Human rights in Turkmenistan
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
Turkmenistan's human rights record has been heavily criticized by various countries and scholars worldwide. Standards in education and health declined markedly during the rule of President Saparmurat Niyazov.
Since December 2006, under the Government of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, no significant improvements regarding human rights and civil liberty have been observed by international human rights organizations.
Discrimination against ethnic minorities
The Turkmen government's decision to cancel a dual-citizenship agreement with Russia in 2003 prompted thousands of ethnic Russians to leave Turkmenistan as they lost their property. Many of those fleeing "in panic" reportedly feared being trapped in a state which has been widely criticised for human rights abuses and has imposed severe restrictions on foreign travel for its citizens. Those without Russian passports may be forced to become Turkmens, and fear that they may never be able to return to Russia.
For these who remained, estimated at around 100,000, all Soviet-time diplomas, certificates and other official documents that were issued outside the Turkmen SSR were nullified, drastically limiting the people's access to work. At the same time, universities have been encouraged to reject applicants with non-Turkmen surnames, especially ethnic Russians. Russian television is difficult to receive in Turkmenistan, the Russian-language radio station Mayak was taken off the air and the Russian newspapers were banned earlier.
Former Turkmenbashi Saparmurat Niyazov banned playing of video games, listening to car radios, performing opera and ballet, smoking in public, long hair on men, and even growing facial hair. It has been speculated that the latter ban was enacted to enforce conformity of appearance. Niyazov ordered the closure of all libraries outside the capital of Ashgabat in the belief that all Turkmen are illiterate. News anchors, both men and women, were prevented from wearing any sort of make-up after Niyazov discovered he was unable to tell the difference between them when the presenters wore it.
Freedom of religion
Freedom of religion is guaranteed by article 11 of the Constitution of Turkmenistan. However, like other human rights, in practice it does not exist. Former President Saparmurat Niyazov's book of spiritual writings, the Ruhnama, is imposed on all religious communities. According to Forum 18, despite international pressure, the authorities severely repress all religious groups, and the legal framework is so constrictive that many prefer to exist underground rather than have to pass through all of the official hurdles. Protestant Christian adherents are affected, in addition to groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses, Bahá'í, and Hare Krishna. Jehovah's Witnesses have been imprisoned and suffered beatings due to being conscientious objectors. For example, a 33-year-old member of the religion was sentenced to a 4-year prison term after being found carrying religious literature at a train station in Dashoguz. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has indicated that Jehovah's Witness in Turkmenistan have been prosecuted and imprisoned for refusing to perform compulsory military service, despite Turkmenistan’s Constitution guaranteeing the right to "practice any religion alone or in association with others" and the right to "freedom of conviction and the free expression of those convictions". The UN committee noted, "The State party should take all necessary measures to review its legislation with a view to providing for alternative military service. The State party should also ensure that the law clearly stipulates that individuals have the right to conscientious objection to military service. Furthermore, the State party should halt all prosecutions of individuals who refuse to perform military service on grounds of conscience and release those individuals who are currently serving prison sentences."
A July 2003 issue of state-owned newspaper Adalat, published by the Ministry of Justice, printed a vitriolic attack against members of some religious groups, describing the groups as foreign and implying they were dangerous. There, the government continues to restrict the freedom of parents of Jehovah's Witnesses, to raise their children in accordance with their religious beliefs. Also, copies of Christian literature were confiscated by the government, including the Bible; the government claiming that it was not authentic Christian religious literature. In 2003, some Jehovah's Witnesses were denied exit visas. Other Witnesses who were able to obtain exit visas were stopped after crossing a border and forced to return. Others were stopped and prevented from boarding a flight to another country because their names were included on a "black list" of citizens prohibited from leaving the country.
The U.S. Department of State's 2005 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom (released November 8, 2005) indicates persistent restrictions on religious freedoms in Turkmenistan, while categorizing it among countries that had made "significant improvements in the promotion of religious freedom." U.S. Representative Chris Smith stated, however, "The reforms that were instituted by the Niyazov regime over the past year did not go far enough, and even the report itself states that serious violations of religious freedom continue." U.S. Senator Sam Brownback noted, "Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have clearly received more credit than the facts would warrant." The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Asma Jahangir, appealed to the government of Turkmenistan in June 2003 and again in 2005 for an invitation to visit the country, but received no response.
Freedom of expression
All mass media in Turkmenistan is controlled by the State. In July 2010 President Berdimuhamedow announced plans to allow private newspapers in the country. Once launched, they will focus on successful business stories.
According to Reporters Without Borders' 2006 World Press Freedom Index, Turkmenistan had the third-worst press freedom conditions in the world, behind North Korea and Burma. It is considered to be one of the ten most censored countries. Each broadcast under Niyazov began with a pledge that the broadcaster's tongue would shrivel if he slandered the country, flag, or president. While he was president, Niyazov controlled all Turkmen media outlets, and personally appointed journalists. Controversy surrounds the death of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Ogulsapar Myradowa, who was apparently tortured to death in September 2006 while in state detention.
It has been reported that journalists have been harassed by the government; some have been kept in prison and prosecuted with false accusations and unfair trials. Activist Sazak Durdymuradov was detained in 2005 for collaborating with a French TV channel for a report on Turkmenistan. He was sentenced to eight years in jail under the accusation of "illegal acquisition, possession or sale of ammunition or firearms". Amnesty International considers the accusations to be forged.
In 2006, Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights activists Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khadzhiev were arrested by Turkmen security forces on espionage charges, later changed to illegal firearm charges. Amnesty International considers them prisoners of conscience and named them a 2011 "priority case." Front Line, Reporters Without Borders, and Human Rights Watch have all described the charges as fabricated. On 11 December 2010, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention also called for their immediate release, stating that their detention was a violation of international law.
The freelance journalists collaborating with international media are being closely watched by the state's security departments. Correspondents for Radio Free Europe are under constant harassment and risk their life and liberty. On April 18, 2008, freelance journalist Sona Chuli Kuli was interrogated for several days under physiological pressure and forced to sign a statement agreeing not to collaborate with the international media.
Individual access to the Internet was first authorized in 2008, and access has since increased.
Turkmenistan ranks among the most repressive and closed societies in the world. The Internet is heavily regulated and available only to a small fraction of the population. Censorship is ubiquitous and extensive. Surveillance is significant, and the few citizens who benefit from access to the Internet are closely monitored by state agencies. Self-censorship is common.
Websites run by human rights organizations and news agencies are blocked. Moreover, ordinary citizens have no access to the World Wide Web, and instead are limited to the use of the Turkmenet, an online community in Turkmen language, but effectively a censored version of the Internet. Social networks such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are not accessible through the Turkmenet. Attempts to get around this censorship can lead to grave consequences. However, only Russian social networks Odnoklassniki and Mail Agent Chatting system are available. In addition to this, there is a newly founded (27 March 2012) local Turkmen social network, E-Dostluk, which is currently accessible.
Internet censorship in Turkmenistan was classified as pervasive in the political area and as selective in the social, conflict/security and internet tools areas by the OpenNet Initiative in December 2010. Turkmenistan was listed as an internet enemy by Reporters Without Borders in 2011.
Any opposition to the government is considered treason and punishable by life imprisonment. Turkmenistan has many political prisoners, the most well-known of whom are Batyr Berdiýew, Ýazgeldi Gündogdyýew, and Boris Şyhmyradow. They are not granted any access by the International Red Cross, OSCE, or any medical institutions. There have been rumours of their deaths, but these cannot be confirmed, and the whereabouts of most are unknown.
In 2009, Muhammertguly Aýmyradow was freed after he completed his sentence.
Gulgeldy Annaniyazov an opposition leader to Niazov's government, was arrested in 1995 and released in 1999 after a presidential amnesty decree. He moved to Norway to live with refugee status. Back in Turkmenistan he was arrested in June 2008 and sentenced to 11 years in jail following a closed-door trial; the charges against him are unknown. Similarly, Ovezgeldy Ataev former Speaker of Parliament and Akmurad Redzhepov, former head of the State Security Council, had closed-door trials and remain in prison. Amnesty International suspects that the reason for the imprisonments lies in the fact that both were potential political rivals of the current President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow.
Andrey Zatoka, environmentalist and activist, citizen of Turkmenistan and Russia was arrested on false charges for 46 days from December 2006 to January 2007. Due to international pressure Andrey was released and the sentence was canceled. In June 2008, Andrey wrote a statement reporting that his and his friends' liberty could be in danger. He was being monitored and followed by the Turkmen Authorities. On October 20, 2009, Andrey was arrested for the second time and sentenced to 5 years in prison for assault. In November 2009, after international pressure from environmental and human rights organisations and Russian authorities, Zatoka was released upon payment of a fine, relinquishing his Turkmen citizenship and immediate emigration from Turkmenistan.
Arbitrary arrests and mistreatment of detained persons are common in Turkmenistan, as is torture to obtain confessions. In 2004, border guards shot and killed six people who were allegedly illegally crossing the border from Iran. There are reports of prisoners dying after having food and medical care withheld. Ogulsapar Myradowa, a journalist and human rights activist, died violently in prison in September 2006.
- Capital punishment in Turkmenistan
- Human rights in Asia
- Freedom of religion in Turkmenistan
- Human trafficking in Turkmenistan
- LGBT rights in Turkmenistan
- Turkmenistan. "Turkmenistan | Country report | Freedom in the World | 2009". Freedomhouse.org. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
- "2008 Human Rights Report: Turkmenistan". State.gov. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
- "Turkmenistan -Amnesty International Report 2007". Amnesty international. 2007. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
- "The EU should obtain significant improvements in the field of the human Rights". FIDH. 2007-11-05. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
- "IRIN Asia | TURKMENISTAN: Focus on ethnic minorities | Turkmenistan | Human Rights". Irinnews.org. 2005-08-18. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
- "Asia-Pacific | Russians 'flee' Turkmenistan". BBC News. 2003-06-20. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
- "Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change". Iwpr.net. 2015-10-13. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
- Pannier, Bruce. "Turkmenistan: OSCE Visit Briefly Highlights Plight Of Minorities". Rferl.org. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
- https://web.archive.org/web/20061120183225/http://www.cidcm.umd.edu/inscr/mar/assessment.asp?groupId=70101. Archived from the original on November 20, 2006. Retrieved February 9, 2016. Missing or empty
- "Alternative report on the Human Rights situation in Turkmenistan for the Universal Periodic Review" (PDF). FIDH. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
- "BBC NEWS - Asia-Pacific - Young Turkmen face beard ban". Retrieved 14 February 2016.
- https://web.archive.org/web/20080904174804/http://www.eurasianet.org/resource/turkmenistan/hypermail/200502/0008.shtml. Archived from the original on September 4, 2008. Retrieved February 9, 2016. Missing or empty
- Andrew Osborn (2006-12-22). "Obituaries: Saparmurat Niyazov, President of Turkmenistan". The Independent (London).
- "Opera circus bans in Turkmenistan ended". USA Today. 2008-01-20. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
- "Turkmenistan bans import of older cars". Radio Free Europe. 2009-12-09. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
- "Forum 18 Analyses: Turkmenistan". Forum18.org. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
- "Mother of Four-Year-Old Receives Unjust Prison Sentence in Turkmenistan", Jehovah’s Witnesses, 27 August 2014. Retrieved 3 September 2014.
- "Consideration of reports submitted by States parties under article 40 of the Covenant -Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee - Turkmenistan". United Nations Human Rights Office of the high Commissioner - International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 19 April 2012. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
- "One Year of Unjust Imprisonment in Turkmenistan". jw.org.
- "TURKMENISTAN: Torture and jail for one 4 year and 14 short-term prisoners of conscience". forum18.org. Felix Corley. 21 May 2015. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
- "Turkmenistan 2015/2016: Freedom of religion". www.amnesty.org. Retrieved 2016-03-15.
- "Turkmenistan: International Religious Freedom Report 2004". www.state.gov/. United States Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. 21 May 2015. Retrieved 2016-03-15.
- http://www.eurasianet.org/turkmenistan.project/index.php?page=/wnb/editor/wnb20051111&lang=eng#digest. Retrieved November 12, 2005. Missing or empty
- "Turkmenistan plans to allow privately owned media". Radio Free Europe. 2010-07-10. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
- "10 Most Censored Countries". Retrieved 14 February 2016.
- "Journalist dies in Turkmen jail". BBC. 2006-09-14.
- "Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khadzhiev prisoners of conscience". Amnesty International. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
- "ANNAKURBAN AMANKLYCHEV AND SAPARDURDY KHADZHIEV, PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE". Amnesty International. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- "Fears for three Turkmen human rights defenders held incommunicado". Front Line. 3 August 2008. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- "Reporters Without Borders Concerned Over Conditions Faced by Turkmen Prisoners". Reporters Without Borders. 19 February 2009. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- "Letter to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov regarding human rights concerns in Turkmenistan". Human Rights Watch. 12 March 2009. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- "United Nations declares Turkmenistan's detention of Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khadzhiev a violation of international law". Freedom Now. 11 December 2010. Archived from the original on 8 April 2011. Retrieved 18 April 2011.
- "Turkmenistan". Human rights Watch. 2007. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
- "Alternative Report on the Human Rights situation in Turkmenistan for the Universal Periodic Review" (PDF). FIDH. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
- "5 Places Where Internet Access is REALLY Expensive | UN Dispatch". UN Dispatch. 2012-06-08. Retrieved 2017-03-22.
- "Turkmenistan | OpenNet Initiative". Opennet.net. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
- "Ennemis d'Internet - Turkmenistan - Reporters Without Borders". En.rsf.org. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
- "The signal of freedom, part 4: Berdimuhammedov knows why the caged bird sings". New Eurasia. 2010-05-24. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
- "Crude Accontability" (PDF). Crudeaccountability.org. 2010-02-24. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 25, 2011. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
- "Statement Annaniyazov". NHC. 2008-11-19. Retrieved 2010-07-23.[dead link]
- "Individuals continue to be at risk of violations in Turkmenistan" (PDF). Amnesty International. February 2009. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
- "Crude Accountability". Crudeaccountability.org. Archived from the original on July 25, 2011. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
- "Organizations for Zatoka". Crude Accountability. Archived from the original on June 26, 2008. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
- Andrei Zatoka (2009-10-29). "Statement from Andrei Zatoka". Human rights Watch. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
- "Turkmenistan: Russian Government Working for Zatoka's Release". Eurasianet. 2009-10-29. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
- Maria Yanovskaya (2009-11-11). "Andrei Zatoka's Long and Winding Road to Russia?". Ferghana. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
- "Zatoka Freed". Crude Accountability. 2009-11-10. Archived from the original on May 3, 2009. Retrieved 2010-07-23.
- http://bankwatch.org/project.shtml?apc=162059-2207750a2235456-1&x=2205626&d=c. Retrieved July 27, 2010. Missing or empty
- "2005 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Turkmenistan". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 14 February 2016.
- “Chronicles of Turkmenistan” - Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights
- Turkmenistan: Spotlight, Highlights, At a Glance, Latest - International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
- Turkmenistan - Reporters Without Borders (RWB)
- Internet Enemies 2012: Turkmenistan - Reporters Without Borders (RWB)
- Turkmenistan Project - EurasiaNet
- Turkmenistan 2012 Human Rights Report - Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State
- Turkmenistan Religious Freedom Survey, March 2012 - Forum 18 News Service
- Turkmenistan: Beard Ban Angers Students, 21 February 2005
- Review of Turkmenistan, 9 December 2008 - United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review