Freedom in the World 2017 - Turkmenistan

Freedom Status: 
Not Free
Political Rights: 
Civil Liberties: 
Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 

Turkmenistan is a highly repressive authoritarian state where citizens’ political rights and civil liberties are almost completely denied in practice. Saparmurat Niyazov, the president of Turkmenistan from independence until his death in 2006, created a pervasive personality cult, and his successor, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, has sought to replace it with his own. Elections in Turkmenistan are controlled by the state, ensuring nearly unanimous victories for the president and his party. Corruption is systemic, religious groups and minorities are persecuted, and political dissent is not tolerated. Numerous political prisoners remain behind bars or unaccounted for, and reports of torture and other human rights abuses are common.

Key Developments in 2016: 
  • In September, the legislature adopted constitutional revisions that removed the age limit of 70 for presidential candidates and increased presidential terms from five years to seven.
  • Changes to the law on religion enacted in March raised new obstacles for religious groups seeking registration. Activities by unregistered groups are considered illegal.
  • Journalists and others who disseminated information about the economic situation faced harassment and violence, as authorities attempted to suppress evidence of hardship associated with low global energy prices. 
Executive Summary: 

President Berdimuhamedov took a number of steps to reinforce his control over the state during 2016, apparently motivated by the worsening economic situation. With persistently low oil and gas prices driving down export revenues, there were reports of unpaid wages and food shortages across the country.

In September, the parliament enacted constitutional changes that removed the age ceiling of 70 for presidential candidates and extended presidential terms from five years to seven. The revisions meant that Berdimuhamedov, still just 59, could continue to seek reelection indefinitely and would not have to renew his mandate as often. The next presidential election was due in 2017. Meanwhile, the president also moved to bolster the position of his son, Serdar Berdimuhamedov. He was appointed as deputy minister of foreign affairs in July and won a parliament seat in a November by-election that received virtually no media coverage.

Also during the year, the president arbitrarily dismissed cabinet ministers and many local officials, and eliminated both the Ministry of Oil and Gas and the State Agency for Managing Hydrocarbon Resources in July, citing corruption and poor performance. The moves were seen as part of an effort to cut expenses, maintain presidential dominance, and shift blame for the economic crisis.

State authorities continued to limit the availability of independent information, harass and imprison critics and their relatives, and persecute ethnic minorities and religious groups. In March the president signed legislation that tightened restrictions on religious freedom, in part by raising the membership threshold for registration of a religious group from 5 to 50. Only registered religious groups are able to operate legally.

Local journalists working with U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Turkmen-language service faced persistent harassment during the year. For example, Soltan Achilova was questioned by police, then assaulted by unknown attackers who seized her camera, after taking photographs of a supermarket queue in October. She was threatened and assaulted again later in the year. Another contributor to the news service who had reported on the economic situation, Khudayberdy Allashov, was arrested along with his mother in December when police raided his home and beat him. They were charged with possessing illegal chewing tobacco and remained in detention at year’s end.

Among other hostile acts against family members of government critics, the brother of exiled dissident journalist Chary Annamuradov was kidnapped and beaten to death in September.

Political Rights

Political Rights 0 / 40

A. Electoral Process 0 / 12

A1. Is the head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
A2. Are the national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
A3. Are the electoral laws and framework fair?


B. Political Pluralism and Participation 0 / 16

B1. Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system open to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
B2. Is there a significant opposition vote and a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
B3. Are the people’s political choices free from domination by the military, foreign powers, totalitarian parties, religious hierarchies, economic oligarchies, or any other powerful group?
B4. Do cultural, ethnic, religious, or other minority groups have full political rights and electoral opportunities?


C. Functioning of Government 0 / 12

C1. Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
C2. Is the government free from pervasive corruption?
C3. Is the government accountable to the electorate between elections, and does it operate with openness and transparency?


Civil Liberties

Civil Liberties 4 / 60

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief 1 / 16

D1. Are there free and independent media and other forms of cultural expression?
D2. Are religious institutions and communities free to practice their faith and express themselves in public and private?
D3. Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free of extensive political indoctrination?
D4. Is there open and free private discussion?


E. Associational and Organizational Rights 0 / 12

E1. Is there freedom of assembly, demonstration, and open public discussion?
E2. Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations?
E3. Are there free trade unions and peasant organizations or equivalents, and is there effective collective bargaining? Are there free professional and other private organizations?


F. Rule of Law 0 / 16

F1. Is there an independent judiciary?
F2. Does the rule of law prevail in civil and criminal matters? Are police under direct civilian control?
F3. Is there protection from political terror, unjustified imprisonment, exile, or torture, whether by groups that support or oppose the system? Is there freedom from war and insurgencies?
F4. Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?


G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights 3 / 16

G1. Do individuals enjoy freedom of travel or choice of residence, employment, or institution of higher education?
G2. Do individuals have the right to own property and establish private businesses? Is private business activity unduly influenced by government officials, the security forces, political parties/organizations, or organized crime?
G3. Are there personal social freedoms, including gender equality, choice of marriage partners, and size of family?
G4. Is there equality of opportunity and the absence of economic exploitation?


Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)
X = Score Received
Y = Best Possible Score
Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology

Explanatory Note: 

This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Turkmenistan, see Freedom in the World 2016.