The right to freedom of expression remained severely restricted. Torture and other ill-treatment was committed in pre-trial detention and prisons, sometimes resulting in death. There was no attempt to address enforced disappearances and incommunicado detention. The right to housing was widely violated. Consensual same-sex relations between men remained a criminal offence.
In February, President Berdymukhamedov was re-elected for a further seven-year term with 98% of the vote; the OSCE Election Assessment Mission found “serious irregularities”. The economic crisis in the country deepened, and in June the President asked the Parliament to prepare an austerity proposal to cut benefits, including free gas and electricity supplies. There were reports that employees in state-run enterprises were not receiving their salaries; and there were shortages of cash.
Legal, constitutional or institutional developments
In March, the Parliament elected the first Human Rights Commissioner (Ombudsperson) from a list provided by the President, calling into question the independence of the institution and its compliance with the UN Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions.
Freedom of expression
There was no independent media and the few independent journalists – typically working in secret for outlets based abroad – faced harassment and arrest.
On 15 February, independent journalist Khudayberdy Allashov and his mother Kurbantach Arazmedova were released, after being given three-year conditional sentences for possessing chewing tobacco. They had been in detention since 3 December 2016; there were allegations that they had been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.
In March, the EU and the OSCE called for the immediate release of freelance journalist Saparmamed Nepeskuliev who was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in 2015 on drug charges. He was believed to be suffering from life-threatening health conditions.
In April, the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern over, among other things, the absence of an independent media, undue restrictions on access to the internet, and the use of politically motivated charges against journalists and others expressing criticism of the government.
Torture and other ill-treatment
In January, the UN Committee against Torture noted its concern at “consistent allegations of widespread torture and ill-treatment, including severe beatings, of persons deprived of their liberty, especially at the moment of apprehension and during pre-trial detention, mainly in order to extract confessions”.
In February, 18 men were convicted under various articles of the Criminal Code and sentenced to between five and 12 years’ imprisonment for their suspected links to Turkmen-Turkish schools understood to have been previously affiliated to Fethullah Gülen. The men were allegedly tortured and held in inhumane conditions in pre-trial detention. A 19th man detained at the same time was thought to have died as a result of torture. The trial held at the pre-trial detention centre in the town of Yashlyk, Ahal Province, reportedly fell far short of international standards of fairness.
Deaths in custody
Alternative Turkmenistan News reported that on 24 June the body of Aziz Gafurov was delivered to his family in the village of Urgendzhi, near Turkmenabat. An eyewitness described the body as emaciated and covered in bruises. Aziz Gafurov was one of dozens of practising Muslims who were sentenced in recent years for conspiracy to overthrow the state, violent calls to overthrow the constitutional order, and incitement of social, national and religious enmity.
The fate and whereabouts of at least 80 prisoners subjected to enforced disappearance after an alleged assassination attempt on then President Saparmurat Niyazov in November 2002 remained unclarified.
The bodies of three former senior state officials, who were forcibly disappeared following their arrest and criminal prosecution in connection with the assassination attempt, were delivered to their relatives in the course of the year. Tirkish Tyrmyev reportedly died on 13 January; Bairam Khasanov died in May; and on 18 August, the Russian NGO Human Rights Centre Memorial reported that Akmurad Redzhepov had died on 10 August.
On 26 January, the EU Delegation to the International Organizations in Vienna published a statement expressing concern about Tirkish Tyrmyev’s death and called on Turkmenistan to immediately and effectively address and eradicate enforced disappearances.
Right to housing and forced evictions
Reports continued of mass house demolitions and forced evictions in connection with construction and development projects, including those implemented in preparation for the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games that were held in September. On 21 February, a group of women gathered in Ashgabat to demand the alternative housing that they had been denied due to the lack of documentation confirming ownership of their demolished homes. The authorities had not issued them with such documents because many of the women were not registered in Ashgabat.
Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people
Consensual same-sex relations between men remained a criminal offence punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment. LGBTI people were subjected to discrimination including violence, arbitrary arrests and detention.