Turkmenistan celebrated its 22 years of independence on October 27 in a grandiose celebration with a military parade and numerous concerts around the country. In his address to the people, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said that such celebrations, "in honor of the sacred Independence Day will increase confidence in the soul of each of us about the happy future of the Motherland rapidly moving toward large-scale reforms and the adoption of humanistic ideals, a sense of pride for the great achievements, and significant labor victory of our people." High placed officials from India, Ukraine, Russia, Turkey, among others came to Ashgabat to celebrate and congratulate Berdymukhamedov in person. In keeping with a tradition in Turkmenistan, before state holidays, Berdymukhamedov declared an amnesty for over 1000 prisoners, and this time, instructing his subordinates to provide employment to all pardoned prisoners to, “give them a chance to expiate their guilt by honest work and take active part in the life of the country.” Previously, there were reports of a high rate of recidivism among amnestied prisoners, given that the country did not provide them any services to assist in their reintegration into the general population. The country held its annual meeting of the Council of Elders of Turkmenistan, which once was the decision-making body People’s Council, but whose powers were downgraded following constitutional amendments adopted in 2008 to make it solely an advisory body. According to some reports, it was the Council of Elders which bestowed on Berdymukhamedov the title "Arkadag," or "protector." At the meeting President Berdymukhamedov provided the Council with a draft Address of the Council to the Turkmen people, which was “approved immediately and unanimously,” local media reported. This address had the President glorifying himself and his acheivements, followed up by individual members of the Council delivering speeches lavishing more praise on Berdymukhamedov.
Whereas one can praise Turkmenistan’s president freely, the already narrow space for criticizing him and his regime continues to shrink; according to Turkmenistan's Human Rights Initiative, on the eve of Independence Day, Turkmenistan introduced new rules for censoring print media, despite a law on Mass Media adopted in December of 2012 that supposedly prohibits censorship or state interference in the work of the mass media. That law, as well as the development in February of this year, in which the president shed his role as founder of all print media, passing it on to related ministries (i.e. a newspaper that wrote about education fell under the supervision of the Ministry of education) seemed to be a step in a positive direction. However, the new rules require that any article first be reviewed by the ministry in charge of the publication, and then by the ministry in charge of the subject covered by the article. For example, an article about animal husbandry published by a newspaper entrusted to the Ministry of Education must be inspected first by the Ministry of Education and then by the Ministry of Agriculture.
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