Serious human rights violations continued unabated across the board, including arbitrary detentions and politically motivated convictions of anyone daring to criticize or challenge official policy. The authorities continued to exercise strict control over the flow of information and all media. Turkmenistan failed to take meaningful action to address climate change. Women and girls saw their rights and freedoms, including bodily autonomy, restricted further. Abortion was effectively banned. Consensual sex between men remained a criminal offence.
In March, Serdar Berdymukhamedov succeeded his father Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov as president following elections that were deemed neither fair nor free by international monitors. He failed to introduce any meaningful measures to address the deteriorating socio-economic, public health and climate change crisis.
Repression of dissent
The authorities continued their relentless campaign to stifle all forms of peaceful dissent and public criticism.
In May, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that the real reason for lawyer Pygamberdy Allaberdyev’s 2020 detention and subsequent six-year prison sentence for hooliganism was solely his peaceful exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and association. Pygamberdy Allaberdyev had been organizing a peaceful demonstration when he was detained by police for allegedly assaulting a customer in a bakery. His secret trial had lasted just two hours and he had been held incommunicado until his release in December under a presidential pardon.
The authorities also persisted in attempting to stop the peaceful protest of activists and citizens living abroad. In August, staff at the consulate of Turkmenistan in Istanbul, Türkiye, verbally and physically attacked five exiled Turkmenistani activists, their Turkish lawyer, and a Turkish human rights activist while they were trying to deliver a letter expressing their concern at the human rights situation in Turkmenistan. Atamurat Saparov, who sustained head injuries and needed first aid, and Dursoltan Taganova, were briefly detained by Turkish police.
Freedom of expression
The state controlled the flow of information, censoring any reporting on negative developments, such as economic hardship, shortages of essential food items, the impact of climate change, and Covid-19. Access to the internet was strictly limited to prevent people from receiving alternative information from abroad. Fergana Media reported in October that the authorities had blocked 1.2 billion IP addresses. Security services closely monitored the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) and proxy servers to clamp down on those who tried to circumvent state controls. They risked fines, detention and possible criminal prosecution.
Independent journalist Soltan Achilova, who previously worked with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, reported that security services were monitoring her closely and warning people she had interviewed about economic and social problems that she was working with organizations trying to undermine the state.
On 14 July, Members of the European Parliament, human rights defenders and independent journalists marked the first anniversary of the detention of medical doctor Khursanai Ismatullaeva, who had publicly protested her unfair dismissal, with a joint statement calling for her immediate release. Khursanai Ismatullaeva had been sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment on fabricated charges of fraud in 2021 following a blatantly unfair trial. She was punished after seeking the help of human rights defenders and independent journalists to expose her unfair dismissal. Khursanai Ismatullaeva was released under an amnesty in December.
Failure to tackle climate crisis
Despite a much-vaunted National Strategy on Climate Change introduced in 2012, Turkmenistan failed to implement laws and policies to phase out fossil fuels in a timely and effective manner, and only signed off on new NDCs in May. Turkmenistan continued to be one of the highest methane gas emitters in the world and continued to do little to fix leaks or address poor practices in oil and gas extraction. Data gathered on the International Space Station from July to October showed that Turkmenistan continued to be a “super-emitter”.
No substantive mitigation and human rights-approved adaptation measures were introduced to specifically address the impact of the climate change crisis on vulnerable groups, although Turkmenistan remained one of the countries in the world worst affected by rising temperatures and the resulting desertification of scarce arable land. In November, the UN Development Programme singled out women in rural areas of Turkmenistan as among those most at risk of being disproportionately impacted by climate change.
The authorities continued to discriminate against women and girls and LGBTI people, arbitrarily restricting their rights, freedoms and bodily autonomy in the name of cultural traditions and Turkmeniçilik (Turkmen national identity).
Women and Girls
In April, police started enforcing new rules preventing women from sitting in the front passenger seat of a car; they also raided beauty salons following internal government guidance banning women and girls from having certain treatments, such as eyelash and nail extensions and Botox injections. These instructions lacked legal clarity, discriminated on grounds of gender and were implemented arbitrarily by police.
Consensual sexual relations between men continued to be a criminal offence under Article 133 (previously Article 135) of the Criminal Code, punishable by up to two years in prison. No progress was noted on a commitment to review the article with a view to decriminalization, made by Turkmenistan in its Third Period Report to the UN Human Rights Committee in 2020.
Sexual and reproductive rights
In April, the authorities published a law, first passed in 2015 but never previously made public, restricting access to abortion to the first five weeks of pregnancy, down from 12 weeks. This effectively banned abortions since pregnancies are rarely discovered at such an early stage. Reproductive health campaigners expressed fears that women and girls would be forced into unwanted pregnancies or illegal, unsafe terminations. A 2021 study by the UN Population Fund on reproductive rights in Turkmenistan found that 60% of women could not make autonomous decisions on contraception and pregnancy. National media continued to strengthen gender-based stereotypes, extolling the role of women as wives and mothers, subordinate to their husbands.