Rakhim Esenov, a respected novelist, historian and freelance correspondent for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), remains under investigation in Turkmenistan on the charge of ‘inciting social, national and religious hatred using the mass media’ with his novel ‘Ventsenosny Skitalets’ (The Crowned Wanderer). If convicted, he faces up to four years’ imprisonment.
The Crowned Wanderer is set in the 16th century Moghul Empire and centres on Bayram Khan, a poet, philosopher and army general who is said to have saved Turkmenistan from fragmentation. It had been banned from publication in Turkmenistan for 10 years by President Saparmurad Niyazov, who had publicly denounced it as ‘historically inaccurate’ in 1997 and demanded that corrections be made – a demand that Esenov refused to meet. This is believed to be related to Esenov’s portrayal of Khan as a Shia rather than a Sunni Muslim. This offence carries a four-year prison sentence under Article 177 parts 1 and 2 of the Turkmen Criminal Code.
Esenov, 78, was questioned by members of the Turkmen Ministry of National Security (MNB) upon his return to Turkmenistan on 23 February 2004 following medical treatment abroad. Already in poor health following a heart attack only two days prior to his arrest, Esenov suffered a stroke during interrogation and was taken to hospital. Two days later he was interrogated again and was then transferred to the hospital’s intensive care unit, under the strict control of the MNB. On 26 February Esenov was formally arrested and moved to an MNB prison.
Esenov was also accused of failing to report details of a telephone conversation with former Turkmen Minister of Foreign Affairs Avdy Kuliev to the authorities. Kuliev, a key opposition figure and a staunch critic of the Niyazov regime, is currently living in exile in Moscow following a crackdown on the opposition in November 2002 which began after gunmen fired on Niyazov’s car in the capital, Ashgabat.
Esenov was finally released on 9 March 2004 after submitting a written undertaking to remain in Turkmenistan. However, the charges against him were not dropped, and the results of an investigation are still pending. He remains unable to leave the capital Ashgabat, has been ordered to cease working for RFE/RL, and remains under surveillance. He is in dire need of medical attention that is not available in Turkmenistan, and is unable to travel to Moscow to receive the treatment he needs.
Please send appeals:
- Emphasising Turkmenistan’s international legal obligations to ensure freedom of expression;
- Expressing concern that Esenov has been targeted for the peaceful exercise of this right – both in the context of The Crowned Wanderer and for his work with RFE/RL;
- Calling for all charges against him to be dropped and for the banning order against his book to be withdrawn;
- Requesting that he be allowed to return to his profession as a journalist, and for the harassment of RFE/RL journalists in particular to come to an end;
- Calling for the return of his right to freedom of movement, thus enabling him to receive essential medical treatment abroad.
President Saparmurad Niyazov
744000 g. Ashgabat
Prezidentu Turkmenistana Niyazovu S.A.
Fax: +993 12 35 51 12
[Salutation: Dear President]
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/prisoners/rakhimesenov/