Amnesty International Report 2015/16 - The State of the World's Human Rights - Turkmenistan

No improvement in the human rights situation was visible in 2015, and the country remained closed to independent human rights monitors. In January, the government announced plans to introduce a human rights Ombudsman. It remained impossible for independent civil society organizations to operate freely. Freedoms of expression and association were heavily restricted, and many people faced limits on their freedom of movement. Forced evictions were reported. Sex between men remained a criminal offence.

Freedom of expression

Although the principles of media independence and prohibition of state interference in media activities were enshrined in law in 2013, in practice the media remained subject to extensive state censorship and no independent newspapers or other media outlets were able to operate. The authorities continued to use harassment, intimidation and, in at least one case, imprisonment to attempt to silence journalists. Freelance journalist Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, who had reported on corruption for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and the Alternative Turkmenistan News service, was detained on 7 July and held incommunicado for over a month. Although unofficial sources told his family he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment on drug-related offences on 31 August, it was widely believed he was targeted for his journalism work.1 Correspondents for RFE/RL continued to be denied accreditation; they were frequently harassed, intimidated and even threatened with imprisonment.

Access to foreign media and other information sources outside the country was further restricted. During the first half of the year, residents in the capital, Ashgabat, and in other towns and cities were forced by local housing authorities as part of an official campaign to remove and destroy privately installed satellite dishes, blocking their access to foreign media outlets. Access to the internet was monitored and restricted, with social networking sites frequently blocked.

People who attempted to protest against forced evictions near Ashgabat were intimidated, threatened and, in some cases, detained.

Freedom of religion

Religious practices were tightly controlled, particularly those of religious minorities such as the Armenian Apostolic Christians, Catholics, Protestants and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Under the Code of Administrative Offences, religious groups must register with the state, and if refused registration they must publicize that they are banned. Forum 18, a Norwegian human rights organization that monitors freedom of religion, thought, conscience and belief, reported that a Jehovah’s Witness had been convicted of “inciting religious hatred” and sentenced to four years in prison. He was arrested during a meeting for worship that he had organized in his home.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Ongoing reports indicated that people were still being tortured or otherwise ill-treated by members of law enforcement agencies to extract “confessions” and incriminate others. Activist Mansur Mingelov remained in prison, following his conviction in an unfair trial for drug offences. He had publicized information that members of the Baloch ethnic community were tortured and ill-treated in Mary province in 2012.

Enforced disappearances

The whereabouts of prisoners who were subjected to enforced disappearance after an alleged assassination attempt against then President Saparmurat Niyazov in 2002 remained unknown. The authorities did not respond to a request made in June during the EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue to provide relevant information. For 13 years, the families of those detained have not received any information about their whereabouts or wellbeing.

Freedom of movement

The requirement for citizens to obtain “exit visas” to leave the country was abolished in 2006, but arbitrary restrictions on the right to travel abroad still remained in practice. In numerous cases, individuals discovered they were subject to a travel ban at the point when they tried to leave the country. In July, the daughter of exiled parliamentarian Pirimkuli Tanrykuliev was prevented from travelling to Turkey with her two children; passport control officials stamped their passports with a statement saying they were banned from leaving the country.

After numerous attempts over several years, former prisoner Geldy Kyarizov was allowed to travel to Russia for specialist medical treatment and to join his wife, as were other members of his family. Since his release from prison in 2007, Geldy Kyarizov had been repeatedly prevented from doing so. Members of his family accompanying him on these occasions were subject to intimidation and physical violence, including a suspicious car accident in August – similar to a previous incident involving his daughter in early 2014 – which authorities refused to investigate.

Housing rights – forced evictions

Thousands of people lost their homes in forced evictions and demolitions in and around Ashgabat. Houses were demolished, reportedly to make way for building works linked to the forthcoming 5th Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, due to take place in 2017, and as part of wider city redevelopment programmes.2

Estimates indicated that around 50,000 people were forcibly evicted in the worst affected area, Choganly neighbourhood, north of Ashgabat. Analysis of high-resolution satellite imagery confirmed that nearly half of the 10,000 houses and other residential structures in Choganly had been demolished by 28 April; later reports indicated that by September the entire neighbourhood had been demolished. Residents were neither consulted about alternatives to eviction nor provided with different or temporary accommodation. The government claimed that because some houses in Choganly were intended as holiday homes (dachas) and other houses were built illegally, their owners or occupiers were not entitled to compensation, alternative accommodation or land.3

  1. Turkmenistan: Freelance journalist’s whereabouts unknown: Saparmamed Nepeskuliev (EUR 61/2229/2015)
  2. Turkmenistan: Hundreds of families facing forced evictions (EUR 61/1521/2015)
  3. Deprived of homes, deprived of rights: Uncovering evidence of mass forced evictions and house demolitions in Turkmenistan (EUR 61/2693/2015)