2008 Human Rights Report: Turkmenistan
Date 2009/2/26 20:06:00 | Topic: Acts
|U.S. Department of State|
2008 Human Rights Report: Turkmenistan
BUREAU OF DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND LABOR
2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
February 25, 2009
Although the constitution declares the country to be a secular democracy and presidential republic, it is an authoritarian state of approximately five million that was dominated by President-for-life Saparmyrat Niyazov until his death in December 2006. The Halk Maslahaty (People's Council) selected six candidates for the February 2007 presidential election, all from the Democratic Party, the country's only political party. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov won in an election that did not meet international standards. December 14 parliamentary elections fell short of international standards. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
Although there were modest improvements, the government continued to commit serious abuses, and its human rights record remained poor. Authorities continued to restrict severely political and civil liberties. Human rights problems included citizens' inability to change their government; torture and mistreatment of detainees; incommunicado and prolonged detention; arbitrary arrest and detention; house arrest; denial of due process and fair trial; arbitrary interference with privacy, home, and correspondence; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association; restrictions on religious freedom, including continued harassment of some religious minority group members; restrictions on freedom of movement for some citizens; violence against women; and restrictions on free association of workers. Documentation of abuses remained very limited.
The government revised the constitution and the election law. Other measured improvements in human rights included registration of the first community-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) in three years, reinstatement of graduate and postgraduate educational programs, and continued de-emphasis of former President Niyazov's Ruhnama in the education system and in society.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reliable reports during the year that the government or its agents committed any politically motivated killings. In 2007 there were several reports of citizens dying under suspicious circumstances during detention.
In 2007 a family member of an allegedly drunk suspect who died in police custody in Mary Province claimed there was evidence of physical abuse on the corpse. In June 2007 a person died in an Ashgabat detention center while awaiting an appeal decision. Although there was no evidence of mistreatment, his wife claimed the court knew he had a serious medical condition but denied him medical treatment.
Human rights observers reported that in 2006, just after the death of former President Niyazov, prison guards used military force to suppress a riot and killed 23 prisoners at Ovadan-Depe.
There were no developments in the 2006 suspicious death in custody of journalist Ogulsapar Myradova. The government did not carry out a transparent investigation into the causes of Myradova's death, as the international community had urged it to do.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, security officials trying to extract confessions from detainees tortured, routinely beat, and used excessive force against criminal suspects, prisoners, and individuals critical of the government. There were reports of individuals convicted of complicity in the 2002 attack on the former president's motorcade being tortured, although there was also one report that this torture ceased following Niyazov's death.
An October decision the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) stated that "any criminal suspect held in custody ran a serious risk of being subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment." The ECHR also reported that the country lacked an effective system of torture prevention.
The Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation claimed the government tortured Ogulsapar Myradova, Annakurban Amanklichev, and Sapardurdy Hajiyev during detention in 2006 to extract confessions. All three were subsequently sentenced to prison. Myradova died in September 2006 in prison; Amanklichev and Hajiyev remained in prison at year's end.
Authorities continued to detain persons in psychiatric hospitals as punishment. On June 22, law enforcement officials came to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) correspondent Sazak Durdymuradov's home in Bakharden, detained him, and later transferred him to a psychiatric hospital in Lebap. After several weeks and under international pressure, authorities released him. When Durdymuradov was released in July, he told Forum18 representatives that a devout Muslim prayer leader named Nurmamed Agayev, who had been arrested in 2006, was incarcerated in the same hospital.
In July 2007 police arrested a member of Jehovah's Witnesses for refusing military service and detained him in a psychiatric hospital. Authorities released him four weeks later after international organizations and the diplomatic community expressed interest in his case.
Although there were no known reports during the year of specific hazing incidents, according to the Memorial Human Rights Center and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, hazing of military conscripts remained a problem and led to desertions from units where conditions were particularly difficult. According to a 2006 report from the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, corruption within the defense ministry and draft commissions, tribal- and ethnicity-based rivalries, and disregard for the rights of soldiers led to an increasing number of deaths caused by brutal treatment soldiers meted out to fellow conscripts. Regular military units continued to be used as unpaid manual labor working in fields, hospitals, factories, and construction.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were poor; prisons were unsanitary, overcrowded, unsafe, and life threatening. Disease, particularly tuberculosis (TB), was rampant. There continued to be concerns that the government did not adequately test and treat prisoners with TB before they were released into the general population, although the government reportedly screened prisoners for TB, among other diseases, and transferred prisoners diagnosed with TB to a special Ministry of Interior hospital in Mary Province for treatment. Nutrition was poor, and prisoners depended on relatives to supplement inadequate food supplies. There were also reports that prison officials sometimes confiscated these food parcels.
Although prisoners convicted for treason were unable to receive supplies from relatives, there was one 2007 report that individuals convicted of complicity in the 2002 attack were given supplemental food packages for the first time since they were imprisoned.
In 2007 family members and international NGOs claimed some prisoners died due to the combination of overcrowding, untreated illnesses, and lack of adequate protection from summer heat.
Sources familiar with prison conditions at Owadan Depe Prison reported that former high-level officials continued to be denied proper medical treatment and suffered beatings and verbal intimidation to coerce confessions.
On February 21, authorities arrested computer network specialist Valeri Pal in Turkmenbashy for stealing government property in 2004. On May 14, after a closed trial at the oil refinery where he worked, authorities sentenced him to 12 years in prison. His family reported that he was imprisoned in Mary and had been in the prison hospital there since July due to serious health problems. On December 5, a presidential decree pardoned 400 prisoners, including Pal, in honor of Neutrality Day.
There are three types of incarceration facilities: educational labor colonies, correctional labor colonies, and prisons. In the correctional labor colonies, relatives of prisoners reported excessive periods of prisoner isolation. There were reports that prisoners were forced to work under hazardous and unhealthy conditions in a kaolin mine in Gyzylgaya Prison, near Dashoguz.
Authorities held prisoners connected with the 2002 attack separately at the Owadan Depe Prison. Government officials refused to respond to inquiries from family members and diplomats about political prisoners' location or condition. Government officials also refused to permit family members, foreign diplomats, or international observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), access to detainees or prisoners associated with the 2002 attack. During the year the ICRC did not conduct any prison visits due to unacceptable government limitations on visiting certain types of prisons and prisoners. Family members reported that the government also held political prisoners in facilities near Turkmenbashy and in Mary.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, they remained serious problems.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The Ministry of Internal Affairs directs the criminal police, who work closely with the Ministry of National Security (MNB) on matters of national security. The MNB controls personnel changes in other ministries and enforces presidential decrees. Both the MNB and criminal police operated with impunity. Corruption existed in the security forces.
In February 2007 President Berdimuhamedov created a presidential commission led by the chairman of the Supreme Court to review citizens' complaints of abuse by law enforcement agencies including unfair treatment, efforts to extract bribes, and unjustified arrests and prosecutions. Since the commission's creation, however, there have been no known cases in which the commission investigated allegations of abuse and held members of the security forces accountable. In 2007 the commission reviewed only three cases that led to further review by the Supreme Court and reductions of sentence. In July 2007 the president publicly fired and later arrested the chairman of the Supreme Court, in part for his failure to ensure that cases coming from the commission were properly reviewed. In October 2007 the president fired the minister of internal affairs, reportedly because of an alleged doubling of cases involving ministry corruption and abuse under review by the commission.
Arrest and Detention
A warrant was not required for arrest. The chairman of the cabinet of ministers, a position held by the president, had sole authority for approving arrest warrants.
There was no bail system. Detainees were entitled to immediate access to an attorney after a bill of indictment was issued, and they were able to choose their counsel. However, in practice they did not have prompt or regular access to legal counsel. In some cases legal counsel ceased advising their clients after government officials altered the charges or case details initially provided to defendants. Authorities denied some prisoners visits by family members during the year. Families sometimes did not know the whereabouts of imprisoned relatives. Incommunicado detention was a problem. Authorities could detain individuals for 72 hours without a formal arrest warrant but legally had to issue a formal bill of indictment within 10 days of arrest to hold detainees longer. However, authorities did not adhere to these provisions in practice.
The law characterizes any opposition to the government as an act of treason. Those convicted of treason faced life imprisonment and were ineligible for amnesty or reduction of sentence. However, there were no known treason convictions. Rather, the government arrested those expressing critical or differing views on economic or criminal charges.
Pretrial detention could legally last no longer than two months but in exceptional cases could be extended to one year. In practice pretrial detentions averaged two to three months; authorities often exceeded legal limits. Chronic corruption and cumbersome bureaucratic processes contributed to lengthy trial delays.
The government used house arrest without due process to control regime opponents. At year's end the status was unknown of individuals previously placed under house arrest, including NGO leaders, relatives of those suspected of involvement in the 2002 attack, and some of the 100 individuals prevented from meeting with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 2003.
On February 19, the government pardoned 1,269 prisoners in honor of Flag Day. On May 9, 908 prisoners were pardoned in honor of Victory Day. On September 27, the president pardoned 1,670 prisoners in advance of the Night of Omnipotence holiday. On December 5, the president pardoned 400 prisoners in honor of Neutrality Day. No prisoners of international concern or associated with the 2002 attack on the former president's motorcade were released. Former security service chief Saparmurat Seidov was released from prison on October 26, having served a six-year term for his alleged role in the 2002 attack.
In August 2007 President Berdimuhamedov pardoned 11 prisoners, including Muslim cleric and former grand mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah and former Justice Minister Yusup Khaitiev, who were jailed for their alleged role in the 2002 attack. After the pardon the government appointed Ibadullah an advisor to the country's Council on Religious Affairs (CRA).
It was unknown whether amnestied prisoners still had to swear an oath of allegiance to the Ruhnama, former President Niyazov's spiritual guidebook on the country's culture and heritage. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported, "The August 2007 presidential pardon of 11 persons was a welcome step, although their public statements recognizing their guilt must be assumed to have been a condition for their release."
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary; however, in practice the judiciary was subordinate to the president. There was no legislative review of the president's judicial appointments and dismissals, except for the chairman (chief justice) of the Supreme Court, whom parliament nominally reviewed. The president had sole authority to dismiss all judges before the completion of their terms. The judiciary was widely reputed to be both corrupt and inefficient.
The court system consists of a Supreme Court, six provincial courts (including one for Ashgabat), and 64 district and city courts. Civilian courts, under the authority of the Office of the Prosecutor General, tried criminal offenses committed by members of the armed forces.
The law provides due process for defendants, including a public trial, access to accusatory material, the right to call witnesses to testify on their behalf, a defense attorney or a court-appointed lawyer if the defendant cannot afford one, and the right to represent oneself in court. In practice authorities often denied these rights. Defendants frequently did not enjoy a presumption of innocence. There was no jury system. The government permitted foreign observers to attend most nonpolitical trials but closed some trials, especially those it considered politically sensitive. There were few independent lawyers available to represent defendants. The courts at times did not allow defendants to confront or question witnesses against them and denied defendants and their attorneys access to government evidence. In some cases courts refused to accept exculpatory evidence provided by defense attorneys, even if that evidence would have changed the outcome of the trial. Even if the courts observed due process rights, the authority of the government prosecutor far exceeded that of the defense attorney, making it difficult for the defendant to receive a fair trial. Court transcripts were frequently flawed or incomplete, especially when defendants' testimony had to be translated from Russian to Turkmen. Defendants could appeal lower courts' decisions and petition the president for clemency. In most cases courts ignored allegations of torture that defendants raised in trial.
There were regular reports that police arrested individuals and requested they pay fines for breaking specific laws. However, when citizens asked to see the law, government officials refused or stated the laws were secret.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
The government held at least one political prisoner, Mukhametkuli Aimuradov, imprisoned since 1995.
On June 24, authorities arrested former civil activist and former political prisoner Gulgeldy Annaniyazov after he re-entered the country. Annaniyazov received asylum in Norway in 2002 after serving five years in a Turkmenbashy prison for his role in a 1995 political demonstration. In July he was sentenced in a closed court trial to 11 years in prison, but at year's end no further information about his case was available.
In 2006 authorities charged three journalists Ogulsapar Myradova, Annakurban Amanklichev, and Sapardurdy Hajiyev with weapons possession after they received journalism equipment from foreign sources. They were sentenced in a closed trial to six to seven years' imprisonment. RFE/RL, the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation, and several other human rights organizations claimed they were charged with criminal activities to block their reporting. There was no further information regarding the government's investigation of Amanklichev and Hajiyev on additional charges of espionage and treason, and they remained in jail. Myradova died in police custody under suspicious circumstances.
Opposition groups and some international organizations claimed the government held many political prisoners and detainees, although the precise number of these individuals--including those convicted of involvement in the 2002 attack--remained unknown. There were reports that the government held approximately 360 individuals in Owadan Depe prison for their perceived political opinions and alleged involvement in the 2002 attack. Human rights observers considered conditions at Owadan Depe Prison among the worst in the country, and there were reports that prison officials subjected prisoners to torture and abuse.
In 2007 there were reports that some prisoners accused of economic crimes, including a number of former senior government ministers, may have been moved from Owadan Depe Prison to Mary Prison. Government officials refused to respond to inquiries from family members and diplomats about many prisoners' location or condition. Government officials also refused to permit family members, foreign diplomats, or international observers, including the ICRC, access to detainees or prisoners associated with the 2002 attack.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The civil judiciary system was not independent or impartial; the president appointed all judges. There were instances of police investigations that went to court in which plaintiffs could sue defendants. In theory the civil court system functions, but there were reports of bribes to ensure a positive outcome. In cases in which the state had interests regarding an individual citizen, it enforced domestic court orders. The most commonly enforced court orders were eviction notices.
The government failed to enforce the law consistently with respect to restitution or compensation for confiscation of private property. In February 2007 President Berdimuhamedov announced there would be no housing demolition unless replacement housing was available. However, during the year there were reports that the government demolished some private homes as part of an urban renewal program in and around Ashgabat without adequate compensation to the owners.
In some 2006 cases, the government required evicted families to pay for removal of the rubble of their destroyed homes, gave persons as little as 48 hours to vacate, and did not provide homeowners with alternative accommodations or compensation. Others were given two weeks' notice to vacate and were offered apartments or plots of land in compensation on undeveloped or nonirrigated plots, resulting in the loss of livelihood for some.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit such actions; however, authorities frequently did not respect these prohibitions in practice. Authorities in some cases forcibly searched the homes of suspected regime opponents and some minority religious group members without independent judicial authorization. The law does not regulate surveillance by the state security apparatus, which regularly monitored the activities of officials, citizens, opponents and critics of the government, and foreigners. Security officials used physical surveillance, telephone tapping, electronic eavesdropping, and informers. The government reportedly intercepted surface mail before delivery, and letter packets and parcels taken to the post office had to remain unsealed for inspection.
A noncitizen may marry a citizen only after one year's residency in the country. There were reports of a small number of such marriages.
Individuals who were harassed, detained, or arrested by authorities continued to report that their family members were often fired from their jobs, expelled from schools, or detained and interrogated.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press, but the government did not respect these rights in practice. There were no specific reports of persons expressing dissenting views being arrested on false charges of committing common crimes and in some cases being subjected to abuse, harassment, and deprivation, including loss of opportunities for advancement and employment. However, there were reports that law enforcement officials harassed and detained Turkmen journalists working for foreign media outlets, most notably several who worked for RFE/RL.
Almost all print media were government financed. Except for the private but government-sanctioned Turkish newspaper Zaman, which reflected the views of the state newspapers, the government imposed significant restrictions on the importation of foreign newspapers.
The government controlled radio and local television, but use of satellite dishes providing access to foreign television programming was widespread throughout the country. Citizens also received international radio programs through satellite television access.
During the year government agents reportedly detained, harassed, and intimidated journalists and their families. Journalists working for RFE/RL, in particular, reported frequent harassment by government authorities.
In January authorities interrogated RFE/RL correspondent Soltan Achilova for two days, accusing her of producing reports critical of national policy. They released her after she signed an agreement to stop working for RFE/RL until she had formal press accreditation.
In late April a Molotov cocktail struck the house of RFE/RL reporter Gurbandurdy Durdykuliyev in Balkanabat. Three of the outer walls were painted with obscene graffiti, including the word "traitor," paint was poured on his car, and human feces were smeared on his front door.
In late April security officials sought to disrupt the wedding of a family member of an RFE/RL reporter by harassing the prospective bride, pressuring several subsequent restaurant managers to cancel the wedding reservation, and later turning off the electricity at the final wedding venue.
In July RFE/RL reporter Osman Halliyev reported that security authorities pressured administrators at the Azadi Foreign Language Institute to expel his son because Halliyev refused to stop working for RFE/RL.
Harassment of RFE/RL reporter Halmyrat Gylychdurdyev continued on and off throughout the year. Government harassment because of his reporting had initially eased up and then increased in frequency in 2007. Authorities intermittently monitored his activities, harassed his family, and periodically disconnected his mobile telephone service. In 2006 authorities routinely harassed him and his family for his earlier economic articles unfavorable to the government.
During the year the government barred four RFE/RL reporters from travel abroad. The OSCE reported that the government did not allow a journalist to travel abroad in 2007.
The former editor in chief of the state newspaper Esger remained in jail on a 17-year sentence for unspecified crimes.
During the year state journalists still needed to get permission to cover specific events. They were also required to seek approval to publish or air the subject matter they had covered.
Domestic journalists and foreign news correspondents engaged in self censorship due to fear of government reprisal. The government continued to censor newspapers. The government continued to prohibit reporting opposing political views or any criticism of the president.
The government continued to keep Russian government-supported, Russian-language Radio Mayak transmissions off the air.
To regulate domestic printing and copying activities, the government required all publishing houses and printing and photocopying establishments to obtain registration licenses for their equipment. The government required the registration of all photocopiers and mandated that a single individual be responsible for all photocopying. The government owned all publishing companies. Works on topics that were out of favor with the government, including fiction, were not published.
The government continued its ban on subscription to foreign periodicals for nongovernment entities, although copies of the Russian newspaper Argumenti I Fakti and other nonpolitical periodicals appeared occasionally in the bazaars. In June the government began permitting government agencies and institutions to acquire subscriptions to foreign academic and scientific periodicals.
There was no independent oversight of press accreditation, no defined criteria for allocating press cards, no guarantee of receiving accreditation when space was available, and no prohibition on withdrawing accreditation for political reasons. The government required all foreign correspondents to apply for accreditation. Journalists from outside the country were granted visas only to cover specific events such as international conferences and summit meetings, where their activities could be monitored. Authorities denied some journalists accreditation, although at least five journalists representing foreign media organizations were accredited. Turkish news services had eight correspondents in the country, at least two of which were reportedly accredited. As many as 13 correspondents representing foreign media services operated without accreditation.
Internet access increased modestly, although government-owned Turkmen Telecom remained the main provider to the general population, and administrative requirements for getting connected, including a signature from the local police station, continued to impede access. The government monitored citizens' e-mail and Internet usage and cut service for accounts used to visit sensitive Web sites. During the year Turkmen Telecom continued to issue new Internet accounts to businesses and organizations and, in June, reportedly began issuing new accounts to private individuals for the first time in years. Turkmen Telecom rates for dial-up access remained very expensive for the average citizen. The initial connection cost was 600,000 manats (approximately $42), with a monthly subscription fee of 200,000 manats (approximately $14), in addition to a 12,000 manat (approximately $.80) per hour usage fee. Private citizens reported in November that often they could not get on line with their new accounts because of competition for limited bandwidth. As of November, 2,000 households remained on a waiting list for Internet access via Turkmen Telecom.
There were approximately 15 state-owned Internet cafes nationwide, in addition to NGO-sponsored facilities, private businesses, and business centers that were granted access to the Internet. Although the government reduced Internet cafe fees to approximately 30,000 manats (approximately $2) per hour in April, it remained prohibitively expensive for the average citizen. Access to specific Web sites remained inconsistent. In March the government allowed Russian cellular telephone provider MTS to begin providing mobile Internet service to its business customers, including citizens. In June MTS was able to offer this service to all of its customers, more than 800,000 subscribers by year's end.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
On January 15, the government formally reinstated graduate and postgraduate study programs in the country's higher educational institutions for the first time since 1998. However, only one or two graduate students were admitted to each higher educational institution, totaling approximately 80 students. No formal classes or courses were offered at the graduate level. Instead, the main focus was research.
The government still did not recognize academic degrees received abroad, and only government-selected students were allowed to participate in intergovernmentally approved exchange programs. The Ministry of Education did not recognize degrees from nonstate institutions of higher education in former Soviet Union countries. It did, however, recognize degrees obtained abroad through intergovernmentally approved education programs. Most exchanges at the university level are prohibited by the Law on Education. The Ministry of Education took no steps to act on the president's 2007 request that the ministry facilitate recognition of foreign degrees. Furthermore, the government did not introduce its own sponsored scholarship program for study abroad, despite the president's promises to do so and the efforts of the international community.
The government did not tolerate criticism of government policy or the president in academic circles and curtailed research into areas it considered politically sensitive, such as comparative law, history, ethnic relations, or theology. University enrollment totaled approximately 4,000 students at all higher educational institutions, compared with 3,615 students in 2007.
Officials from the Ministry of Education and provincial authorities sought to prevent students who were not ethnically Turkmen from entering exchange programs.
Niyazov's Ruhnama, Ruhnama II, poetry volumes, The Spring of My Inspiration, and My Beloved remained part of the school curriculum, and passing tests on knowledge of the Ruhnama was still necessary for advancement, graduation, or admission to higher educational institutions, even to Russian universities. However, teachers reported having to spend substantially less class time on former President Niyazov's works than in the past, as the revamped curriculum introduced new subjects and an expanded and more fact-based study of local history and culture. At the beginning of the school year, Ruhnama studies as a separate course was discontinued, and began to be taught instead as a part of a new discipline, which included Ruhnama; the country's history, philosophy, sociology, political science, and economic theory; and President Berdimuhamedov's book Epoch of New Revival.
Most secondary school textbooks were revised during the year to remove all text devoted to Niyazov and his family. New text devoted to the "New Era" ideology replaced it. The compulsory Ruhnama corner at pre-schools, schools, and universities was turned into a Berdimuhamedov corner centered on his "Era of Great Revival" writings. After long requiring traditional dress uniforms for all students, schools announced more conservative dress codes for female faculty. The new requirements include wearing one-color national dress with traditional embroidery and not wearing jewelry or makeup. Enforcement was uneven.
Although restrictions eased somewhat, the government continued to control attendance at nonindigenous cultural events and refused to permit the production of some foreign plays and performances in state theaters. The government demonstrated little or no support for non-Turkmen music, but classical music was taught and performed throughout the country. The previously banned government-supported symphony orchestra was reestablished at the National Cultural Center and began monthly concerts of Turkmen and world classical music. The president decreed that the circus reopen, and the first opera performance took place in June.
Traditional local music, which had not been performed for years, was played in concerts and social events. Pirated copies of international films were available for sale or rent for home viewing and were shown on television. Several ministries, including the Ministry of Culture, hosted a large number of international festivals of music, theater, and films, exposing national audiences to artistic work from abroad. Although these events facilitated greater contact of local specialists with colleagues from abroad, the interaction was still somewhat censored and limited. The Ministry of Culture censored and then monitored all public exhibitions--music, art, and cultural.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right in practice. Authorities neither granted the required permits for any public meetings and demonstrations during the year, nor did they allow unregistered organizations, particularly those perceived to have political agendas, to hold demonstrations.
Freedom of Association
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government restricted this right in practice. The law requires all NGOs to register with the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and all foreign assistance to be registered with the Ministry of Economics and Development and the MOJ, and coordinated through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Unregistered NGO activity is punishable by fines, short-term detention, and confiscation of property. The government routinely continued to deny registration to NGOs and other private organizations using subjective criteria.
In July the government reported it had registered 11 new civic organizations, including the groups that had been denied registration in 2007. These were the first civic organizations the government formally registered since 2005. Although 10 of the 11 newly registered groups were reported to be affiliated with the government, the first community-based NGO in the country, the Ak Bugday Gardener's Association, was also registered. The government deregistered 11 NGOs during the year as well.
Of the 89 registered NGOs, international organizations considered seven to be independent. The government continued to present numerous administrative obstacles to those that attempted to register. Although some groups reported good cooperation with the MOJ in the registration process, other NGOs reported frequent difficulties, such as applications returned on technical grounds. Some groups found alternative ways to carry out activities, such as registering as businesses or subsidiaries of other registered groups. Other groups awaiting registration temporarily suspended or limited their activities.
During the year authorities in Lebap Province advised two community groups against cooperation with an international NGO. Local security authorities in Dashoguz Province advised a community activist not to accept grants from international organizations.
Security service officials harassed NGOs and their local partners throughout 2007. In April and May 2007 authorities closed several information and resource centers in the central Ahal region that an international NGO operated; one was later allowed to reopen. Authorities terminated cooperation between an NGO and local community groups twice in 2007. Also in April and May 2007 authorities advised two community groups against cooperation with an NGO, and in one case terminated training the NGO was providing, advised against cooperation with the NGO, and questioned its local point of contact.
No independent political groups existed. The only registered political party was the ruling Democratic Party, the former Communist Party of Turkmenistan. The government did not prohibit membership in political organizations; however, in practice authorities harassed those who claimed membership in political organizations other than the Democratic Party.
Government authorities harassed some recipients of foreign grants. There were no cases in which the government refused to register a grant project, but the process for registering grants was delayed for several months. Following its reinstitution in May, the grant registration process resumed normal functions...