When characterizing Turkmenistan’s human rights record, international watchdogs often resort to descriptions that could come straight out of dystopian literature or memoirs of the Stalinist Terror. Turkmenistan continues to have one of the most brutal regimes on earth, a grim place marked by “enforced disappearances,” “draconian restrictions,” an all-powerful leader, and the dumping of nonconformists into “psychiatric facilities.” Then there are the mundane attempts to control access to information, such as when “Internet cafes require visitors to present their passports.”
Like the section on Uzbekistan, the Turkmenistan summary in Human Rights Watch’s new annual report offers EurasiaNet.org readers few surprises. But for the record, here are some of the grisly highlights:
President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov’s authoritarian rule remains entrenched, highlighting Turkmenistan’s status as one of the world’s most repressive countries.
The country remains closed to independent scrutiny, media and religious freedoms are subject to draconian restrictions, and human rights defenders face constant threat of government reprisal. The United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed concern about allegations of widespread torture and ill-treatment, and of enforced disappearances in custody.
On “the Protector”:
President Berdymukhamedov, his relatives, and associates enjoy unlimited power and total control over all aspects of public life in Turkmenistan. In 2010 and 2011 newspapers and other publications began to bestow on Berdymukhamedov the honorific title arkadag (patron), symbolizing the strengthening of his cult of personality.
On access to information in a country with limited Internet connections controlled by a state-run monopoly that routinely blocks news sites:
In August 2011 Berdymukhamedov ordered that cable television replace satellite dishes. If enforced, the order would significantly curtail viewers’ access to information, especially foreign programming, since the government could at any point interfere with cable television broadcasts.
On Turkmenistan becoming one big prison:
Turkmenistan’s government continues to restrict peoples’ right to travel freely internationally by means of an informal and arbitrary system of travel bans commonly imposed on, but not limited to, civil society activists and relatives of exiled dissidents. Such a ban can be arbitrarily imposed on anyone, including students studying in foreign universities or citizens traveling abroad for business.
The right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is heavily restricted in Turkmenistan, where no congregations of unregistered religious groups or communities are allowed. Religious communities have been unable to register for years.