Soltan Achilova’s battle to uphold the truth in isolated Turkmenistan

March 1, 2021

Soltan Achilova is a 71-year-old reporter from Turkmenistan and a Finalist to the Martin Ennals Award 2021. In retaliation for her commitment to freedom of speech in one of the most censured and isolated countries in the world, Soltan was victim to physical attacks, subject to a travel ban and strict surveillance. Against all odds, she keeps speaking the truth and reporting on human rights abuses in her country. 

The country of no freedoms

Soltan Achilova has worked for more than a decade as an independent journalist and human rights defender, documenting and raising awareness about human rights violations in Turkmenistan. The scale of abuses remains largely unknown in this country with no freedom of media, expression, assembly, religion, and movement. In its latest World Report, Human Rights Watch reported that Turkmen government imposes punitive restrictions on media and religious freedoms, and tightly controls access to information. Independent activists, including in exile, face constant threat of government reprisal. Dozens of persons who have been forcibly disappeared, are believed to be languishing in Turkmen prisons, where torture and ill-treatment continue to be endemic. 

A woman of great courage

Strict surveillance and the denial of fundamental rights are what ignited the fire of activism in Soltan Achilova. She does not expect the human rights situation in Turkmenistan to improve anytime soon, but she wants her fellow citizens, as well as the international community to be aware of the situation in Turkmenistan, even at her own risk: I have thought about giving up my work, but the authorities’ all-pervasive lawlessness encourages me to continue. Someone has to tell the world about what’s really going on in this isolated country, she tells.  

Despite threats, surveillance and harassment, she keeps denouncing those abuses. Shortly after the Martin Ennals Award Ceremony, she posted a video on YouTube where she rebuked Turkmenistan’s authoritarian president. She voiced strong criticism of his iron fist regime, failing to provide ordinary citizens with a decent livelihood. The video, which was published in Turkmen with Russian subtitles, was viewed over 50’000 times.   

The need for international recognition and protection

Silencing Soltan was part of the Turkmen authorities’ plan, believes Martin Ennals Jury Member Guadalupe Marengo from Amnesty International:It is clear that the Turkmen authorities wanted to ensure that she would be silenced for daring to criticize and question the cruel and discriminatory government policies”, she says. Since Turkmenistan rarely makes it into the headlines, not only is the country isolated from international attention but so are the brave journalists and human rights defenders like Soltan who expose the abuses of the system.  

Without her courage and work, silence on Turkmen human rights abuses would prevail. The Martin Ennals Award Jury unanimously agrees that Soltan Achilova needs international solidarity and protection.   

The nomination to the Martin Ennals Award means a lot to me. It shows that human rights organizations notice and appreciate my work. It motivates me to carry on my journalistic work”, acknowledged Soltan in her pre-recorded message for the Martin Ennals Award Ceremony 

Learn more about Soltan Achilova