2008 Human Rights Report: Turkmenistan

Date 2009/2/26 20:13:00 | Topic: Acts

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c. Freedom of Religion

The constitution and law provide for freedom of religion; however, the government restricted this right in practice. There was no state religion, but the majority of the population is Sunni Muslim. The government incorporated some aspects of Islamic tradition into its efforts to define a national identity, but in practice the government closely controlled and monitored all religious activities and placed some restrictions on Muslims. The government required all religious groups as well as individual mosques and churches to register with the MOJ and continued government monitoring of financial and material assistance to religious groups from foreign sources. The government required groups to file reports of proceedings at all meetings. Some groups reported confusion over registration requirements because of conflicting statements by government officials from different ministries. In 2005 the government explained that individual branches of religious groups could be temporarily registered by requesting representative power of attorney from the registered branch of their particular group; in many cases this resolved branches' registration problems. Although religious groups had persistent problems overcoming administrative hurdles to registration, the government registered an evangelical Christian group in September 2007, the first group to receive registration since 2005.
In October 2007 the government also registered an unidentified Islamic organization from Ahal. At least three groups that had applied for registration continued to be denied legal status. Other unregistered religious congregations such as Jehovah's Witnesses, separate groups of Baptists, and evangelical Christian groups existed, although the government restricted their activities. The government officially prohibited unregistered groups from conducting religious activities. According to the CRA, Shi'a Muslim groups were allowed to register collectively as one organization.

The Catholic Church remained unregistered because of a conflict with local law requiring that the head of the church be a citizen. However, authorities appeared to have eased their harassment of the church. Church leaders conducted regular masses and held classes on Catholicism for interested ethnic Turkmen and non-Turkmen citizens without government harassment.

The government-appointed CRA reports to the president and ostensibly acts as an intermediary between the government bureaucracy and registered religious organizations. The CRA includes representatives of the government, Sunni Islam, and the Russian Orthodox Church but no other religious groups. In practice the CRA acted as an arm of the state, exercising direct control over hiring, promotion, and firing of both Sunni Muslim and Russian Orthodox clergy, compensation of Sunni Muslim clergy, and monitoring of all religious publications and activities.
Both registered and unregistered minority religious communities experienced difficulty in obtaining facilities where they could worship. Legal and governmental obstacles hindered or prevented the ability of religious groups to purchase or rent land or buildings for worship or meetings. Registered and unregistered groups also experienced difficulty in using private homes for worship or study.

The government continued occasionally to harass and threaten both registered and unregistered minority religious groups. Examples of harassment included government agents interrupting religious services and interrogating, detaining, and pressing religious minority group members to abandon their beliefs. The government threatened members of minority religious groups with fines, loss of registration, loss of employment and housing, and imprisonment because of their beliefs. There were also reports of raids and the seizure of religious materials.

Members of Jehovah's Witnesses and other minority religious groups reportedly experienced police harassment, disruption of meetings, surveillance, detentions, and administrative fines.
On April 22, local police in Turkmenbashy raided a religious gathering and detained the church's pastor, Timur Muradov, and two foreign visitors for holding an unauthorized gathering. The two foreign visitors were deported and Muradov was interrogated and warned to stop his religious activity. Authorities threatened to plant evidence on him to have a reason to arrest him. He was released after agreeing to write a statement of explanation of his activities and to appear before a commission that would determine a fine.
On May 6, local security officials in Balkanabat raided the apartment of a member of Jehovah's Witnesses where four other members of Jehovah's Witnesses were staying and confiscated a computer and other personal belongings. The officials beat the individuals with a belt on the head, abdomen, and legs and tried to force them to say, "I am a Muslim." The officials then detained the members of Jehovah's Witnesses overnight at a police station and forced them to sign confessions and pay fines.
On May 7, Turkmenbashy city officials detained and questioned two female members of Jehovah's Witnesses from Dashoguz and Kyzyl Arbat, claiming a decree had been issued outlawing Jehovah's Witnesses. Police officers pressured them to sign a statement regarding their activities, seized their passports, and forced the women to return to their towns of residence.
In June authorities deported a foreign visitor who made an unplanned visit to a member of a registered Christian church in Ashgabat. The church was threatened with the loss of its registration, although church officials had neither invited nor been aware of the visitor.
On June 15, local officials, including an imam, broke into an apartment in Turkmenbashy and interrupted a meeting of Jehovah's Witnesses. They interrogated those present and searched the apartment, seizing a Bible, several publications, and a songbook.
The government incorporated some aspects of Islamic tradition in its effort to redefine a national identity. Despite its embrace of certain aspects of Islamic culture, the government was concerned about foreign Islamic influence and the interpretation of Islam by local believers. The government controlled the establishment of Muslim places of worship and limited access to Islamic education. Two mosques were reportedly being refurbished or rebuilt.
The government officially banned only extremist groups that advocate violence, but it also categorized Islamic groups advocating stricter interpretations of Islamic religious doctrine as "extremist." The government did not officially restrict persons from changing their religious beliefs and affiliation, but ethnic Turkmen members of unregistered religious groups accused of proselytizing and disseminating religious material generally received harsher treatment than nonethnic Turkmen.
Police officers often subjected ethnic Turkmen who converted to Christianity to harassment and mistreatment such as verbal abuse for denying their heritage by converting.
Reports of obstructed travel based on religious minority group affiliation continued. In April Turkmen Evangelical Church Pastor Ilmyrat Nurliyev was barred from travel to Ukraine for a friend's wedding. The government continually denied entry visas to foreign members of registered and unregistered groups.
During the year the government permitted the visits of foreign religious officials. In March a group of regional Catholic officials were permitted to visit for a retreat. In May a senior official of the Russian Orthodox Church made an official visit for the first time since 2005, and in September authorities permitted the visit of a Seventh-day Adventist regional representative for the first time in eight years. Foreign missionary activity is prohibited, although both Christian and Muslim missionaries were present. The government also prohibited proselytizing by unregistered religious groups.
There was no official religious instruction in public schools. Although the Ruhnama continued to be taught in all public schools and institutes of higher learning, teachers reported that such training decreased substantially. Unregistered religious groups and unregistered branches of registered religious groups were prohibited from providing religious education. Extracurricular religious education was allowed only with CRA and presidential permission, and there were no reports that either the CRA or the president approved such programs.
The government also controlled access to Islamic education. The theology faculty in the history department at Turkmen State University in Ashgabat was the only academic faculty that conducted Islamic education. Although President Berdimuhamedov continued with 2006 plans to construct a Ruhnama university, the projected university's focus began to change from "studying the deep roots of the nation's great spirit" to include a more international outlook. Only one institution of Islamic education remained open, and the government controlled the curriculum.
The Ruhnama was no longer seen in mosques, even the large mosque in former President Niyazov's home village of Gypjak. Phrases from the Ruhnama were, however, still inscribed on the Gypjak mosque. The government did not allow the publication of religious literature, limiting the availability of Korans, Bibles, and other religious literature. In practice the CRA must approve imported religious literature. Government representatives informed religious groups they could only import religious literature in quantities corresponding to the number of registered congregants, but even registered groups had difficulty importing religious literature.
The government again financially sponsored 188 pilgrims (one planeload) personally approved by the president out of the country's quota of 4,600 to travel to Mecca. The government stated that other pilgrims were allowed to go on the Hajj at their own expense, and there were indications that significantly more self-financing pilgrims were allowed to make the Hajj.
The government does not offer alternative civilian service for conscientious objectors, which was provided by law until 1995. Individuals who refused military service for religious reasons were offered noncombatant roles within the military but were not provided with nonmilitary service alternatives. According to Forum18, in February Turkmenbashy authorities sentenced Jehovah's Witness Vladimir Golosenko to two years of forced labor for evading compulsory military service, although his sentence was suspended. The state reportedly took 20 percent of his wages as part of his punishment.
During 2007 authorities charged six members of Jehovah's Witnesses with evading compulsory military service, but all received suspended sentences after interventions from the international community. Four of the individuals received government pardons, and two continued to be subject to the terms and conditions of their suspended sentences. One of the individuals still serving a suspended sentence reported in July that his local military commission had indicated it would reinitiate charges against him when his suspended sentence ended.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There were 2,000 self-identified Jews and no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Ethnic Turkmen who chose to convert from Islam to other religious groups were viewed with suspicion and sometimes ostracized.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/g/drl/irf/rpt.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and law do not provide for full freedom of movement and require internal passports and residency permits. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The president eliminated police checkpoints on major roads soon after his inauguration in February 2007 and lifted controls requiring citizens to obtain permits for internal travel to border regions in July 2007. The border permit requirement remained in effect for all foreigners.
The government inconsistently applied its policy on dual passport holders and occasionally demanded that Russian passport holders procure Commonwealth of Independent States visas based on their Turkmen passports. In 2007 the government permitted at least four previously restricted citizens to travel overseas. However, the criteria for preventing travel remained unclear, and the government still barred citizens from departing the country.
The government denied that it maintained a list of persons not allowed to depart the country. A restrictive 2005 migration law forbids travel by any citizen who has access to state secrets, has falsified personal information, has committed a serious crime, is under surveillance, might become a trafficking victim, has previously violated the law of the destination country, or whose travel contradicts the interests of national security.
Citizens were able to inquire about their travel status at the State Agency for the Registration of Foreign Citizens Immigration. However, only approximately half of those who inquired received information on their travel status. During the year none of those barred from travel was successful in appealing restrictions on travel.
In January authorities prevented the daughter of RFE/RL correspondent Halmurat Gylychdurdiyev from traveling to Moscow for medical treatment. After diplomatic intervention the government permitted her to travel abroad in September.
In late April and again in early June authorities pulled a junior RFE/RL reporter from two international flights and told him "law enforcement" officers opposed his departure. On June 5, authorities denied departure for fellow RFE/RL reporter Soltana Achilova.
In April Immigration Service authorities told Turkmen Evangelical Church Pastor Ilmyrat Nurliyev he could not travel to Ukraine for a friend's wedding. Nurliyev had also been escorted off a plane bound for Ukraine in November 2007. When Nurliyev wrote a letter of complaint in 2007 to the State Agency for the Registration of Foreign Citizens, he received a reply noting that his claim of being forcibly removed from an airplane was not confirmed.
On June 15, Ovez Annayev, brother-in-law of exile opposition leader Khudayberdy Orazov, was removed from a flight to Moscow, where he was going to obtain medical treatment, although a national security service official had assured him he would be permitted to travel abroad. In November 2007 authorities prevented Svetlana Orazova, Annayev's wife and the sister of exile opposition leader Khudayberdy Orazov, from boarding a plane to Moscow. Orazova had previously appealed her travel restriction, and the State Agency for the Registration of Foreign Citizens told her she would be allowed to leave the country. In December 2007 she sent a letter of complaint to the State Agency for the Registration of Foreign Citizens.
On July 4, Andrey Zatoka, an environmental activist who was pardoned in October 2007, received a letter from the Office of the Prosecutor General stating he was prohibited from traveling abroad.
In October Gulgeldy Annaniazov's daughter and her family were not allowed to leave the country.
The government permitted citizens living in Dashoguz and Lebap provinces to spend only three days a month visiting relatives in the Bukhara and Khorezm provinces of neighboring Uzbekistan, although travel there is visa-free.
The law permits forced internal and external exile, and at year's end some individuals remained in forced exile. Authorities sent some prisoners, usually former government officials, into internal exile. Some former ministers and government officials who had been dismissed from their positions and sent into internal exile in previous years remained under house arrest. Almost all political opponents of the government lived in other countries for reasons of personal safety.
Protection of Refugees
The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government granted refugee status or asylum. In practice the government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened. The government granted refugee or asylum status to some ethnic Turkmen from Afghanistan and Tajikistan and to other groups of ethnic Uzbeks and Russians. There were 125 UNHCR mandate refugees in the country. The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 Convention or the 1967 protocol. In 2006 the government granted citizenship or legal residency to more than 16,000 ethnic Turkmen individuals who had resettled to Turkmenistan in the 1990s. Most of those granted citizenship were ethnic Turkmen who had fled conflict in Tajikistan in the early 1990s, ethnic Uzbeks, or Russians. The government cooperated with the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum-seekers.
Stateless Persons
The UN Development Program (UNDP) reported there were few stateless persons in the country. However, the UNDP also estimated there may be as many as 9,000 undocumented residents who were Soviet Union passport holders at the time of the dissolution and who did not have a state affiliation selected when their Soviet passports expired in 1999. The government administratively processed these residents and issued them residency permits while considerations of state affiliation continued. The UNDP could not easily quantify these persons because they had not sought UNDP assistance, nor had they sought a change in their status. The UNHCR considered these individuals as de facto stateless or at risk of becoming stateless. The government streamlined its residency registration process via a 2005 decree and then issued citizenship to approximately 13,000 ethnic Turkmen refugees seeking haven from Tajikistan's civil war.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Citizens could not freely choose and change the laws and officials that governed them. The constitution declares the country a secular democracy in the form of a presidential republic. It calls for the separation of powers among the branches of government but vests a disproportionate share of power in the presidency. In practice the president's power over the state continued to be absolute; he made most important decisions. Unlike in previous years, citizens swore a national oath of allegiance to the country rather than to the president.
According to the OSCE, the election law does not meet OSCE standards.
Elections and Political Participation
On September 26, the Halk Maslahaty (Peoples' Council) adopted a revised national constitution that gave broader powers to the Mejlis (parliament), increased the president's powers, and abolished the Halk Maslahaty as a political body. On October 15, the government also adopted a revised Mejlis election law that incorporated some international standards, including eliminating negative voting, permitting the nomination of candidates by community groups, and granting the right to vote to detainees not yet convicted of a crime. On December 14, parliamentary elections were held for deputies to the Mejlis. For the first time, the government invited international observers to monitor the election process. The elections did not meet OSCE standards for free, fair, transparent, and competitive elections.
Under the constitution, upon the December 2006 death of former President Niyazov, then Parliament Chairman Ovezgeldy Atayev should have become the interim president. However, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, the deputy prime minister, was named instead, and authorities initiated a criminal investigation against Atayev. Atayev reportedly remained in prison at year's end. On December 26, 2006, the People's Council selected six presidential candidates, changing the constitution to allow the candidacy of Interim President Berdimuhamedov. Residency requirements precluded the candidacy of some exiles who expressed a desire to run for president. Nurberdy Nurmamedov, a dissident figure living in Ashgabat whom some of the exiles hoped would be a candidate, was detained on December 23, 2006 and released on December 30, 2006.
In February 2007, citizens selected Berdimuhamedov president in an election that did not meet international standards. The OSCE noted the following problems: lack of political pluralism, restrictions on the right of citizens to run for president, lack of provisions regulating the media coverage of the campaign, prohibition for failed candidates to contest a repeat election, and negative voting requiring voters to cross out the names of all candidates except the name of the chosen candidate. Although the government did not legally prohibit membership in political organizations, it banned all political parties other than the president's Democratic Party. The government continued to ban political opposition in the country, leaving the exiled opposition movements in Europe as the only alternative political voice for the country.
There were eight women in the 50-member parliament, including the Mejlis Chairman, elected in 2005. Women served in a few prominent government positions: Deputy Chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers for Culture and Television (a vice premier position), Director of the State Archives, Director of the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, head of the Supreme Council on Science and Technology, and head of the state news agency.
The one member of a minority group in the 50-seat parliament died in November 2006, and his seat remained vacant. The government gave preference for appointed government positions to ethnic Turkmen, but ethnic minorities occupied several high government positions. Members of the country's largest tribe, the president's Teke tribe, held the most prominent roles in cultural and political life.
Government Corruption and Transparency
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials reportedly often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Widespread corruption existed in all social and economic sectors. Factors included the existence of patronage networks, a lack of transparency and accountability mechanisms, and fear of government reprisal. According to the World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicators, the country had a severe corruption problem. Transparency International's 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index noted that experts perceived rampant corruption among the country's public officials.
The president dismissed numerous ministers and government officials from their positions; some were investigated and even arrested for alleged malfeasance, although a lack of information about their cases made it difficult to determine whether their arrests were politically motivated. The government did not sentence any senior government officials to jail terms or put them under house arrest during the year, although several officials were investigated for possible wrongdoing in their official capacities. Two senior government officials were fired for grave shortcomings in their work and may have been charged with crimes -- Onjyk Musaev, head of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, and Customs Chief Muratberdi Annaliyev. Their status was unknown at year's end.
In 2007 authorities indicated they would charge at least seven senior government officials with crimes after firing them, including Akmurat Rejepov, chief of the presidential guard and close advisor to former President Niyazov; Payzegeldy Meredov, a former minister of agriculture accused of corruption; and Ovezgeldy Atayev, former chairman of the Mejlis. Atayev was sentenced to five years in prison. Former Minister of Railroads Orazberdy Hudayberdiyev was released in the October 2007 pardon. The status of the others was unknown at year's end.
There is no law that allows for public access to government information, and in practice the government did not provide access. Authorities denied requests for specific information on the grounds that the information was a state secret. Some statistical data were considered state secrets. There was no public disclosure of demographic data, and published economic and financial data were manipulated to justify state policies and expenditures.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
There were no domestic human rights NGOs. The government warned its critics against speaking with visiting journalists or other foreigners wishing to discuss human rights problems. During the year the government continued to monitor the activities of nonpolitical social and cultural organizations.
There were no international human rights NGOs with a continued permanent presence in the country; however, the government permitted international organizations, including the OSCE and the UNHCR, to have resident missions. Government restrictions on freedom of speech, press, and association severely restricted international organizations' ability to investigate and criticize the government's human rights policies. Some officials were more responsive to questions regarding alleged human rights abuses. The government appeared to have relaxed somewhat its past efforts to control citizens' access to international organizations and missions and to discourage citizens from cooperating with foreigners. During the year the OSCE reported there had been no perceptible restrictions on citizens' ability to visit and participate in OSCE Center activities. In October 2007 the OSCE reported the government had stopped impeding ordinary citizens from visiting the OSCE Center or participating in OSCE-sponsored civil society-themed seminars and activities. In June 2006 the Council of Ministers accused diplomats and the mission of the OSCE of fomenting revolution in the country for passing journalism equipment to citizens.
From September 4 to 10, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief made her first official visit to the country. She met with the president; other national, regional and local government representatives; the Chairman of Parliament; members of the Supreme Court; and a variety of registered and unregistered religious group representatives.
In a public statement, the rapporteur encouraged the government to revise its Law on Religion to bring it into greater conformity with international human rights standards and recommended that the CRA be more inclusive and independent. She recommended that the government reduce restrictions on the importation of religious material and on acquiring facilities for religious activity. She also recommended that legislation be revised to provide alternative civilian service in place of compulsory military service for conscientious objectors. HRW reported that security services had warned representatives of at least three different religious communities in Ashgabat not to meet with the rapporteur during her visit.
The government-appointed Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (IDHR) played an unofficial ombudsman's role to resolve some citizen human rights-related appeal requests during the year. In 2007 the government established the Human Rights Commission, which reports to the president, to oversee institutional human rights reform. In 2007 the government also established a committee headed by the Chairman of the Supreme Court to review citizen complaints about law enforcement activities. In 2005 the Committee on the Protection of Human Rights and Liberties was established in parliament to oversee human rights-related legislation. The IDHR, also subordinate to the president, was established in 1996 with a mandate to support democratization and monitor the protection of human rights, and maintained a human rights library. The IDHR was not an independent body, and its ability to obtain redress was limited.
Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Although the law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, disability, language, or social status, violence against women, and discrimination against ethnic minorities, discrimination continued to be a problem.
Women
Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, with penalties of three to 25 years based on the level of violence of the incident and whether the attacker was a repeat offender. A cultural bias against reporting or acknowledging rape made it difficult to determine the extent of the problem.
The law prohibits domestic violence, including spousal abuse, but the law was not effectively enforced. Penalties are based on the extent of the injury. Anecdotal reports indicated that domestic violence against women was common; most victims of domestic violence kept silent, either because they were unaware of their rights or afraid of increased violence from husbands and relatives. There were a few court cases and occasional references to domestic violence in the media. One official women's group in Ashgabat, an independent NGO, and several informal groups in other regions assisted victims of domestic violence.
Prostitution is illegal but remained a problem throughout the country. Authorities actively monitored prostitution but did not attempt to counter it. There is no law specifically prohibiting sexual harassment, and anecdotal reports suggested that sexual harassment existed in the workforce.
Women had equal rights under family law and property law, and in the judicial system. In December 2007 the Mejlis approved a new law on women's rights after consultation with UNDP and other international partners. The Mejlis Committee on Human Rights and Liberties was responsible for drafting human rights and gender legislation, integrating a new gender program into the education curriculum, and publishing regular bulletins on national and international gender laws. By law women are on equal footing with men in all spheres, including wages, loans, starting businesses, and working in government. However, women continued to experience discrimination in practice due to cultural biases. Employers allegedly gave preference to men to avoid productivity losses due to pregnancy or child care. Women were underrepresented in the upper levels of government-owned economic enterprises and were concentrated in health care, education, and service professions. The government restricted women from working in some dangerous and environmentally unsafe jobs.
The government did not acknowledge or address discrimination against women.
Children
The government took modest steps to address the welfare of children, including increased cooperation with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other international organizations on programs designed to improve children's health, and reinstatement in 2007 of the 10th year of mandatory schooling.
In 2007 the government initiated reforms in the higher education system, including extending university education to five years from two years under Niyazov and removal of the requirement that university students work for two years before embarking on a degree program. The government eased its restrictions for students wishing to study abroad, but significant bureaucratic hurdles remained and students had to pass a Turkmen language exam to obtain approval to study in some countries.
There were isolated reports of child abuse.
According to a 2006 UNICEF report, 9 percent of marriages involved minors.
Trafficking in Persons
In December 2007 parliament passed a comprehensive law prohibiting all forms of trafficking in persons. There were some reports that persons were trafficked to, from, and within the country.
Available information is insufficient to substantiate a specific number of victims in the country. There were reportedly approximately 20 trafficking cases during the year. Approximately 80 percent of the cases involved young women trafficked for sexual exploitation, and the other 20 percent involved men trafficked to work as laborers or in factories. Most of the persons were trafficked to Turkey. During the year the government continued to use the 2005 migration law to forbid suspected female trafficking victims from boarding planes to Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, considered the primary trafficking destination countries. Iran was also assumed to be a trafficking destination. NGOs noted that young women from minority ethnic groups were most vulnerable to being trafficked.
The International Organization for Migration assisted 20 trafficked persons with repatriation from Turkey in 2007. Traffickers were subject to two to eight years' imprisonment and the confiscation of property, depending upon the law under which they were convicted. During the year the State Migration Service became responsible for combating trafficking.
The MOJ worked with foreign embassies and international organizations to promote public awareness of trafficking. Some social action groups carried out trafficking awareness programs in the provinces. However, the government did not publicly acknowledge trafficking as a problem and did not monitor the trafficking situation within its borders, nor did it have a strategy to do so. The government did not systematically screen vulnerable population groups to identify trafficking victims.
The State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons Report can be found at www.state.gov/g/tip.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, and other state services; however, in practice disabled persons are regularly denied work, education, and access to health care and other state services because of strong cultural biases. Persons with disabilities encountered discrimination in employment, education, access to health care, and provision of other state services. The government systematically categorized many persons with physical disabilities as persons with mental disabilities and housed them in facilities for the mentally ill. The government provided subsidies and pensions for persons with disabilities, although the assistance was inadequate to maintain a decent standard of living. Persons with disabilities who received these subsidies were considered “employed" and therefore ineligible to compete for jobs in the government, the country's largest employer.
Some groups of students with disabilities were unable to obtain education because there were no teachers. Students with disabilities did not fit the unofficial university student profile and were not admitted to universities. Children with disabilities, including those with mental disabilities, were placed in boarding schools through which they were to be provided with educational and future employment opportunities if their condition allowed them to work; in practice neither was provided. Special schools for the hearing and sight impaired existed in the larger cities.
Although the law requires that new construction projects include facilities to allow access by persons with disabilities, compliance was inconsistent and older buildings were not accessible. The Ministry of Social Welfare was responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities.
National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities
The law provides for equal rights and freedoms for all citizens. Several minority groups tried to register as NGOs to have legal status to conduct cultural events. No minority groups succeeded in registering during the year.

The law designates Turkmen as the official language, although it also provides for the rights of speakers of minority languages. Russian remained prevalent in commerce and everyday life in the capital, even as the government continued its campaign to conduct official business solely in Turkmen. The government required ministry employees to pass tests demonstrating knowledge of the Ruhnama, state symbols, and professional subjects in Turkmen; employees who failed the exam were dismissed. The government systematically replaced teachers and staff at Turkish schools with ethnic Turkmen. Only in schools did the government dedicate resources toward providing Turkmen language instruction for non-Turkmen speakers.
Non-Turkmen speakers complained that some avenues for promotion and job advancement were closed to them, and only a handful of non-Turkmen occupied high-level jobs in government ministries. In some cases applicants for government jobs had to provide ethnicity information for three generations. The government often first targeted non Turkmen for dismissal when government layoffs occurred.

Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination

Homosexuality between men is illegal and punishable by up to two years in prison.

Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law provides for citizens to join independent unions, but in practice all existing trade and professional unions were government-controlled. Private citizens are not permitted to form independent unions.
The government permitted only the umbrella organization Center for Professional Unions (CPU). Led by a presidential appointee, the CPU included numerous professional unions in most fields, including medicine, construction, banking, accounting, economics, entrepreneurship, and lease-holding. All unions were government appendages and had no independent voice in their activities. There is no law regulating strikes or retaliation against strikers, and strikes were rare. In early June Deutsche Welle radio reported an unruly protest at an oil facility near Balkanabat. The protest, seeking higher wages to make up for exchange rate changes that devalued the dollar, was short-lived, and the MNB arrested approximately 60 employees.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law does not protect the right of collective bargaining.
The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination by employers against union members and organizers. There were no mechanisms for resolving complaints of discrimination, and there were no reports of discrimination.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children; however, there were reports such practices occurred.
A 2005 presidential decree bans child labor and states that no children would participate in the cotton harvest. During the year, the government reportedly implemented this policy.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
There are laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the workplace, but they were not effectively enforced. The minimum age for employment of children is 16 years; in a few heavy industries, it is 18 years. The law prohibits children between the ages of 16 and 18 years from working more than six hours per day. A 15 year-old may work four to six hours per day with parental and trade union permission, although such permission was rarely granted. The MOJ and the Prosecutor General's Office were responsible for enforcing child labor laws.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The state sector minimum monthly wage of 1.65 million manat (approximately $116) did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The government increased teachers' salaries by 40 percent at the beginning of the 2007 school year, however, and reduced their weekly hours of work from 35 to 24.
The standard legal work week is 40 hours with two days off. Most public sector employees also worked at least one-half day on Saturdays. The law states overtime or holiday pay should be double the regular payment. Maximum overtime in a year is 120 hours and cannot exceed four hours in two consecutive days; however, this law was not enforced.
The government did not set comprehensive standards for occupational health and safety. Industrial workers in older factories often labored in unsafe environments and were not provided proper protective equipment. Some agricultural workers were subjected to environmental health hazards. Workers did not always have the right to remove themselves from work situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their continued employment

http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/sca/119142.htm




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