A new report based on monitoring by Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) highlights recent developments regarding freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and other fundamental rights in Turkmenistan. The report, which has been prepared together with International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), covers the period November 2015-February 2016.
At the beginning of 2016, a first-ever national human rights action plan was adopted in Turkmenistan, and a new draft constitution intended to improve compliance with international standards was approved for “public discussion”. The president also called for adopting a law on the establishment of a national human rights ombudsman by the end of 2016.
In spite of recent legal reforms and other initiatives argued to be aimed at enhancing human rights protection in the country, the situation remains highly repressive in practice. This was illustrated by the new Freedom in the World ranking by Freedom House, in which Turkmenistan again featured among the “worst of the worst” countries globally. Similarly, Turkmenistan got another bottom ranking in Transparency International’s new global Corruption Perceptions Index. This shows that corruption remains endemic in the country and that occasional dismissals of government officials on allegations of corruption and other wrongdoings are mere window-dressing.
The personality cult of the president continues to be promoted and citizens are forcibly mobilized for mass events to praise the regime and its leader, such as for mass New Year celebrations that were recorded for TV coverage in advance. As previously, the country’s heavily state-controlled media focus on reporting “positive” news and avoid criticism of the current state of affairs in the country.
TIHR has reported about new cases in Ashgabat where private satellite dishes were forcibly dismantled, as well as where access to cable TV was interrupted on the basis of similar arguments of ensuring a well-maintained appearance of apartment buildings. This has resulted in restrictions on access to alternative information through foreign channels. Costs for wireless internet remain prohibitive.
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued a decision on freelance journalist Saparmamed Nepeskuliev in December 2015, concluding that he has been unlawfully detained and should be released. The journalist was sentenced to three years in prison on spurious narcotics possession charges in August 2015 after being held incommunicado since the summer. After finally being able to leave Turkmenistan in September 2015, acclaimed horse-breeding expert Geldy Kyarizov has spoken out about the harsh treatment to which he was subjected in the Ovadan Depe colony when serving a prison sentence on charges considered politically motivated. In this way, he has helped shed light on conditions in this notorious high-security prison facility that is closed off from the rest of the world.
The Turkmenistani authorities continue to arbitrarily restrict foreign travel. Thousands of people are believed to feature on “blacklists” for travelling abroad, and young people have been stopped at the border on the basis of alleged concerns about their safety. At the same time, policies for granting visas to travel to the country are highly restrictive, and among others, international human rights monitors are barred access. The situation of dual Turkmen-Russian citizens, who have been pressured to give up their Russian citizenship in order to get new Turkmen passports, remains unresolved.
The report has been prepared within the framework of the project “A Transnational Civil Society Coalition in Support of Fundamental Rights in Central Asia”, which is jointly implemented by Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, Nota Bene, TIHR and IPHR.
See also: Central Asia: Report highlights worrying trends of stifling dissent, December 2015