New York, NY, April 14, 2006—PEN American Center is protesting an attempt by the government of Turkeminstan to prevent prominent novelist and dissident Rakhim Esenov from traveling to New York to receive a 2006 PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award at a ceremony next Tuesday, April 18 in New York.

Esenov was informed that he is to receive the award on March 24, 2006 when officials of the United States Embassy visited him in his home in Ashgabat, where he has been living under virtual house arrest for the past two years. At that meeting, Esenov accepted PEN’s invitation to travel to New York for the awards, and PEN, the US Embassy, and representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have been working since to make his visit possible. However, yesterday Turkmen Foreign Minister Meredov informed OSCE Ambassador Dzigic that Esenov was being denied permission to make the trip.

In a letter to President Saparmurad Niyazov, PEN rejected the government’s assertion that Esenov is barred from traveling following criminal convictions.

PEN has been following Mr. Esenov’s case closely since he was arrested and copies of his novel Ventsenosny Skitalets (The Crowned Wanderer) were confiscated in February 2004. We have vigorously protested the charges filed against him as a clear violation of his universally-guaranteed right to freedom of expression, and we have no information that he was ever convicted on these or any other charges. Mr. Esenov himself has reported that he was accused but never convicted, and that his only punishment was to agree not to leave the country for two years, a term that expired on March 6.

PEN believes any such travel ban would constitute a further violation of Mr. Esenov’s rights as guaranteed under international human rights covenants. And we adamantly insist that he be allowed to travel now that the two-year term has expired.

Despite the warning from the Foreign Ministry, Mr. Esenov has indicated he will attempt to board a flight to New York on Monday as planned. Officials from the US Embassy and the OSCE have filed diplomatic protests, and have indicated they will accompany Esenov to the gate.

>> April 17, 2006: Turkmen Writer Defeats Travel Ban, Arrives in United States to Receive PEN Prize

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105 (business hours) or (646) 359-0594 (evenings and weekends),