Civil society activists were imprisoned after unfair trials and were held incommunicado. Journalists and their families were intimidated and prevented from carrying out their work. There was pervasive impunity for police, security services and other government authorities.
Discrimination against ethnic minorities continued.
Delegates from the EU visited the capital Ashgabad in April and again in June for the first of a series of “human rights dialogues” with the government. In April, pressure on human rights activists intensified, including on Turkmenistani activists in exile. Independent observers, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), continued to be denied access to prisoners and prisoners’ families.
In September, a new Constitution was approved by the People’s Council, which increased the President’s power but was also said to broaden the role of parliament.
"...the authorities launched a new wave of repression against independent civil society activists..."
Repression of dissent
- Social activist and possible prisoner of conscience Valeri Pal was sentenced to 12 years in prison in February for stealing property from his workplace. His supporters believe the case against him was fabricated to punish him for his contacts with human rights defenders abroad, and that the trial was unfair. He had a stroke in 2004, leaving him partially paralysed, and had other serious health concerns. In September, he suffered a heart attack in prison. Afterwards, his wife said that he had great difficulty speaking. There was serious concern about his access to medical treatment. Valeri Pal was released on 7 December from prison in the city of Mary under a presidential amnesty decree.
- Former political dissident Gulgeldy Annaniyazov was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment on 7 October after a closed trial before a court in Ashgabad. It was not known under which provisions he had been charged. Gulgeldy Annaniyazov had left the country in 1999, and lived in Norway where he had been granted refugee status. He returned to Turkmenistan in June 2008 and was arrested on 24 June. He continued to be held incommunicado at the end of the year.
- The family of Boris Shikhmuradov, Minister of Foreign Affairs under former President Niyazov, has had no contact with him since late December 2002 and his whereabouts remained unknown. Boris Shikhmuradov was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment in a closed trial earlier in December 2002. The People’s Council increased his sentence the following day to life imprisonment.
Prisoners of conscience
- Human rights defenders Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khadzhiev continued to serve seven-year prison terms for “illegal acquisition, possession or sale of ammunition or firearms” imposed in August 2006 following an unfair trial. They were both associated with the NGO Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) reported in August 2006 that government sources had told the OSCE that Annakurban Amanklychev was detained for “illegal collection of information in order to encourage public dissatisfaction” and “transmitting materials to foreign citizens”. Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khadzhiev were tried along with Ogulsapar Muradova, a correspondent with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. She died in custody in disputed circumstances in September 2006.
Freedom of expression
The authorities increased access to the internet, but also took steps to more effectively block websites featuring articles about human rights violations and criticizing government policies.
In April the authorities launched a new wave of repression against independent civil society activists and journalists, intimidating individuals and their families. The authorities said they wished to identify contributors, some of whom used pseudonyms, to foreign media outlets and NGOs based outside the country. In November, all the mobile phones of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty contributors were blocked.
- On 3 April Gurbansultan Achilova was summoned to the Ministry of National Security in Ashgabad. She was told she had to sign a letter stating that she would stop her work for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty until the authorities issued her with accreditation. The radio station attempted to confirm her accreditation without success. Without accreditation, Gurbansultan Achilova was liable to arrest if she continued working as a journalist.
- Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev, a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty contributor, reported in May that since 2006 he had been visited by doctors of the psychiatric hospital of Balkan region and officers of the Ministry of National Security many times, urging him to go to the hospital for psychiatric check-ups. He had been forcibly confined in psychiatric hospitals from 2004 to 2006. In April 2008 his house was sprayed with intimidating graffiti, and burning bottles were thrown onto his veranda. He believed the intention was to discourage him from co-operating with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and from complaining to the authorities about local social and economic problems.
During the year the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights published a series of articles on its website accusing President Berdymukhamedov of nepotism. The website also carried reports and articles about human rights violations in Turkmenistan and provided a critical commentary on government policies and practices. The President reportedly ordered that access to this website be blocked in Turkmenistan and that those contributing to the website be identified.
Housing rights – ‘propiska’
“Propiska” – the system of registering the place of permanent residence – continued to restrict people’s rights to access to housing, employment, social benefits, health care and education. The system had also become a breeding ground for corruption as many of its regulations could be bypassed by paying bribes. “Propiska” continued to be used by the authorities to deter people from moving around the country, especially to the capital, to find work. Moving without a “propiska” to live with another family member in order to share accommodation would result in the relative losing access to employment or social benefits such as pension payments. The threat of losing a “propiska” was used by the police and security services to prevent people complaining of ill-treatment by police.
Discrimination against ethnic minorities continued and was manifested clearly through restricted access to work and higher education. The policy of checking people’s Turkmen origin up to the third generation continued, and meant that there were no members of ethnic minorities among ministers, directors or deputies of regional or district administrations. The three-generation check also applied to those applying to institutions of higher education. There were a few exceptional cases where members of ethnic minorities or people with a non-Turkmen relative were admitted to university, but this would reportedly only occur if a bribe was paid or the person was well connected.
Amnesty International reportsCentral Asia: Summary of Human Rights Concerns, March 2007-March 2008 (9 April 2008)
Turkmenistan: No effective human rights reform (23 June 2008)