Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 0.60 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 1.04 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
1 100 Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic. See the methodology.

header1 Executive Summary

In 2017, personalist, one-man authoritarianism tightened its grip on Turkmenistan. In February, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov was reelected for the third time with 97.69 percent of votes, even though he was competing against eight other candidates. Later in the year, the president downgraded the parliament by making the People’s Council, which had been abolished in 2008 as part of token democratizing reforms, the highest representative institution. This allows Berdimuhamedov to have more personal control over the council, since he can nominate its members and decide how often it meets and what issues are discussed. Berdimuhamedov had sought to be seen a reformer when he assumed office, but after 10 years in power the president seems comfortable with his cult of personality, splashing public funds on buying himself new race cars, building a golf course, cladding the capital city in white marble, constructing an expensive new airport with low passenger traffic, and hosting image-building international events.

Turkmenistan is in the midst of one of the worst economic crises in its independent history. Persistent low prices and limited buyers for the country’s oil and gas, coupled with the high costs associated with hosting the Asian Games, have driven Turkmenistan into a deep recession. In 2017, the cash-strapped regime was forced to cut costs and increase revenues. Government expenditure was cut by eliminating social benefits, increasing fees for gas, electricity, and water usage, raising fees for preschools by tenfold, pressuring kindergarten nursemaids to pay for children out of their own salaries, introducing tuition fees at specialized schools, ceasing to fund state TV and radio channels, forcefully subscribing public employees to newspapers, and much more. Since the government had limited time and means to raise revenues, it turned to its own people by requiring “voluntary” contributions from entrepreneurs, public sector employees, and government officials. Similarly, the government has also restricted sales of foreign currency and controlled cash withdrawals and bank payments. These restrictions were coupled with rising unemployment, increased commodity prices, shortage of basic food products, long lines in stores, and the closure of many local and international companies.

With surging social discontent, the regime in 2017 also reinforced harassment and reprisal of activists and independent journalists. Meanwhile, the Turkmen national media reported on fictitious economic prosperity, which did not reflect the local reality. They mentioned nothing about current economic hardships or about demonstrating mothers and farmers, who demanded that the government live up to its promises.

One of Berdimuhamedov’s obsessions in 2017 was hosting the Asian Indoor and Martial Art Games, which cost the state budget $7.23 billion, of which $2.23 billion was spent constructing a new international airport in the capital Ashgabat, and $5 billion for the Olympic village.1 The per capita cost of the event was above $1,000, a staggering figure considering that the minimum wage in Turkmenistan is $68 per month2 (using black market exchange rate). Through the event, Berdimuhamedov wanted to present Turkmenistan as a developed, progressive, technologically advanced, and talented country, but international media arrived more curious to cover the famously closed and isolated country than the event itself.

Turkmenistan not only is a police state or country of personality cult but also a country of selective lawlessness. Ordinary citizens cannot exercise their right to information, political participation, freedom of speech, or right to legal protection. They are not equal in front of the law. Those who have close ties to the president or his close associates enjoy immunity and make illegal earnings as they have the “protector” behind them. Extreme inequality and lack of legal ways to earn extra income incentivize many Turkmens to break laws; many people are engaged in corruption, either by taking bribes in return to favors or giving bribes to ease a bureaucratic hustle.3 Due to regular shuffles, government officials try to make as much money as possible while in their positions. The leadership allows, encourages, and requires officials to take bribes in order to pay up the pyramid to the officials’ patrons.

The economic crisis in Turkmenistan made it difficult for Berdimuhamedov to raise funds necessary to host the Games. By setting up an office for Combating Economic Crimes, the president initiated prosecutions against prominent businessmen and government officials who had fallen afoul of his regime. He was selective when seizing their assets, making them face criminal charges and being broadcasted as alleged perpetrators of corruption. However, in an opaque country like Turkmenistan, it is not clear how the recovered funds will be used.

The worsening socioeconomic uncertainties also alarmed Berdimuhamedov’s family, who have gained a lot of political and economic power over the president’s ten years in power. Berdimuhamedov’s five sisters control different profitable areas. After becoming the Executive Director of the National Red Crescent of Turkmenistan (NRCT), the president’s sister Gulnabat Dovletova turned the organization upside down by eliminating support to vulnerable groups, firing competent staff, violating the rights of her employees, and turning the organization into her money-making machine. Under NRCT she established several enterprises including two major pharmacies managed by her son-in-law Shamurad. The president’s nephews, meanwhile, control financial operations, Berkarar shopping mall, and Turkmentelecom, which recently became the monopoly communications provider.

Furthermore, in 2017 President Berdimuhamedov seems to have shifted his attention from his grandson to his son Serdar as the presumptive heir to the throne. He openly promoted his son Serdar to leadership roles and brought him to the spotlight. National media reported on Serdar leading the Turkmen delegation to Russia and giving out medals to winners during the Asian Games. In less than two months Serdar also received two titles–Honored Coach of Turkmenistan and the rank of lieutenant-colonel–along with a medal named after his grandfather.

Outlook for 2018: Turkmenistan is in deep economic recession and the state is running out of cash. In 2018, the Turkmen government will be further pressured to cut costs by ceasing state programs, ending social benefits, and introducing and increasing fees for state-provided services. These changes will primarily affect the general public, which has already started to show its discontent. The regime will also have to raise revenues to sustain its operations, propaganda machine, security services, and public sector employees. To do this, the government will tax local businesses as well as the regime officials who have fallen out of favor. Due to limited resources, Berdimuhamedov will have to be selective in terms of whose allegiance to buy and whose assets to confiscate. This gathering of funds will primarily affect those with significant wealth, such as businessmen and top-ranked officials. Although top government officials enjoy the riches and influence that come with their roles, they are perfectly aware their success could end with them fired, in jail, and moneyless. Internal and external forces can influence the situation in Turkmenistan. Internal factors include the growing discontent of the general public and impoverished high-ranking officials who are under tremendous pressure. Although the general public in Turkmenistan is very tolerant, the current crisis has affected their basic ability to provide for their families. Increased unemployment, rising prices, shortages of basic food, and increasing restrictions are driving people to despair. The current crisis has seen corruption increase as government officials need more money to afford the same level of comfort as before, while officials also face increased pressure to please the top leadership to avoid falling out of favor. Nevertheless, there is limited chance of either the public or government officials openly showing their discontent. Yet their grievances can affect the country externally by shedding light on the current crisis and political oppression in Turkmenistan. People are leaving the country in large numbers. On the one hand, this might leave Turkmenistan with only underage youth and old people, who are less likely to march in the streets. On the other hand, those who have left the country are more likely to influence politics from abroad. While overseas they share information including photos, videos, and testimonials with foreign media revealing true life in their country. In addition, there are many silent defectors within the government who are exposing the regime’s shortcomings through leaking information to foreign media. Both of these channels are growing due to mounting grievances. The persistence of the socioeconomic crisis, political oppression, and a combination of internal and external factors may influence politics in Turkmenistan in 2018.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 1.001 7.007
  • President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov is an eccentric dictator who dominates all branches of the government. In 2017, Turkmenistan drifted even further away from democracy, depriving its citizens of the means to participate in political processes and to keep their elected officials accountable. After being reelected to office for his third term, Berdimuhamedov eliminated even symbolic challengers to his power by revoking changes he introduced when he first stepped in to the presidential office. In February, he transformed the Council of Elders to the People's Council, or Halk Maslahaty, a body that was eliminated in 2008, to supposedly allow individuals from all layers of society to participate in the political process.1 It also shifted from being a merely consultative body with no legislative power to becoming the highest representative body, with greater powers than the parliament. The Council is headed by the president and includes elected and unelected officials, such as village elders, government officials, businessmen, and members of public associations. The Council meets only once a year, or at the request of the president. Decisions of the Council, which are made by simple majority, were often used to justify the president’s proposals, which later become laws.2 It can also adopt constitutional laws and issue decrees.3 The Council of Elders suggested that the president eliminate the provision of free gas, electricity, and water, and also approved the elimination of age restrictions for presidential candidates.
  • After having firmly established his authority, Berdimuhamedov became preoccupied with preparing his potential heir. The president supposedly has health problems, which might be the reason he shifted his attention from his grandson Kerimguly to his son Serdar, whom Berdimuhamedov has been pulling up on the leadership ladder.4 Although little was known about Serdar, this changed significantly during last year. Serdar was brought to the attention of national and international audiences during the Asian Games when he presented winners with medals. He later was recognized as an honored coach of Turkmenistan for his contribution in training victorious athletes.5 On October 27, Serdar was promoted from a major to lieutenant-colonel and awarded a medal named after his grandfather, Myalikguly Berdimuhamedov, for his service to his fatherland.6 He has also attended opening ceremonies for new buildings, held meetings with voters, and sat next to the speaker of the Parliament during the parliamentary sessions.7 Furthermore, symbolizing the transfer of power, President Berdimuhamedov passed a wand to Serdar during the relay race in Turkmenabat city on February 26.8 The sudden raise of Serdar’s professional portfolio and publicity might be due to president’s mistrust to his subordinates, his attempt to have trusted people around him, or even a gradual transfer of power to Serdar.9
  • President Berdimuhamedov has not only built his personality cult, but also turned his family into an icon of adoration. For example, the 1001st military department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) carries his father Malikguly Berdimuhamedov’s name and hosts a museum dedicated to his career achievements.10 The president has also written several books dedicated to his grandfather and father, some of which were staged in a theater.11 Turkmen singers have also performed songs to the poems written by the president’s father12 and songs praising his mother as a “mother who brought a hero to the world.”13 Since 2006, the president has published near 40 books.14 He also wins in car and horse races, writes songs and music, and lip-syncs songs, while the public watches him with reverence.15 National television outlets have also broadcasted footage of Berdimuhamedov teaching his top military and security officials how to use guns, wield knives, and lead military operations.16
  • Institutions in Turkmenistan do not fulfill their constitutional mandates, but rather follow orders from the president. For instance, Berdimuhamedov instructed Dovrangeldi Bayramov, the newly appointed Minister of National Security (MNS), formerly known as KNB, to protect the constitutional system, to examine the risks of global economic crisis affecting Turkmenistan,17 and to form a favorable socio-political climate.18 In democratic countries with clear separation of powers, it is the judicial branch that protects and enforces the constitution. Similarly, when it comes to economic performance, it is the job of the newly merged Ministry of Finance and Economy to ensure country’s long-term growth. Given MNS’s tradition of prosecuting, torturing, incarcerating and killing individuals with dissent, it might ensure a political environment favorable only to the regime.
  • The Turmen authorities vigorously attempted to conceal internal incompetence, corruption, and governance shortcomings from the international audience. For instance, when Berdimuhamedov learned about the deficiencies at the newly built international airport, he became furious that this information leaked to foreign media, rather than that the airport’s construction was marred with structural problems. He immediately fired the responsible officials–Shamukhammet Durdyliyev, the vice-premier managing presidential apparatus, and Satlyk Satlykov, the Deputy Prime Minister for Transport and Communications.19
  • Turkmenistan’s new $2.23 billion airport—a cost three times more expensive than the new airport built in Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games20 —replaced an international airport named after former president Saparmurat Niyazov, which was only 20 years old.21 Although the new airport has the capacity to serve 17 million people yearly, the traffic at the previous airport never exceeded 2 million people.22 While Turkmenistan welcomed a record number of foreign visitors during the Asian Games, annual tourism to the closed country does not exceed 100,000 travelers a year.23 Berdimuhamedov claimed that the new airport was needed to further country’s socioeconomic development, enhance international cooperation, and integrate Turkmenistan into the global economic system. Nevertheless, big claims rarely translate into a meaningful action. Tickets for Turkmenistan’s national airline, Turkmenhowayollary, are not sold online as the airline does not have a well-functioning website. Turkmenistan continues to require an entrance visa, which is one of the most expensive and hardest to get in the world. Tourists cannot freely travel across the country, take pictures, or talk to the locals.24 Building this luxurious airport, however, allowed Berdimuhamedov to rename the airport and thus further marginalize his predecessor’s legacy.
  • In 2017 there were clear efforts on the side of the Turkmen and Russian leadership to improve diplomatic relations between the two countries. In May, Serdar Berdimuhamedov headed the Turkmen delegation’s visit to Kazan, where he met with the president of Russia’s autonomous Republic of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov, and participated in 9th International Economic Summit “Russia–Islamic World: Kazansummit 2017.”25 Some analysts argued that by sending his son to Russia, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov might want to signal to Putin his seriousness about improving their uneasy relationship.26 Similarly, on October 2, during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Ashgabat, Preisdent Berdimuhamedov emphasized that two leaders have the same or similar positions on many international issues.27 These words were followed by a symbolic gesture on October 11 when President Berdimuhamedov presented a Turkmen alabai dog named “faithful” as a birthday gift to Putin during his trip to Sochi.28 The relationship between these two countries is complicated, with Berdimuhamedov attempting to keep Russia at arm’s length–close enough so that Russia would buy Turkmenistani gas and protect Turkmenistan’s borders from Taliban threats, without seriously interfering in internal Turkmen politics.
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 1.001 7.007
  • Elections in Turkmenistan are controlled, rigged, not free or fair, and not a true reflection of voters’ opinion. On February 12, Turkmenistan held presidential elections, with incumbent president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov beating eight other candidates to win a third term with 97.69 percent of the vote.1 Although initiative groups were required to collect 10,000 signatures to nominate a presidential candidate, five candidates received fewer votes than the initial number of signatures.2 Under recent constitutional amendments in 2016, Berdimuhamedov will serve seven years in office.3
  • The Election Assessment Mission of the OSCE confirmed that the February presidential elections were not free or fair and lacked political opposition. Mission members witnessed proxy voting, the forging of voter signatures, and the manipulation of vote counting.4 Presidential candidates were carefully selected from among regime supporters. They represented three alternative political parties and five regions, and included deputies from regional administrations, the director of a refinery and chemical company, and the head of the commercial bank “Rysgal.”5 Little information was publicly available about the candidates or their political agenda. The eight presidential contenders aspired to develop their respective sectors, and all eight had previously expressed support for Berdimuhamedov’s government.6 Meanwhile, those with opposing political platforms still remain in exile and are blocked from participating in the elections.7 Moreover, the president appointed all 15 members of the Central Election Commission (CEC), undermining its independence. The lack of a centralized and regularly updated voter registry led to people voting multiple times.8 For example, voters were not asked for identification documents, and they could vote several times in different polling stations for themselves, their family, and neighbors; in one instance, the voter registry included the names of a voter’s infant children. At a kindergarten in the capital Ashgabat, one voter received a ballot signed with their initials before even having casted their vote. Staff at the polling station claimed that someone must have accidentally signed the ballot.9 However, such practices illustrate the fact that elections are just a formality, and people have no say in the outcome of these elections.
  • Similarly, presidential candidates did not have equal opportunities to campaign and rally supporters. Some of the candidates were presented to the public less than five weeks ahead of the elections.10 Officially, President Berdimuhamedov renounced campaigning on national TV to give more airtime and publicity to other candidates. In reality, however, national television broadcast his meetings with factory workers, shepherds, soldiers, athletes, and students, where Berdimuhamedov tried to entice citizens to vote for him through giving away TV sets and trips to the coastal tourist city of Awaza.11 By doing this Berdimuhamedov violated the election law of Turkmenistan, which prohibits giving money or gifts to buy votes and guarantees equal media coverage to presidential candidates.12 The state’s monopoly over the media also inhibited voters’ ability to hear alternative viewpoints, and failed to ensure candidates’ visibility among voters. While the national newspaper published candidates’ photos, these were smaller in size and shared an unflattering gray background, with candidates dressed in indistinguishable black suits, compared to large and colorful portraits of Berdimuhamedov.13 When the regime organized superficial public meetings with the electorate, Berdimuhamedov’s contenders read from prepared statements and struggled to answer to pre-prepared questions.14 The so-called opponents did not challenge the current status quo, propose an alternative political agenda, or address any of the pressing socioeconomic problems. Instead, they endorsed and praised economic and political developments achieved under Berdimuhamedov.15
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 1.001 7.007
  • Independent civil society almost nonexistent in Turkmenistan due to restrictive laws and lack of financial resources. Public associations (PAs), the only legal form of CSO, have to be officially registered to conduct any activities, while registration process involves a 9-step procedure, which creates a lot of room for rejection.1 Barriers to this process include requirements to having 400 members, paying registration fee, informing government agencies 10 days prior the planned mass event, having government officials visit PA events and meetings, preventing PAs from organizing political activities, having to go through MFA if cooperating with international organizations, registering foreign funding and restrictions on using foreign financing to organize large scale events and awareness raising campaigns.2 The registration fee for PAs is quite high with $86 fee for local, $143 for national and $571 for international PAs.3 Moreover, PAs can be penalized and detained for 15 days for organizing “unlawful assemblies” (Article 63 of Code of Turkmenistan on Administrative Offences). Those who organize mass riots can be jailed for 5-15 years while participants face 3-8 years imprisonment (Article 276 of Criminal Code of Turkmenistan).4 Furthermore, on February 4, 2017 Turkmen government adopted several restrictive amendments to the Public Association Law such as prohibiting them from organizing political activities (Articles 5, 6, 14, and 26), and strictly observing procedures established by the PA Law when cooperating with international donors and organizations (Article 26 of PA Law). In addition, foreigners and stateless people can no longer establish or be a member of PAs (Article 4 of PA Law) in Turkmenistan.5
  • Although PAs in Turkmenistan have access to local and international funding, in practice their financial sustainability is extremely poor. They can receive funding through membership fees and voluntary donations but these are irregular and insufficient, while the corporate sector lacks incentives such as tax breaks to support PAs.6 They are also eligible for government subsidies and grants if the money is earmarked and exact recipient is identified while drafting the national and local budgets. In practice, however, Turkmen government only provides subsidies, primary recipients of which are government-organized non-governmental organizations (GONGOs).7 Furthermore, registering foreign funding is very cumbersome and involves several steps each of which is coordinated by different government agency – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) manages requests from foreign donors, designated State Commission approves/rejects the registration of foreign funding and the Ministry of Justice registers foreign funding if its approved.8 Meanwhile, independent NGOs cannot compete with GONGOs given the latter’s size, breadth of issues they cover, access to government resources and involvement in policy making.9 For instance, NGO Turkmenistan, a directory created by UNDP, lists only 13 PAs that are registered.10 They include Society of Protection of Nature, Society of guitarists, Association of Professional Accountants, public organizations such as Mashgala (Family) and Dap Dessur (Traditions), expert-analytical agency Ynanch-Vepa (Belief-Commitment), youth organization Bosfor, and mountaineering club AGAMA. There are also organizations such as Ashgabat club Ynam (Trust) and Keyik Okara, which promote social security and civic rights of individuals and others like Support Center for Disabled Persons, Yenme (Overcoming), and Sports Club of Disabled People that provide support to vulnerable groups of the population. Most of these organizations list various government agencies, foreign embassies and international organizations as their partners.11
  • The independent civil society sector in Turkmenistan is extremely small and made up of individual activists who face severe repression. Around the Asian Games, security services became even more vigilant and repressive in their attempts to eliminate the dissemination of any information that might jeopardize Turkmenistan’s international image. For example, on September 20 the MNS disconnected the wireless internet connection and mobile data of an animal rights activist, Galina Kucherenko, to prevent her from meeting with European journalists and discussing the mass killings of domestic animals in preparation for the Games.12 Unknown men in civilian clothes also regularly stalked Kucherenko and her family. When she called the National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights to seek assistance, they advised her to discuss her issues directly with the MNS.13 In February, Kucherenko’s e-mail and social media accounts were also hacked by the special services. Her attempts to get help from the OSCE office and the Human Rights Adviser of the UN Regional Center for Preventive Diplomacy also yielded no results.14 The UN and OSCE rarely consider individual cases, collect complaints, or address them with the government, as they are reluctant to intervene in a country’s internal politics. Official pressure on Kucherenko continued in December, when six men, claiming to be police officers, forcefully abducted Galina Kucherenko and her daughter, Valeriya. After six hours, a 50 manat ($14) fine, and an explanatory letter, written by Galina, saying she allegedly resisted police officers, Valeriya was released. Once at home she realized that all animals that they were sheltering had been taken away.15 Moreover, Galina was given 15 days of administrative arrest based on the complaint of her neighbor, who accused Galina of attacking her mother. The neighbor even made and shared a video message explaining the cruelty and negative attitudes of Galina.16
  • The heightening socioeconomic crisis in Turkmenistan also resulted in further restrictions on, and prosecutions of, activists, in order to stifle critical voices discussing the deteriorating domestic situation. For instance, on October 22 four employees of the MNS visited the apartment of an activist and pensioner, Galina Vertyakova. They cut off her Internet access and threatened to prosecute and kill her and her husband if she continued to criticize government policies on social media. Officers threatened to jail her by planting drugs and weapons in her house. Vertyakova was previously jailed for extortion, and later pardoned, after previously criticizing the government online.17 Such threats and accusations are common practice among the security services to silence dissent both at home and abroad. Exiled activists such as Farid Tuhbatulin face threats to their family member who reside in Turkmenistan. To illustrate, on 28 October 2017 unknown men threw stones at Farid’s 76-year old mother Khalida Izbastinova’s window. Due to the shock and fear her blood pressure went up. Since Khalida’s landline phone was cut off day before this incident and she lives alone, her neighbors helped her call emergency medical staff.18 Further, the Turkmen government continued to restrict civil and political rights and freedoms of its citizens. Those who express dissent, criticize the regime, or report on human rights violations continued to face prosecution, repression, and incarceration on fabricated charges. Freelance ANT and Radio Azatlyk correspondent Saparmamed Nepeskuliyev, for example, was sentenced to 3 years’ imprisonment for allegedly possessing a prescribed drug tramadol;19 human rights activist for Baluch people Mansur Mingelov was sentenced to 22 years for false accusations of drug trafficking and pornography;20 and independent observer Gaspar Matalaev for 3 years for fraud.21 They remained in jail at year’s end despite continuous campaigns by international human rights organizations including the UN and EU.22 There were lucky ones like Khudayberdy Allashov, a journalist for Radio Azatlyk, who was released on 15 February 2017 after being given a three-year suspended sentence. Nevertheless, once freed he was not allowed to use any communication tools and remained under close police surveillance.23
  • Following the failed coup attempt in Turkey, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan was not the only leader to order the arrest of hundreds of people affiliated with Hizmet movement led by Fethullah Gulen. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, for example, refused Erdogan’s request to close down Turkish schools, which are known for their quality education.24 President Berdimuhamedov, on the other hand, not only shut down Turkish schools (Bashkent) and the Turkmen-Turkish University, but he also arrested teachers and entrepreneurs associated with the movement. The crackdown happened ahead of an expected visit by President Erdogan to Turkmenistan; the trip was subsequently canceled at the last minute. Berdimuhamedov might have wanted to impress the Turkish leadership, in order to encourage Russia to buy Turkmen gas, which in the future could be directed through the Turkish stream.25 Similarly, Berdimuhamedov might have feared that, similar to Turkey, followers of Gulen will climb up to influential positions and financially support the movement.26 For instance, convicts such as Resul Atageldiyev and Ovez Allaberdyev had close ties with the leadership of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, which is quite an influential organization in Turkmenistan.27 Resul was also accused of violating the terms of the loan agreement by transferring the money to foreign companies connected to Gulen.28
  • Renewed Taliban activities across the border, the rise of ISIS as a new training ground in the battlefields of the Middle East, and growing socioeconomic grievances among Turkmenistani citizens are major concerns for Presidemt Berdimuhamedov. The Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) estimates that 360 people from Turkmenistan have joined war in Syria and Iraq by end of 2014.29 Due to the severe economic crisis at home, many Turkmens have moved to Turkey to make a living. However, Turkmen authorities fear migrant workers might become radicalized while in Turkey. For example, in the last two years, the Ministry of Justice in Turkmenistan has received over 500 requests from families to find their relatives who went missing in Turkey. Most of them ended up in Iraq and Syria.30 This has resulted in increased prosecution, harassment, imprisonment, and torture of Muslims at home, most of whom have returned from Turkey. In particular, since 2013, the MNS has regularly detained and jailed believers.31 For example, on 24 June 2017 Aziz Gafurov’s dead body, which was very skinny and covered in bruises, was delivered to his family.32 He was serving a long prison term in Ovadan-Depe and was among the few dozen young men who were found guilty on grounds of conspiracy to seize power (Article 174 part 1), calls for violent change of the constitutional order (Article 175, part 2), and incitement of social, national or religious hostility (Article 177 part 3), and placed in Ovadan-Depe in 2015. Although the real number might be much higher, there are at least three other men who died in Ovadan-Depe since the summer of 2016.33 Torture and beatings are also common among detained Muslims, who are forced to shave, eat pork, and drink alcohol.34
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 1.001 7.007
  • Media in Turkmenistan is not free and independent; rather, the government uses it to advance the regime’s propaganda and consolidate the president’s personality cult. For example, in one of its issues the official Neutral Turkmenistan newspaper mentioned Berdimuhamedov 144 times and included 14 large sized photos of him.1 While the media law formally ensures citizens’ freedom to collect and share information, law enforcement officials continue to harass, threaten, and imprison independent journalists on fabricated charges. Even after the UN Working Group declared his arrest arbitrary, journalist Saparmamed Nepeskuliev remained behind bars at year’s end for supposedly possessing a prescription drug, Tramadol, and has recently joined the list of detainees who have disappeared in Turkmen prisons. Journalists like Gaspar Matalayev and Hudayberdi Allashov were tortured to confess to crimes that they did not commit.2
  • In the lead up to the Asian Games, the prosecution of independent journalists intensified. From July 27 to July 31, Soltan Achilova, a 67-year-old correspondent for Radio Azatlyk, was harassed, threatened, and physically abused several times. Unknown men physically restrained and twisted her hands while Achilova attempted to take photographs; one even threatened to kill her.3 Soltan subsequently left Turkmenistan until completion of the Games.4 Security services regularly recruit common citizens to spy on, attack, and threaten nonconformists. Turkmens are reluctant to share their views because, as the saying goes, “even the walls have ears.” Although Turkmenistan received an unprecedented amount of attention from foreign media during the Asian Games, the regime was very selective when giving accreditations. For example, the government declined accreditation requests from critical outlets including Radio Azatlyk,5 while British embassy’s intervention did not help the Guardian get accredited.6 The few lucky journalists who managed to visit Turkmenistan were constantly monitored and accompanied by guides, who made sure they did not see or talk to unnecessary people and followed predetermined program.7 Journalists’ visas were only valid for the territory of the Olympic village, and authorities threatened to deport journalists who left the compound.8 Similarly, local spectators were not allowed to carry their phones or take photos and videos during the Games.9
  • All media outlets–print, broadcast, and online–are state controlled and censored. The Turkmen state owns seven television stations and four radio networks, in addition to 28 national and local newspapers and magazines. Even the two private print outlets, Rysgal and Zaman,10 and online media platforms such as arzuw.news, turkmenportal.com, infoabad, and orient.tm endorse the government’s viewpoints and reproduce the content of the State News Agency of Turkmenistan (TDH).11 By appointing and dismissing the heads and deputies of media institutions, the president further restricts their independence. Special service agents supervise and censor newspaper editorial offices and collect detailed dossiers on their employees.12 The Media Sustainability Index scores Turkmenistan at 0.24 on an ascending scale of 0 to 4.00 and places the country in the “unsustainable and anti–free press” category.13 When broadcasting Turkmen translations of interviews given by foreign officials, the national media modifies the content to give the appearance of those foreign officials praising the president.14
  • To increase print media circulation, the government forces public sector employees to sign up and pay for subscriptions. For example, workers in the Balkan region were asked to sign papers saying that they voluntarily subscribed to newspapers in October following employees’ complaints that they had been subscribed to newspapers and had 120-130 manats ($37 - $42) withheld without consent.15 Similarly, on June 8 President Berdimuhamedov announced that from 2018 financing of national TV and radio channels will switch from the state to a self-financing system, mainly relying on advertising services.16 Access to independent online publications in Turkmenistan, as well as proxy servers such as VPN, TOR, and Psiphon, which help bypass the state filters, continued to be blocked. Likewise, access to the Internet remained expensive, limited, and tightly controlled by the state. Moreover, Turkmentelecom–which is controlled by Berdimuhamedov’s nephew Aynazar–monopolized the communications sector in Turkmenistan after unilaterally disconnecting MTS from international and intercity communication services and access to Internet on September 29. This Russian mobile connection provider’s five-year license expired in 2017, and so far it is uncertain if Turkmenistan will renew it.17
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 1.251 7.007
  • Local governance in Turkmenistan is made of executive (hakimlik) and representative (gengesh) bodies. The municipal government, or hakimlik, is an executive body led by a hakim, who is appointed by the president and entrusted to follow decrees of the president, parliament, council of ministers, and the country’s constitution. They govern on regional (velayat), city, and district levels. Meanwhile, gengesh is district and village level representative body whose members are directly elected by citizens living in a particular administrative unit. The archyn, who is elected from among its members, manages the gengesh and is accountable to it. According to Turkmenistan’s constitution, gengeshes are independent from central government in leading local socioeconomic development, budgeting, and tax collection. Nevertheless, they continued to represent the regime’s interests in 2017.
  • Increasing economic uncertainties and rising discontent among the local population put pressure on local authorities. After eliminating social benefits and increasing fees for utilities, Turkmenistan’s government also increased the prices for kindergartens by tenfold–from 8 to 80 manats (USD 8.4 at the black market rate or USD 23 at the official rate) per month for each child. Families with three or more children can pay 40 manats and single mothers only 10 manats.1 Outraged mothers gathered with their children in front, initially, of the regional department of education in Dashoguz on October 10. A department representative then suggested that the demonstrators complain to hakim (mayor).2 Even before they reached hakimlik (city administration), the Special Purpose Mobility Unit (OMON) of the Ministry of Internal Affairs stopped them. The deputy hakim of Dashoguz city and the deputy hakim on education issues came to address protestors, although they were not in a position to make any promises. Such complaints also happened in other districts in the Dasgoguz and in Lebap regions.3
  • Representatives of the hakimliks tried to discourage parents from appealing the price increase at the prosecutor’s office, saying that the legislation was already adopted ‘at the top.’ Officials also hinted to possible consequences, as complaints against the cost increase might be seen as antigovernment act.4 The decreasing number of children attending kindergarten also alarmed staff and management of childcare centers, who advised parents to write complaint letters to hakimlik and the Ministry of Education. Authorities in Dashoguz received 25,000 such letters. Terrified by the high number of appeals, the head of the department of education, Durdybay Dzhumanazarov, called a meeting on October 17, where he demanded the heads and managers of preschools across the region direct their stuff to stop advising parents to write such letters.5 Moreover, to inflate number of attendance and increase income, the preschools’ teachers and nannies were intimidated to pay for two kids from their own pocket. Anxious teachers are trying to negotiate with parents to split the costs by half.6
  • The stakes are extremely high in regions like Dashoguz, where authorities are desperate to find a scapegoat for recent social unrest. To illustrate, abovementioned representative of the department of education was accused of initiating the protests after he consulted demonstrators to talk to the hakim. He is facing criminal charges for “calling for protests against the state and in disdaining the president's aspirations to improve the well-being of the people.” A public lawyer refused to take the official’s case, while a private lawyer retained by the family is yet to see relevant documentation in the case. In order to extract a guilty plea, officials fired the representative’s wife and son.7
  • A lack of money in the state treasury has led to delays in paying farmers growing food and cotton. For instance, according to an agreement between farmers and a farmer’s association, renters of the land (farmers) are supposed to receive payment for their harvest within ten days after delivery. However, farmers in the Balkan region had not received payment six weeks after the delivery of the harvest, causing some farmers to struggle to source hard cash–as ATMs lack cash and there are daily limits on withdrawals. This has forced people to spend days in line, or travel to neighboring cities to withdraw money,8 despite television broadcasts misrepresenting their plight by depicting farmers easily withdrawing cash from ATMs and paying for purchase with their debit cards.9
  • On October 12, desperate farmers approached the Archyn, the head of the village administration, in Lebap region to demand immediate payments of the delayed proceeds from their harvested cotton. A lack of funds forced many farmers to sell their livestock and borrow money to sustain their families and to pay for cotton-picking. As the Archyn explained, the government had spent all of its money organizing the Asian Games. When the farmers refused to collect cotton until the government made the delayed payments, the Archyn became irritated, provoking farmers to throw clods of earth at him. When the Archyn discussed this incident with the hakim, he was instructed to confiscate and give away farmers’ land to people who are willing to work without complaining.10 Lack of land ownership and land rights inhibits local farmers’ ability to defend their rights and sustain their livelihoods.
  • 1“Жители Туркменистана в панике из-за десятикратно выросшей оплаты в детских садах“ [Residents of Turkmenistan are in panic due to tenfold increase in kindergarten payments ], Chronicles of Turkmenistan, 16 October 2017, https://www.hronikatm.com/2017/10/zhiteli-turkmenistana-v-panike-iz-za-…
  • 2“СРОЧНО! Жители Дашогуза устроили акцию протеста у хякимлика из-за десятикратно выросшей оплаты в детских садах“ [URGENT! Residents of Dashoguz staged a protest against the city mayority due to tenfold increase in kindergarten payments ], Chronicles of Turkmenistan, 10 October 2017, https://www.hronikatm.com/2017/10/srochno-zhiteli-dashoguza-ustroili-ak…
  • 3“Туркменистан: Градус общественного недовольства растет“ [Turkmenistan: Degree of public discontent growi], Alternative news of Turkmenistan, 13 October 2017, https://habartm.org/archives/7878
  • 4“Жители Туркменистана в панике из-за десятикратно выросшей оплаты в детских садах“ [Residents of Turkmenistan are in panic due to tenfold increase in kindergarten payments ], Chronicles of Turkmenistan, 16 October 2017, https://www.hronikatm.com/2017/10/zhiteli-turkmenistana-v-panike-iz-za-…
  • 5“В Дашогузе пытаются остановить поток жалоб из-за повышения оплаты детсадов“ [In Dashoguz, they try to stop the flow of complaints due to increased pay for kindergartens], , 19 October 2017, https://www.hronikatm.com/2017/10/zhitelyam-dashoguza-veleli-prekratit-…
  • 6“Жители Туркменистана в панике из-за десятикратно выросшей оплаты в детских садах“ [Residents of Turkmenistan are in panic due to tenfold increase in kindergarten payments ], Chronicles of Turkmenistan, 16 October 2017, https://www.hronikatm.com/2017/10/zhiteli-turkmenistana-v-panike-iz-za-…
  • 7“После протеста против повышения оплаты детского сада чиновника в Дашогузе обвиняют в «призыве к восстанию против власти»“ [After a protest against the increase in the payment of a kindergarten, an official in Dashoguz is accused of “calling for an uprising against the authorities“], Azatlyk Radio, 20 October 2017, https://rus.azathabar.com/a/28802325.html
  • 8Sahra Ghulam Nabi, “Kärendeçiler bilen hasaplaşyklaryň öz wagtynda geçirilmelidigi aýdylýar, emma“ [It is suggested to agree with businessmean in advance, but…], Azatlyk Radio, 30 October 2017, https://www.azathabar.com/a/28826354.html
  • 9Sahra Ghulam Nabi, “Puluny TW-de alýan, iş ýüzünde almaýan kärendeçiler“ [Paid in TV, but not in reality], Azatlyk Radio, 22 June 2017, https://www.azathabar.com/a/28573426.html
  • 10Döwlet Baýhan, “Lebap daýhan birleşiginiň nägile kärendeçileri arçyny daşlapdyrlar“ [Dissatisfied farmers of Lebap farmers association threw clods of earth at Archyn], Radio Azatlyk, 23 October 2017, https://www.azathabar.com/a/28810913.html
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 1.001 7.007
  • The judicial system in Turkmenistan is not independent and effective. President Berdimuhamedov uses the courts to eliminate any real, and imaginary, challengers to his power. In 2016, Turkmen officials detained more than 150 businessmen and former teachers at Turkish schools due to alleged links to the Hizmet movement of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric accused of attempting a military coup in Turkey in July 2016.1 In early February 2017, Turkmen courts convicted 18 of them in a closed trial to between 12 and 25 years for “inciting national and religious hatred” (art. 177, part 3 of the Criminal Code) and “financing criminal activity” (art. 275, part 3). The trial was marred by procedural irregularities, including the closed hearings, the issuing of a single verdict in unrelated cases, and the court-sanctioned provision of only four lawyers for the entire convicted group. In addition to receiving long prison sentences, the convicts’ personal properties were also confiscated by the state.2 Among those imprisoned were renowned Turkmen businessmen such as Dowlet Atayev, the owner of A-Market supermarket, Resul Atageldiev, the owner of Merdem and AlpEt restaurants in Ashgabat, and Dovlet Amangeldiev, an entrepreneur engaged in furniture production. The court sentenced them each to 25 years in prison. Moreover, Resul Atageldiev’s confiscated store was reopened a month after his imprisonment under a different name and owner, and belonging to a new company, Ruhybelent, a member of the Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs of Turkmenistan.3 Those convicted did not have any legal means to appeal court’s decisions and defend their rights or properties.
  • The lack of effective legal mechanisms in Turkmenistan inhibits people’s ability to get fair compensation and other legal remedies when forcefully evicted from their homes. When, in 2010, Turkmenistan decided to host the 2017 Asian Games, the government’s focus on the architectural appearance of Ashgabat intensified. According to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) released in September 2017, the regime had forcibly relocated hundreds of people from their homes without fair compensation.4 Turkmenistan’s government has violated its own legislation on property, which, under the Housing Code of 2013, requires the government to provide an equivalent property, or compensation in full, for any damage suffered by the owner.5 In the majority of the cases, however, residents did not receive comparable and well-maintained alternative flats. The administration of public housing fund in Ashgabat, when determining the amount of compensation to be paid to evicted residents, only considered the size of the officially registered property and registered members of the family. For instance, in Gazha, a three-family household received a three-bedroom apartment, despite multiple large extensions–including the construction of a summer house and an additional bathroom and kitchen–made two decades earlier. When they complained that the size of the apartment does not correspond to the number of people in the household, officials advised them to go to court and claim division of the apartment. The family attempted to appeal the decision at the prosecutor’s office but was told that the amount they had received was sufficient, as covered only the size of the legally registered main house.6
  • The court system in Turkmenistan in practice advances the regime’s interest at the expense of citizens’ wellbeing. For instance, the Galkovski family, consisting of ten people, lost their four-bedroom apartment during the preparations for the Asian Games, and were forced to relocate to a smaller, two-room apartment. When they refused to sign documents giving their consent to move, the municipal government sued the family and immediately obtained a decision in its favor. The family wrote to President Berdimuhameov in January 2017 hoping for his intervention.7 Citizens have been unable to appeal the confiscation of their houses or demand better compensation as authorities have threatened to leave them homeless.8 Residents, who have objected to their eviction, or to the demolition of their homes, have been threatened, harassed, and even arrested. For example, while Viktoria Melihova was awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision on her appeal in 2015, municipal authorities threatened to arrest her and her family for 15 days unless they vacated the apartment within 12 hours.9
  • There are hundreds of Turkmens, including top-level government officials, who disappear in Turkmenistan’s prisons every year. In January 2017, EU officials made a statement on forced disappearances in Turkmenistan, including the death of the former head of the State Border Service, Tirkish Tyrmyev. According to the “Show Them Alive!” campaign, Tyrmyev had been isolated, tortured, and poorly treated during his 15-year sentence. Since the early 2000s, the campaign has recorded 88 similar cases of forced disappearances. Between late 2015 and early 2017, for example, four of these prisoners died without ever seeing their families. Although in 2015 and 2016, Turkmenistan allowed the head of the OSCE Center in Ashgabat to visit two of its prisons,10 Turkmen prisons generally remain closed and secretive, just like the country itself.
  • 1“Туркменистан: Аресты за связь с Гуленом продолжаются.“[ Turkmenistan: Arrests for communication with Gulen continue.] 21 November 2016. Azatlyk Radio. https://rus.azathabar.com/a/28130701.html
  • 2“Эксклюзив: Азатлык получил текст секретного судебного приговора в отношении туркменских бизнесменов.“ [Exclusive: Azatlyk received the text of a secret court verdict against Turkmen businessmen]. 05 April 2017. Azatlyk Radio. https://rus.azathabar.com/a/28412100.html
  • 3“Ашхабад: Супермаркет арестованного бизнесмена открылся под новым названием,” [Ashgabat: Supermarket of an arrested businessman was reopened under a new name], Radio Freedom, 31 March, https://rus.azathabar.com/a/28402348.html
  • 4“Доклад HRW и ТИПЧ: Собственников жилья выселяют, оставляя без компенсации“ [Report by HRW and TIHR: The owners of housing are evicted, leaving without compensation], Azatlyk Radio, 4 September 2017, https://www.hronikatm.com/2017/09/doklad-hrw-i-tipch-sobstvennikov-zhil…
  • 5“Доклад HRW и ТИПЧ: Собственников жилья выселяют, оставляя без компенсации“ [Report by HRW and TIHR: The owners of housing are evicted, leaving without compensation], Azatlyk Radio, 4 September 2017, https://www.hronikatm.com/2017/09/doklad-hrw-i-tipch-sobstvennikov-zhil…
  • 6“Доклад HRW и ТИПЧ: Собственников жилья выселяют, оставляя без компенсации“ [Report by HRW and TIHR: The owners of housing are evicted, leaving without compensation], Azatlyk Radio, 4 September 2017, https://www.hronikatm.com/2017/09/doklad-hrw-i-tipch-sobstvennikov-zhil…
  • 7“Доклад HRW и ТИПЧ: Собственников жилья выселяют, оставляя без компенсации“ [Report by HRW and TIHR: The owners of housing are evicted, leaving without compensation], Azatlyk Radio, 4 September 2017, https://www.hronikatm.com/2017/09/doklad-hrw-i-tipch-sobstvennikov-zhil…
  • 8“Доклад HRW и ТИПЧ: Собственников жилья выселяют, оставляя без компенсации“ [Report by HRW and TIHR: The owners of housing are evicted, leaving without compensation], Azatlyk Radio, 4 September 2017, https://www.hronikatm.com/2017/09/doklad-hrw-i-tipch-sobstvennikov-zhil…
  • 9“Доклад HRW и ТИПЧ: Собственников жилья выселяют, оставляя без компенсации“ [Report by HRW and TIHR: The owners of housing are evicted, leaving without compensation], Azatlyk Radio, 4 September 2017, https://www.hronikatm.com/2017/09/doklad-hrw-i-tipch-sobstvennikov-zhil…
  • 10“Заявление ЕС о насильственных исчезновениях в Туркменистане“ [EU Statement on Enforced Disappearances in Turkmenistan], Alternative News of Turkmenistan, 28 January 2017, https://habartm.org/archives/6351
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 1.001 7.007
  • Corruption in Turkmenistan is a widespread and deeply rooted practice. It starts at the top of the power pyramid and extends all the way to the average citizen. For instance, the president’s nephews, Shamurad and Hajymurad Rejepovs, manage the financial operations and control the Berkarar shopping mall, which they have divided between themselves.1 Their father, Nazar Rejepov, is known as an influential man who controls almost the whole private sector in Turkmenistan.2 Relying on their closeness to the president they allegedly break laws, make illegal money through bribes, and remove anyone who might challenge their authority. The security and law enforcement agencies tend not to intervene given the family members’ informal powers. Private entrepreneurs who wish to get privileges in converting foreign currency, clearing goods at customs, or obtaining land for construction purposes have to go through the president’s family. A friend of Rejepov, the businessman Mergen Behenjov, for example, has managed to expand his business from owning a stall in a bazaar to managing several major supermarkets in Ashgabat and in the regions. He has been able to avoid bank restrictions on foreign currency conversion, bypass customs inspection, and even ignore customs’ requirements to submit documents in officially recognized languages.3
  • Since 2014 Berdimuhamedov’s sister, Gulnabat Myalikgulyevna Dovletova, has been the Executive Director of the National Red Crescent of Turkmenistan (NRCT). Since then she has eliminated social programs such as lump sum payments to disabled people and holiday gifts to nursing homes, has cut the agency’s access to internet, closed nearly all programs, and has laid off a 100 employees. Taking advantage of her family ties with the president, Dovletova also reportedly accepts bribes to place children and young adults in kindergartens, prestigious schools, and universities.4 Furthermore, the NRCT’s charter allows the establishment of self-supporting enterprises to raise revenues for the organization. Using this clause, Gulnabat opened one large sewing shop and two large pharmacies, the latter of which are managed by her son-in-law Shamurad Rejepov. She also requires her staff to order dresses and to buy medicine from her businesses. However, the proceeds from these shops go to her own pocket rather than to the organization’s budget.5
  • In need of cash to finance the Asian Games, Berdimuhamedov launched a State Program on Combating Corruption in May 2017. It resulted in mass firings and arrests of high-ranking government and security officials. In June, the president also set up an Office for Combating Economic Crimes, led by Colonel Mammetkhan Chakyev.6 The office’s mandate is to identify, prevent, disclose, and investigate economic and financial crimes, and eliminate the conditions that lead to corruption.7 The agency reports directly to the president. Berdimuhamedov also suggested eliminating pardons for individuals convicted of bribery.8 Given its mandate, the agency has faced problems with officials in the highest echelons of power, who were the “custodians” of those accused of corruption. 9 When high-level officials face accusations of corruption, Chakyev reportedly shares their names with the president, who decides which officials should face criminal charges and be smeared on national TV. If no formal confirmation is given, the agency releases detainees without a trial.10 This is a typical case of blackmailing, where security services collect “kompromat” to shame, remove, or jail challengers. Government and security officials, in their official roles, are allowed, encouraged, and sometimes forced to take bribes, earn illegal profit, and break laws. The moment they stop serving a purpose, fall out of favor, or challenge the status quo, they risk being imprisoned on corruption charges.11
  • Since Berdimuhamedov decided to host the Asian Games in 2011, gas prices have fallen by half, while the country lost two of its major gas buyers, Russia and Iran. To deliver on his promise and to put together a grandiose event, Berdimuhamedov tasked the Ministry of National Security and the attorney general with raising money from wealthy people, such as entrepreneurs and high-level officials. In April 2017, while searching the house of one of the prosecutors in Bayramaly city of Mary region, officials found $15 million in cash.12 The discovery was made as President Berdimuhamedov was personally asking major international businessmen to help finance the Asian Games. Berdimuhamedov appeared visibly agitated during a national television broadcast of the discovery and fired Attorney General Amanmyrat Khalliev along with 50 other prosecutors. The Minister of Internal Affairs, Iskander Mulikov, got away with reprimands supposedly due to his close ties to influential associates of Berdymukhamedov.13
  • During the year, inspections were conducted in a number of state enterprises and different sectors. For instance, Merdan Babayev, the head of the state-owned enterprise (SOE) “Türkmen Demir Önümleri”, faced accusations of accepting bribes from his deputy Dovran Allakiev. The latter made illegal profits by reselling products from the SOE via commercial structures. Both of these officials were arrested and their properties were confiscated. National television channels broadcast these high-level officials’ inspections and arrests, and detainees’ acknowledgements of their alleged wrongdoings were televised.14 The fight against corruption also reached country’s lower echelons of power. In early August, for example, Dashoguz law enforcement authorities detained a school director for taking $2000 in bribes for each child she placed in Russian language classes.15 These mass scale arrests across diverse sectors display the extent to which corruption has become the norm among officials.
  • Turkmenistan’s government resembles an organized criminal group, where, from the top to bottom, there is little interest in changing the status quo. Lower tier officials collect and pay tribute to the top level, which, in turn, ensures that they keep their subordinates in place. In a sports club for disabled people in Dashoguz, for instance, the head of the club, who was appointed in early 2017, allegedly demands 100 manats ($28) from his part time staff and 200 manats ($56) from full time staff that he passes on as tribute to the chairman of the Central Physical Culture and Sports Club of Disabled People. The chairman, in turn, transfers this money even higher and allows regional heads to act as they like, taking their side in disputes.16


The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

  • 1“Бандитская Империя Бердымухамедова - Недельный Обзор Туркменистан 9 Октября,“ [Bandit Empire of Berdymukhamedov - Weekly Review Turkmenistan October 9], Turkmen Yurt Tv, 09 October 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFqQUkjlByM
  • 2“Туркменистан: Единоличный поставщик забугорного мяса — близкий друг Семьи“ [Turkmenistan: Sole supplier of foreign meat is a close friend of the Family], Alternative News of Turkmenistan, 22 November 2017, https://habartm.org/archives/8055
  • 3“Туркменистан: Лишь приближенные к Семье получают «зеленый свет» в бизнесе“ [Turkmenistan: Only those close to the Family receive a “green light“ in business], Alternative News of Turkmenistan, 04 September 2017 https://habartm.org/archives/7700
  • 4“По велению сестры. О ситуации внутри Общества Красного Полумесяца Туркменистана“ [At the behest of my sister. On the situation inside the Red Crescent Society of Turkmenistan], Alternative News of Turkmenistan, 06.07.2017, https://habartm.org/archives/7429
  • 5Ibid
  • 6“В Туркменистане создана Служба по борьбе с экономическими преступлениями и принята Программа по борьбе с коррупцией“ [Turkmenistan Established an Office for Combating Economic Crimes and launched an Anti-Corruption Program], Chronicles of Turmenistan, 02 June 2017, https://www.hronikatm.com/2017/06/v-turkmenistane-sozdana-sluzhba-po-bo…
  • 7“Задачи вновь образованной Службы по борьбе с экономическими преступлениями обсуждены на специальном совещании“ [The tasks of the newly formed Service for Combating Economic Crimes were discussed at a special meeting], Turkmenistan Golden Age, 01 June 2017, http://turkmenistan.gov.tm/?id=13867
  • 8Atajan Nepesov, “Победит ли Аркадаг коррупцию в Туркменистане?“ [Will Arkadag win corruption in Turkmenistan?], Fergana News, 28 August 2017, https://www.fergananews.com/articles/9530
  • 9“В Туркменистане продолжаются аресты госчиновников подозреваемых в коррупции.“ [Arrests of government officials suspected of corruption continue in Turkmenistan], Chronicles of Turkmenistan, 19 June 2017, https://www.hronikatm.com/2017/06/v-turkmenistane-prodolzhayutsya-arest…
  • 10“Türkmenistan korrupsiýa tutda-baslyklaryny dowam etdirýär“ [Turkmenistan continues its anti-corruption campaign], Azatlyk Radio, 07 October 2017, https://www.azathabar.com/a/28779152.html
  • 11Ak Welsapar, “Nämüçin türkmenden millioner ýok?“ [Why are there no millioners in Turkmenistan?], Erkin Turkmenistan, 31 August 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_jGTgwM120
  • 12“Генпрокурор Халлыев был уволен за невыполнение указа президента собрать деньги на Азиаду“ [Prosecutor General Khalliev was dismissed for failure to comply with the president's decree to raise money for the Asian Games], Azatlyk Radio, 10 May 2017, https://rus.azathabar.com/a/prosecutor-fired-for-not-collecting-money-f…
  • 13“Генпрокурор Халлыев был уволен за невыполнение указа президента собрать деньги на Азиаду“ [Prosecutor General Khalliev was dismissed for failure to comply with the president's decree to raise money for the Asian Games], Azatlyk Radio, 10 May 2017, https://rus.azathabar.com/a/prosecutor-fired-for-not-collecting-money-f…
  • 14“В Туркменистане прошла очередная волна арестов чиновников, уличенных в коррупции“ [Turkmenistan experienced another wave of arrests of officials convicted in corruption], Chronicles of Turkmenistan, 07 October 2017, https://www.hronikatm.com/2017/10/v-turkmenistane-proshla-ocherednaya-v…
  • 15“Борьба с коррупцией дошла до школ и больниц“ [The fight against corruption reached schools and hospitals], Chronicles of Turkmenistan, 11 August 2017, https://www.hronikatm.com/2017/08/borba-s-korruptsiey-doshla-do-shkol-i…
  • 16“Нож не режет свои ножны. О коррупции в туркменских спортклубах инвалидов“ [The knife does not cut its scabbard. About corruption in Turkmen sports clubs for disabled], Alternative News of Turkmenistan, 02 March 2017, https://habartm.org/archives/6526

On Turkmenistan

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  • Global Freedom Score

    2 100 not free