New York, March 11, 2008—After having spent the large majority of the past two years in exile, novelist, historian, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent and 2006 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award winner Rakhim Esenov has been allowed to return home to Turkmenistan. He no longer faces charges for his writings and is reportedly resuming his normal life.

On February 23, 2004 Esenov was first detained by members of the Turkmen Ministry of National Security (MNB) as he returned to Turkmenistan after receiving medical treatment abroad. During his interrogation, Esenov suffered a stroke and was taken to the hospital. Two days later he was interrogated again, and on February 26, Esenov was formally arrested, charged with “inciting social, national and religious hatred using the mass media,” and moved to an MNB prison.

Esenov was finally released on March 9, 2004 after submitting a written guarantee to remain in Turkmenistan. When the 2006 PEN/ Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award was announced, Esenov was confined to the capital Ashgabat and was living under surveillance. After a week of high diplomatic drama involving the Turkmen government’s attempts to prevent Esenov from leaving the country to receive the award, he defied the travel ban and arrived in New York just one day before the PEN Gala. He accepted the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award in person – a historic first.

“We are thrilled that the Turkmen government has realized that the charges against Rakhim Esenov were ridiculous and that his harassment was in contravention to international law,” said Larry Siems, Director of the Freedom to Write and International Programs at PEN American Center. “We hope that this nightmare is truly over for Mr. Esenov, and that he is able to write and live freely in his own country.”

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105