The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Tuesday criticised authorities in repressive Turkmenistan following reports that an independent journalist was arrested for possessing chewing tobacco.
The security body's media watchdog Dunja Mijatovic said Turkmenistan must "ensure journalists' safety" and immediately release Khudayberdy Allashov, whose family says he was arrested December 3.
Allashov was working as a contributor for the Turkmen-language service of Radio Free Europe, which is funded by the United States congress, at the time of his arrest.
The service said Monday that he was beaten upon arrest and quoted his wife as saying he could face up to seven years in jail on the charges.
While nasvai, a type of tobacco ingested orally, is illegal in Turkmenistan, it is also widely consumed there, as in other parts of ex-Soviet Central Asia.
Another contributor to RFE's Turkmen service, Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, was imprisoned in 2015 on narcotics charges, which critics say is a standard method used by the government to silence media.
RFE's Turkmen service regularly reports on shortages and poverty in the provinces beyond the gas-rich country's white marble-clad capital Ashgabat.
Turkmenistan placed 178 out of 180 countries in the 2016 press freedom index of non-profit Reporters Without Borders.