Turkmenistan is a repressive authoritarian state where political rights and civil liberties are almost completely denied in practice. Elections are tightly controlled, ensuring nearly unanimous victories for the president and his supporters. The economy is dominated by the state, corruption is systemic, religious groups are persecuted, and political dissent is not tolerated.
- Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, having held presidential office for 15 years, announced in February he would resign. His son, Serdar Berdimuhamedov, was elected president in March with nearly 73 percent of the vote, beating out eight other candidates who observers deemed noncompetitive. There were reports of widespread electoral law violations and that state workers were forced to vote in favor of Serdar Berdimuhamedov.
- Restrictions that entered into force in April significantly curtailed people’s social freedoms, particularly women’s. The new rules banned women from wearing tight clothes, dyeing their hair, and wearing certain accessories. Cosmetic surgery has been outlawed, male drivers of private cars are no longer allowed to have nonfamily female passengers, and women may not ride in the front seat of a car.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
The president is directly elected for an unlimited number of seven-year terms, extended from five years under a 2016 constitutional revision. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, having held presidential office for 15 years, announced in February 2022 he would resign. His son, Serdar Berdimuhamedov, was elected in March with nearly 73 percent of the vote, beating out eight other candidates who observers considered noncompetitive. There were reports of widespread electoral law violations and that state workers were forced to vote in favor of Serdar Berdimuhamedov.
Despite stepping down, the Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov continues to influence decision-making through his position as chairman of the People’s Council of Turkmenistan (Khalk Maslahaty).
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
The bicameral parliament, the National Council of Turkmenistan (Milli Geňeş), includes a lower chamber, the Mejlis, as well as an upper chamber, the 56-seat People’s Council of Turkmenistan.
The Mejlis is composed of 125 members directly elected from individual districts to serve five-year terms. Elections to the Mejlis are tightly controlled by the state and feature no genuine competition from opposition candidates. In the illegitimate 2018 elections, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT) won 55 seats, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and the Agrarian Party each took 11, and candidates nominated by groups of citizens secured 48. The government claimed voter turnout was approximately 92 percent.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||0.000 4.004|
The legal framework for elections is neither fair nor impartially implemented. The Central Election Commission (CEC) is appointed by the president and operates with little transparency. The law allows virtually no opportunity for independent fundraising or campaigning.
Constitution and electoral code amendments in 2016 removed the upper age limit of 70 for presidential candidates, extended the presidential term from five to seven years, and eliminated the right of public associations to nominate presidential candidates.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||0.000 4.004|
The party system is dominated by the ruling DPT and controlled by the executive branch. The 2012 law on political parties specified the legal basis for citizens to form independent parties, but barred parties formed on professional, regional, or religious lines, and those created by government officials. Nevertheless, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov subsequently announced plans to form two new groups—the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs and the Agrarian Party. Both were then openly organized by sitting members of the DPT and formally registered in 2012 and 2014, respectively. The Agrarian Party won its first parliamentary seats in 2018.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||0.000 4.004|
Turkmenistan has never experienced a peaceful transfer of power between rival parties through elections. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov had served in the government of his late predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, who in turn had ruled the country since before its independence from the Soviet Union. In March 2022, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s son, Serdar, took over as President. The Soviet-era Communist Party became the DPT in 1991 and remains in power to date. All genuine opposition groups operate either illegally or in exile.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||0.000 4.004|
The authoritarian political system offers voters no meaningful alternatives to the ruling party. At an informal level, politics within the regime are thought to be influenced by regional patronage networks, or “clans,” that control different parts of the state and economy.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||0.000 4.004|
Members of the ethnic Turkmen majority and the president’s tribal subdivision are favored for leadership positions. While women and members of ethnic or religious minority groups formally have full political rights, no segment of the country’s population enjoys the practical ability to engage in independent political activity. About a quarter of candidates elected to the Mejlis in 2018 were women.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||0.000 4.004|
The president, who is not freely elected, has ultimate decision-making authority. The executive branch determines laws and policies with no meaningful input or oversight from the rubber-stamp legislature, which mainly serves to endorse the president’s decrees and policies.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||0.000 4.004|
There are no independent institutions tasked with combating corruption, which is widespread in Turkmenistan. Anticorruption bodies have allegedly been used to extort revenue from wealthy officials and businesspeople. Crackdowns on corruption are typically selective and related to conflicts within the ruling elite.
Genuine checks on nepotism and conflicts of interest are lacking. Corruption is widespread across the public sector. Fourteen officials in Ashgabat and Ahal province were convicted in May 2022 on corruption and embezzlement charges for selling food stuffs, which had been slated as rations for the general population, to private businesses at a higher price.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||0.000 4.004|
Decisions on monetary policy, large-scale contracts with foreign companies, and the allocation of state profits from hydrocarbon exports are largely opaque and ultimately controlled by the president, without effective legal limits or independent oversight. Government officials and state-owned companies are not required to disclose their basic financial information to the public.
As in 2020 and 2021, the government continued to deny the presence of the COVID-19 virus in Turkmenistan throughout 2022, despite their implementation of a nationwide quarantine to prevent the spread of respiratory disease in January, and after lifting restrictions, instituting the measures again in July.
|Are there free and independent media?||0.000 4.004|
Press freedom is severely restricted. The state controls nearly all broadcast and print media, and the state-run internet service provider blocks websites that carry independent news coverage or opposition-oriented content. Some citizens access foreign satellite broadcasts, but the government continues efforts to remove receivers from houses in the countryside.
Independent journalists, particularly those affiliated with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), experience harassment, detention, physical abuse, and prosecution on trumped-up charges. Turkmenistani authorities have continued to detain Turkmen.news correspondent Nurgeldy Halykov, who was imprisoned in September 2020 on false charges after sharing a photo of a World Health Organization (WHO) delegation in Ashgabat. Halykov has been held in isolation cells on three occasions, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||0.000 4.004|
Legal restrictions, state monitoring and harassment, and the risk of penalties including fines and imprisonment have virtually extinguished the ability of individuals to freely practice religion. A 2016 law on religion maintained existing bans on religious activity outside state control, imposed a higher membership threshold for the registration of religious groups, and required all registered groups to reapply for registration. Senior Muslim clerics are appointed by the government, and Muslims who do not follow the officially approved interpretation of Islam are subject to persecution, including lengthy prison terms.
Members of unregistered religious minority groups continue to face raids, beatings, and other forms of harassment. Turkmenistanis who conscientiously object to compulsory military service for religious reasons risk imprisonment.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||0.000 4.004|
The government places significant restrictions on academic freedom, limiting research on politically sensitive topics and imposing onerous obstacles to the recognition of degrees from foreign institutions. Curriculums in schools and universities are controlled by the government.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||0.000 4.004|
Private discussion and the expression of personal views are highly restricted due to intrusive supervision by state security services, including physical surveillance, monitoring of telephone and electronic communications, and the use of informers. Users often face disruption to the Internet, and Turkmen.news reported in October 2022 that as many as one-third of all internet protocol (IP) addresses were blocked in the country.
In recent years, the government has employed increasingly sophisticated methods to monitor the population. Authorities have reportedly used special software to eavesdrop on voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calls, operate computer cameras remotely, and record keystrokes. Social media users who post critical comments about the government are subject to intimidation and imprisonment, and restrictions on social media sites, cloud storage services, and VPNs have intensified. In January 2022, RFE/RL reported that then-president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov ordered the National Security Ministry to clamp down on people posting on social networks who are critical of the government—people he framed as promoting terrorism and extremism.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||0.000 4.004|
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, and the 2015 Law on Assemblies defines the right of individuals and groups to hold peaceful gatherings with prior authorization. However, the law grants officials broad discretion to block assemblies, and the authorities do not allow organized antigovernment demonstrations. In February 2022, a rare protest took place in Bayramaly, Mary Province, after police sought to dismantle a temporary informal bazaar, which had gone up after COVID-19 restrictions shut the central bazaar. The authorities eventually gave in to the protesters’ demands and allowed the bazaar to remain in place.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||0.000 4.004|
Onerous registration and regulatory requirements effectively prevent most independent nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from operating legally or receiving foreign funding, and activities by unregistered groups can draw fines, detention, and other penalties. Individual activists face intimidation and harassment, as do the family members of human rights activists working in exile.
Turkmenistani activists who live abroad have also faced pressure. In August 2022, two Turkmenistani human rights activists living in Turkey were beaten trying to deliver a letter to Turkmenistan’s president at the consulate in Istanbul., A similar incident took place in August 2021, when a Turkmenistani activist was also beaten inside the Istanbul consulate.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||0.000 4.004|
Workers have a legal right to join trade unions, but there are no protections against antiunion discrimination, and strikes are prohibited. The government-controlled Association of Trade Unions of Turkmenistan is the only union organization permitted to operate.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||0.000 4.004|
The judicial system is subservient to the president, who appoints and dismisses judges unilaterally. In practice, the courts are commonly used to punish dissent and remove potential threats to the president’s political dominance.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||0.000 4.004|
Arbitrary arrests and detentions are common, particularly for dissidents, members of unapproved religious groups, activists, and journalists who work with foreign organizations. The authorities frequently deny defendants’ basic rights of due process, including public trials and access to defense attorneys.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||0.000 4.004|
Prison conditions are extremely harsh, and security forces routinely use torture to extract confessions or punish inmates, which can result in deaths in custody. Turkmenistanis are also subject to enforced disappearances. Physical abuse and hazing in the military have reportedly led to several deaths among conscripts in recent years. In February 2022, the Analytical Center for Central Asia Media (ACCA Media) reported that about 100 people were detained in one week in the capital Ashgabat. They were placed in the Zhitnikovo temporary detention center where they were tortured and assaulted.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||0.000 4.004|
Employment and education opportunities for members of non-Turkmen ethnic minorities are limited by the government’s promotion of the Turkmen national identity, and activists who advocate for minority rights have faced persecution. Traditional social and religious norms help to restrict women’s access to education and economic opportunity; there are no legal protections against sexual harassment in the workplace.
The law does not protect LGBT+ people from discrimination, and sexual activity between men can be punished with up to two years in prison.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||0.000 4.004|
Freedom of movement is restricted, with frequent reports of individuals being barred from traveling abroad; officials are reportedly instructed to prevent citizens under the age of 40 from leaving the country. The government is known to prohibit the families of dissidents and prisoners from leaving. Internal passports and a residency permit system also obstruct travel within the country.
Additional restrictions on the freedom of movement were imposed in January and July 2022 ostensibly in response to outbreaks of COVID-19, though the government denies the presence of the coronavirus in the country.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||1.001 4.004|
The constitution establishes the right to property ownership, but the deeply flawed judiciary provides little protection to businesses and individuals, and the president’s relatives monopolize key sectors of the economy that are not directly state controlled. Arbitrary evictions and confiscation of property are common.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||1.001 4.004|
Domestic violence is reportedly common, but few victims file complaints with the authorities, and the government has not made significant efforts to monitor, prevent, or combat the problem. Reporting and prosecution of rape are similarly limited. While polygamy has long been illegal, it apparently persists in practice.
Restrictions that entered into force in April 2022 significantly curtailed people’s social freedoms, particularly women’s. The new rules banned women from wearing tight clothes, dyeing their hair, and wearing certain accessories. Cosmetic surgery has been outlawed, male drivers of private cars are no longer allowed to have nonfamily female passengers, and women may not ride in the front seat of a car. There have been reports of couples being detained for holding hands in the city of Mary. There were also reports of women losing their jobs for having undertaken cosmetic surgery and being refused aboard a flight because of their appearance and their use of cosmetics.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||0.000 4.004|
The government forces thousands of students, public employees, and other citizens to participate in the annual cotton harvest with little or no pay. Impoverished residents of rural areas are especially vulnerable to trafficking abroad for forced labor or sexual exploitation, and the government does little to address the problem.
The state’s mismanagement of a weak economy, including soaring inflation, has inhibited opportunity and imposed hardships on the population. Persistently low oil and gas prices have driven down vital export revenues in recent years, leading to reports of unpaid wages and shortages of basic goods. Basic food stuffs are reportedly being rationed and people caught buying more than their allotted shared of bread have been threatened by the police with a penalty of 15 days in prison.
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Global Freedom Score2 100 not free