Human rights did not improve, despite a National Human Rights Action Plan for 2016-2020 launched in April. Independent civil society organizations could not operate freely. Turkmenistan remained closed to independent human rights monitors. Freedoms of expression, association and religion were heavily restricted and limits on freedom of movement were retained. Sex between men remained a criminal offence.
Freedom of expression
Media remained subject to state control and no independent media outlets were able to operate. The authorities continued to harass and intimidate journalists, including those based outside Turkmenistan.
Freelance journalist Saparmamed Nepeskuliev remained in prison. He had reported on corruption and was convicted in August 2015 on drug-related offences.
Access to the internet was monitored and restricted; social networking sites were frequently blocked.
The government continued to use forced labour in the cotton-picking industry, one of the largest in the world. To harvest the cotton, local authorities compel public sector workers, including teachers, medical staff and civil servants, to pick and to meet individual government-set quotas or risk losing their jobs. Children often help their parents meeting the quotas. The ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations urged Turkmenistan to end practices that give rise to forced labour in the cotton industry.
Legal, constitutional or institutional developments
A law to establish a Human Rights Commissioner (Ombudsman) was still under development.
A new Constitution was adopted on 16 September. It extended the presidential tenure to seven years and removed a previous presidential age limit.
The whereabouts of prisoners who were subjected to enforced disappearance after an alleged assassination attempt on then President Saparmurat Niyazov in 2002 remained unknown.
Freedom of religion and belief
In the town of Dashoguz, bearded men under 50 years were detained and questioned about their religious beliefs and practices, and some were forcibly shaved, according to the Alternative Turkmenistan News service.
The new Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations was signed into law in March. It retained an earlier ban on exercising freedom of religion and belief with others without state permission. Under the new law, religious groups need to have 50 founding members to register, rather than five, as stipulated in the previous law.
Conscientious objectors faced criminal prosecution. Forum 18, a human rights organization promoting religious freedom, reported that a young Jehovah’s Witness was sentenced to corrective labour for refusing to perform his military service.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Former prisoners told Alternative Turkmenistan News about poor prison conditions and treatment in detention amounting to torture and other ill-treatment. According to these accounts, prison officers beat prisoners and forced them to stand outside for long periods in high temperatures. Prison officers also practised extortion. Prisons were overcrowded and prisoners not provided with adequate food. Some prisoners had to sleep on the floor or in the prison yard. Tuberculosis rates were high and infected prisoners did not always receive appropriate treatment.
Reports continued to be received on the use of torture or ill-treatment by law enforcement officers to force detainees to “confess” and incriminate others. Activist Mansur Mingelov remained in prison. He was convicted in 2012 after an unfair trial for drug offences after publicizing information on torture and other ill-treatment of Baloch ethnic community members in Mary province.
Turkmenistan remained closed to international scrutiny and rejected or failed to respond to requests from the UN Special Rapporteurs to visit the country.
Freedom of movement
Citizens have not needed “exit visas” to leave the country since 2006. But arbitrary restrictions on the right to travel abroad remained in practice: they targeted, among others, relatives of people accused of involvement in the alleged attempt to assassinate President Niyazov in 2002, relatives of members of the opposition resident abroad, as well as civil society activists, students, journalists and former migrant workers.