession of pills with narcotic substances. The official refused to allow the family to visit him. On August 31, 2015, a court of first instance of Turkmenistan found him guilty of possessing illegal substance under Article 303 of the Criminal Code and sentenced him to three years in prison.
For several years, Nepeskuliev’s work has been primarily focused on Turkmenistan’s lack of adequate public services, such as water shortage and long delays in constructing new hospitals across the country. He has also reported on widespread government corruption, particularly among judges and security officials. Due to his work, civil society organizations allege that his drug-posession charge was fabricated by the government as a means to suppress his journalistic function. According to Human Rights Watch, “Turkmenistan has a long record of jailing journalists and government critics, bringing trumped-up charges, and mistreating detainees, so the sooner Nepeskuliev is released the better.” In its urgent action petition to reveal his whereabouts, Amnesty International stated that “[h]is likely arrest and detention may be linked to his work as a freelance journalist.”
As the government of Turkmenistan has not publicly released the criminal judgment against Nepeskuliev, it remains unclear whether the journalist in fact possessed illegal substances. But the recent decision of the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, a non-treaty-based monitoring body, makes it more likely that that the conviction was directly related to his work as a journalist.
After Nepeskuliev’s arrest, Alternative Turkmenistan News filed a petition to the Working Group, alleging that his continued detention was arbitrary and in violation of the right to freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In its ruling on December 02, 2015, the Working Group found that Nepeskuliev was denied of his basic rights during his arrest, pre-trial detention, and subsequent trial proceedings; it also expressed grave concern that he may have been subjected to torture or ill-treatment in prison. The Working Group concluded that Nepeskuliev was arbitrarily deprived of his liberty for “having peacefully exercised his right to freedom of expression.”
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