POL-E KHOMRI, Afghanistan -- The torture endured by a 15-year-old newlywed allegedly at the hands of her husband and in-laws has shocked Afghan officials and the world alike.
The wounds, bruises, and scars that cover Sahar Gul's battered body provide gruesome evidence of the abuse Gul has endured in the six months since being sold into marriage far from home with a man twice her age.
ZHANAOZEN, Kazakhstan -- On December 16, when the western Kazakh town of Zhanaozen became the scene of deadly unrest, Asem Kenzhebaeva unexpectedly found herself in the basement of the city police headquarters.
The 21-year-old was looking for her father, who had left their home that day to visit a family member at a Zhanaozen hospital but failed to return.
Hundreds of people have gathered in the center of Aqtau, the capital of Kazakhstan's western province of Manghystau, to support striking oil workers in the town of Zhanaozen, where on December 16 at least 11 people were killed and at least 80 were wounded in violent clashes between the workers and police.
A prominent leader of the ethnic Kazakh community in Turkmenistan has been prevented from leaving Ashgabat to make a visit to Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.
Bisengul Begdesinov, 56, told RFE/RL today that on December 2 Turkmen border guards did not allow him to board a plane from Ashgabat to Almaty, saying that the Prosecutor-General's Office had barred him from leaving the country.
In May, Ashgabat's Kopetdag district court found Begdesinov guilty of fraud and bribery in dealing with ethnic Kazakhs intending to move to neighboring Kazakhstan. The court gave Begdesinov a suspended sentence of five years in jail.
He left the courtroom a free man but was obliged to register with and regularly report to Ashgabat's parole officers.
Begdesinov told RFE/RL that Turkmen law allows individuals with suspended sentences to leave the country for short periods of time. He said the decision to bar him from visiting other countries might be an attempt to officially register a parole violation.
There were some 90,000 ethnic Kazakhs living in Turkmenistan in 1995. Thousands have since left the country for Kazakhstan in a repatriation process promoted by the Kazakh government.
Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036
A grand assembly convened by Afghanistan's president has concluded in Kabul with general agreement on a government plan for a continued -- but not permanent -- US military presence in Afghanistan as well as a strategy for peace.
An RFE/RL reporter in Turkmenistan who was amnestied last month from a five-year jail term says international support helped free him, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports.
Dovletmyrat Yazkuliyev told RFE/RL in an interview that the "international pressure, especially by U.S. [senators] and efforts by the U.S. State Department, played a big role in my release. I am very thankful to them."
He said he thinks another reason he was freed from prison is because "there were some high-level government and security officials [in Turkmenistan] who knew that I was being kept in prison on fake charges and they understood it would damage the image of the country" to keep him jailed.
Yazkuliyev was sentenced to five years in prison in early October after being found guilty of "encouraging a relative's suicide attempt." Family members said they had been forced by police to sign statements against him, and that their efforts to retract those statements were ignored in the trial that ensued.
He was officially released on October 26 under what officials said was a general presidential amnesty to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Turkmenistan's independence.
Yazkuliyev's family and supporters said the case against him was retaliation for Yazkuliyev's outspoken investigative reporting, including coverage of deadly explosions at a weapons depot near Ashgabat in July, which were downplayed by the official Turkmen media.
Yazkuliyev's trial and sentence drew widespread condemnation from media-rights groups, including Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, and prompted four senior U.S.senators to express their concern in a letter to the Turkmen ambassador in Washington.
"I was not physically abused while I was in prison, but I lost my health from the strong psychological pressure that I faced there," he told RFE/RL. "Now I cannot sleep more than three to four hours a day."
Peacefully resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, bolstering Western energy security, and promoting democracy in Azerbaijan. Such will be the priorities of Matthew Bryza, the new US ambassador to Azerbaijan.