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Turkmenistan Weekly News Analysis

On December 5, Ashgabat hosted the CIS Heads of States Council, which adopted a number of agreements aimed at expanding interstate cooperation within the Commonwealth such as the Joint Declaration on Cooperation Development, the Interstate program “Cultural Capitals of the Commonwealth,” and others on integrating currency markets, and security partnerships. CIS heads of state discussed the possibility of the development of a joint air defence system, and establishing a financial intelligence council. Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov informed participants of the decision to transfer the CIS chairmanship to Belarus as of January 1, 2013.

Delegations from Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Tajikistan were led by their respective heads of states. Prime Ministers of Azerbaijan and Moldova headed their respective countries’ delegations, while Kyrgyzstan was represented by the Foreign Minister. Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev did not to participate in the CIS Heads of States Summit because of the presence of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenka, who refuses to extradite to Kyrgyzstan the country’s former president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, and his younger brother, Zhanybek Bakiev, who are hiding in Belarus, reported regnum.ru information agency. The two brothers are accused of conducting a massacre on November 7, 2010, when police and special forces fought the opposition.

Russian President Vladimir Putin also took part in the CIS Heads of States Summit in Ashgabat on December 5, and members of the Kremlin’s press pool came to cover the event. However, Russian journalists, already accustomed to working in a rather constrained environment in regards to the freedom of expression and access to information were unprepared for the work of a journalist trying to do their job in Turkmenistan. At the Summit venue, local security services confiscated mobile phones from the Russian correspondents, recommending they use landlines – of which there were only four for a hundred correspondents working out of the press-center, reported gundogar.org. They discovered that on the Internet in Turkmenistan Facebook, LiveJournal, and other social networks are blocked, and that even the official website of the President of Russia, www.kremlin.ru, is also blocked, said the report. The Turkmen IT staff working at the Summit’s press-center said that they could not do anything and that the site was probably blocked by Turkmen security services. Dmitri Peskov, press-secretary for the Russian President, said that the reasons for blocking were not provided by the summit organizers and that though he would not raise this issue at the Summit, he would sort it out later, which seems to indicate that the CIS Council does not address issues of human rights or freedom of expression among its members, certainly not under the chairmanship of Turkmenistan, and it is unlikely to be the case in the future under Belarus’ leadership.

Whereas there is likely little reason for the Turkmen authorities to feel threatened by the Kremlin’s website so as to block it, there is greater reason to suspect that they have taken great pains to stifle any information on the internet that is critical of the country and its regime. The Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) alleges that the Turkmen authorities hacked their web-sites “The Turkmenistan Chronicles” on December 5. The hackers posted pornography on the site’s main page as well as photo collages and threats directed at TIHR’s founder, Farid Tukhbatulin, former Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov, and head of the oppositional Republican Party of Turkmenistan, Narmukhamed Khanamov, which remained up for several hours, until the website host pulled the site down for technical repairs. In the interim, materials normally published on the site can be found on the Ruslan T. blog and on the TIHR page in Facebook.

International anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International released its annual Corruption Perception Index – with Turkmenistan keeping company at the bottom of the list with Uzbekistan, Myanmar, Sudan, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somalia -- the most corrupt countries in the world.

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Turkmenistan Weekly News Analysis

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