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Priorities for the EU’s Human Rights Dialogue with Turkmenistan – joint NGO submission
Photo by Guillaume Périgois/unsplash.com
Priorities for the EU’s Human Rights Dialogue with Turkmenistan – joint NGO submission
Photo by Guillaume Périgois/unsplash.com

This week the EU will hold its annual human rights-focused dialogue with the Turkmenistani government in Brussels, Belgium at a time of increasing EU interest in cooperation with the countries of Central Asia. International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) urge the EU to use the dialogue to insist on concrete steps to address pressing human rights problems and ensure respect for the rights of individual activists, bloggers, and journalists at risk.

A joint briefing paper prepared by IPHR and TIHR for the dialogue covers the following major issues, which we believe should be addressed as a matter of priority during the dialogue:

  • Serious restrictions on internet access for citizens due to reoccurring disruptions, slow and expensive connections and wide-ranging censorship. One example of a large-scale internet outage was seen in June 2023, when internet traffic in Turkmenistan dropped to almost zero for several days in connection with the opening of Arkadag, a new city featuring innovative solutions that reportedly cost several billion USD to build. The scope of internet censorship was documented by a recent study carried out by a team of computer scientists from leading US universities, who found that over 120,000 domains are blocked in the country.
  • The continued use of criminal prosecution as a tool of retaliation against ‘’inconvenient’’ individuals. Among others, journalist Nurgeldy Khalykov, civil society activist Murat Dushemov and human rights activist Mansur Mingelov remain in prison, although UN human rights experts have called for their release and the authorities have pledged to consider this issue. In recent months, several Turkmenistani activists-bloggers have been forcibly returned from Turkey to Turkmenistan, despite facing a serious risk of torture and politically motivated imprisonment. For example, according to information obtained by human rights defenders, Farhat Meimankulyiev was handed a lengthy prison sentence following his deportation to Turkmenistan in May 2023, and Rovsen Klucev and Dovran Imamov faced trumped-up charges of fraud after being sent back to Turkmenistan in summer 2023. In another recent case, activist-blogger Malikberdi Allamyradov reportedly went missing in Russia in early December 2023, giving rise to concerns that he had been  abducted by Turkmenistani security services and  forcibly returned to Turkmenistan.
  • Other methods used by the authorities in their campaign against dissent, such as travel restrictions, intimidation of relatives and pressure against previous political prisoners. A recent example of a travel ban was seen when independent journalist Soltan Achilova was prevented from leaving Turkmenistan to go to a Geneva in November 2023 for a visit organised by the Martin Ennals Foundation in follow-up to her selection as a finalist of  the foundation’s prestigious human rights award in 2021. Achilova and her daughter were  singled out for lengthy and intrusive security checks at Ashgabat airport and thereafter stopped at passport control because their documents were allegedly not valid for travel. In an example of how relatives of activists have been targeted, Turkey-based activist Dursoltan Taganova reported that security service officials intimidated and attempted to recruit her young son as an informant earlier this year. Following ongoing intimidation since his release from detention in 2017, former Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent Khudaiberdi Allashov was reported to have been detained in early December 2023 and later to have been locked up for 15 days for alleged hooliganism.
  • Suppression of spontaneous protests held by impoverished and frustrated citizens. In recent months, people in Turkmenistan have held an increasing number of spontaneous protests to express discontent with the lack of affordable basic food products, widespread corruption and other serious problems. Local authorities have been quick to suppress such protests, by detaining and intimidating participants on the one hand and, on the other, by making limited concessions to their demands to get them to shut up.
  • Continued forcible mobilisation of citizens for state-organised mass events. In a practice that has been widely criticised by international human rights experts, the Turkmenistani authorities mass mobilise public sector employees, students and other citizens for state-organised propaganda events at the threat of repercussions. For example, people from across the country were mobilised to participate in the grand opening of the new Arkadag city in June 2023 and required to participate in intense rehearsals for several weeks prior to this event . Due to exceptionally hot weather, many participants reportedly lost consciousness and needed medical assistance during the rehearsals.
  • Ongoing efforts by the authorities to control women’s appearance and behaviour in the name of safeguarding national traditions and values. While this campaign peaked in the months after President Serdar Berdymukhamedov came to office in March 2022, there have been new reports about restrictive measures implemented since then. For example, independent media reports indicate that special task forces have been established to supervise women’s ‘’moral’’ behaviour and ensure that their appearance is sufficiently ‘’modest’’. Such measures have reinforced negative gender stereotypes and discriminatory practices.

IPHR and TIHR urge the EU to call on the Turkmenistani authorities to take effective measures to put an end to these violations, in accordance with the recommendations they received during the recent reviews of the country’s human rights record by the UN Human Rights Committee in March 2023 and in the framework of the Universal Periodic Review in November 2023. In addition, as the ratification of the EU-Turkmenistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA)  is again under consideration, the EU should remind the Turkmenistani authorities that the ratification of this agreement requires concrete evidence of progress on the human rights benchmarks which the European Parliament set out as a condition for the approval of the PCA in a resolution from May 2019. The draft EU-Turkmenistan PCA, which provides a legal framework for cooperation in different areas, was signed in 1998 but has since been pending ratification.

For more information on the issues summarised here, download the IPHR-TIHR briefing paper.

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