Turkmenistan

Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
0
100
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 0.00 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 1.00 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
0 100 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.

header1 Executive Summary

Authoritarian governance of Turkmenistan continued in 2020 under the strongman President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow. In September, the president made changes to the constitution, swiftly passed in a meeting of the national Halk Maslahaty, that restructured the parliament into a bicameral “National Council,” making the existing Mejlis (Assembly) the lower legislative chamber and the Halk Maslahaty (People’s Council) the upper chamber. Berdimuhamedow also secured for himself a theoretical ex-president’s seat in the Halk Maslahaty. It is unclear how these changes will play out in the long run—and how or if the president’s son, Serdar, will take over the presidency.

The few political parties that exist in Turkmenistan provide a mere façade of opposition while in reality supporting Berdimuhamedow. Parties that do challenge the regime are based abroad and not registered in Turkmenistan. Among these, a new genuine opposition party, Democratic Choice of Turkmenistan (DVT), was launched in 2020. While it is too early to predict its chances, the party stands out from the rest of the opposition by recruiting political activists among Turkmen emigrants, trying to build unity, and mobilizing citizens both inside and outside the country. DVT’s effectiveness will depend on its ability to sustain activism while organizing other opposition groups, which continue to fight each other rather than the regime.

During the year, Turkmenistan faced unprecedented political, social, and economic challenges coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the legitimacy of the Berdimuhamedow regime was questioned by Turkmens living inside and outside the country. Opposition parties recruited new members and attempted to organize political protests against the regime inside Turkmenistan by calling people into the streets before the September meeting of the national Halk Maslahaty. Although there were some domestic initiatives, such as distributing banknotes and leaflets with antigovernment inscriptions, it is extremely dangerous for people inside the country to organize mass demonstrations because the authorities do not respect freedom of speech and assembly. Anyone who publicly expresses discontent is automatically considered a “betrayer of the motherland” and risks imprisonment. There are a number of political prisoners who have already disappeared in Turkmen prisons. It is difficult, if it not impossible, to monitor the wellbeing of these political prisoners, and the efforts of such international campaigns as “Prove They Are Alive!” have been ignored by the government.1

Citizens of Turkmenistan are generally unable to meet their basic needs due to food shortages, inadequate healthcare, low wages, and other deprivations. As a result, many more people were willing to openly share their dissatisfaction in 2020. There were even extreme expressions, such as the 36-year-old father of three who committed suicide in the village of Bereketli because he was unable to provide for his family.2 There were also a number of spontaneous protests focused on specific everyday issues. These demonstrations were quickly ended by local officials and law enforcement, who tried to avoid upsetting higher authorities in the capital Ashgabat. Nevertheless, officials sometimes met the demands of protesters on solutions to specific issues that did not challenge the general policy of the government. Consequently, people realized that they were more likely to achieve their demands if they organized in large groups. However, given that state media do not cover such demonstrations, it is hard to know whether citizens hear about success stories from other regions and thus learn from each other about how to make demands and face authorities.

Turkmenistan is among the few countries that claimed to have no confirmed cases of COVID-19, all while people were contracting the novel coronavirus and dying. Nonetheless, the government required citizens to wear face masks, keep social distance, and avoid big crowds. Authorities closed public places to protect against “harmful dust” in the air and “infectious diseases.”3 Instead of educating and informing citizens on how to safeguard themselves, state media advised people to strengthen their immune system by drinking tea using President Bedimuhamedow’s recipes. This led people to avoid seeing doctors, even in the presence of COVID-19 symptoms.

Berdimuhamedow acknowledged the socioeconomic consequences of the pandemic, which included massive job cuts in both the public and private sectors and closure of some private enterprises like food production.4 Together with the United Nations (UN) country office, the government designed an action plan amounting to $1 billion, mainly in the form of credit from international financial institutions. This fact alone illustrates Turkmenistan’s dire socioeconomic situation and the government’s inability to address it.

The rights of women, religious groups, and LGBT+ people have been regularly and severely violated in Turkmenistan. Although there is no legal impediment for women to obtain driver’s licenses and to drive, they are not permitted to do so in practice. Religious minorities, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, regularly face prosecution, including for asking to undergo alternative forms of military service. Same-sex relationships between adults are criminalized and punishable with prison sentences of two to five years.

The combination of internal and external pressures on the country and the regime created momentum during the year for the Turkmen opposition abroad. However, émigré opposition parties lack unity, experience, and well-developed networks. Sparking mass protests in Turkmenistan is extremely challenging given the constant narrative of fear that people are fed from an early age and the power of the Ministry of National Security (MNS). Much of the country’s working-age population (an estimated 1.9 million5) have moved abroad as labor migrants or emigrated, leaving mainly elderly and children behind. Those who remain are often public sector employees who want to keep their jobs given the economic hardships in the country.6 Furthermore, families are hostage to the regime because they face threats and harassment if their emigrant relatives become politically active while abroad. The lack of a large youth population, combined with Turkmenistan’s sparsely populated and distantly located cities, make it easier for security forces to isolate any uprisings.

The next few years may be decisive in identifying the next commander-in-chief of Turkmenistan. The constitutional changes and new structure of the parliament in 2020 could possibly determine the path of the succession of power. Public mistrust in and disgust with the government persist, and increasing activism, which reached an all-time high during the year, might not disappear regardless of how hard the security services try to quell it. If the opposition abroad manages to join forces and build on this momentum, they may finally achieve some movement towards political change.

  • 1. See: https://provetheyarealive.org/
  • 2. “В Туркменистане покончил жизнь самоубийством мужчина, которому нечем было кормить семью,” [A man who had nothing to feed his family committed suicide in Turkmenistan], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, July 10, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/07/suicide/
  • 3. “Ашхабад: На уроке права со школьников собрали расписки об отказе читать запрещенные сайты,” [Ashgabat: At a law lesson, schoolchildren submitted written refusals to read prohibited sites], Turkmen News, September 15, 2020, https://turkmen.news/news/non-halal-websites-turkmenistan/
  • 4. “Президент Туркменистана на фоне ограничений и борьбы с коронавирусом обещает кредитование, льготы и отсрочку по задолженности,” [President of Turkmenistan promises lending, benefits and debt deferral against the backdrop of restrictions and the fight against coronavirus], Radio Azatlyk, April 6, 2020, https://rus.azathabar.com/a/30533752.html
  • 5. “Сколько людей живет в Туркменистане? Невероятные официальные данные,” [How many people live in Turkmenistan? Incredible official figures], Radio Azatlyk, January 28, 2020, https://rus.azattyq.org/a/how-many-people-live-in-turkmenistan-the-offi…
  • 6. “Бердымухамедову предлагают уйти по-хорошему,” [Berdymukhamedov is invited to leave in an amicable way], Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation, September 2, 2019, http://www.tmhelsinki.org/ru/modules/news/article.php?storyid=5290
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
  • In 2020, Turkmenistan’s brand of presidential authoritarianism was strengthened via constitutional changes unanimously approved by the national Halk Maslahaty (People’s Council) on September 25.1 On the same day, the changes were also unanimously adopted by the Mejlis (Assembly). They were set to come into force on January 1, 2021.2 According to the new constitution, the parliament—renamed the “National Council”—will become a bicameral body, with the Mejlis serving as the lower legislative chamber and the Halk Maslahaty as the upper chamber.3 As chair of the Constitutional Commission, President Berdimuhamedow (in office since 2007) developed the amendments himself,4 declaring that “adoption of the Constitutional Law will be another important step towards democratization of the country.” Yet, in reality, Turkmenistan is no more democratic as a result of these or any other changes made during the year.5
  • Among the constitutional revisions, 1 article was deleted from the former version, 3 new articles were added, and 27 were amended.6 Most changes were technical and related to the parliament’s name change.7 While the Mejlis has retained its legislative powers, laws will now be approved by the Halk Maslahaty.8 The National Council may delegate to the president the right to pass legislation on specific issues, but these laws still have to be retroactively approved by the parliament.
  • Another noteworthy change was the creation of the position of “ex-president,” who will automatically receive a seat in the national Halk Maslahaty. Some observers see this role as a way for President Berdimuhamedow to voluntarily leave his post in the future. It is unclear whether a five-year term will also apply to “ex-presidents” as it does to other members of parliament.9 Observers speculated on the possible rationale for these changes, with some positing that Berdimuhamedow is preparing to transfer power to his only son, Serdar, and will then take a seat in the Halk Maslahaty. Another theory envisions Serdar becoming chair of the Halk Maslahaty and then taking over as acting president in case his father is incapable of fulfilling his presidential duties. However, the constitution still prohibits the acting president from running for president.10 Yet this is the same prohibition that Berdimuhamedow ignored as acting president when he ran for his first term in 2007.11
  • For the time being, Serdar is building his political career by taking on different positions in government, from deputy of the Mejlis and deputy minister of foreign affairs, to hakim (governor) of the Ahal region and, as of February 2020, minister of industry and construction. This is a newly created ministry that, in fact, duplicates the existing Ministry of Construction and Architecture. While Serdar reports to meetings of the Cabinet of Ministers, he, unlike other officials, avoids receiving presidential reprimands. He has overseen the production of smartphones and TVs, and inaugurated a zoological hotel, a veterinary clinic, and a breeding center for Alabai shepherd dogs.12 As alternative media have claimed, there is an understanding within the president’s extended family that he will not interfere in his relations’ business activities so long as they do not seek political power. But this dynamic may change if Serdar comes to power since he is generally viewed as weaker than his father.13
  • There is no domestic opposition inside Turkmenistan. Émigré opposition leaders are mainly middle-aged former government officials who sought political asylum abroad after falling out of favor with the regime. There are several prominent émigré groups that mobilize Turkmen emigrants and call on citizens inside the country to protest, including the Democratic Liberal Party14 and the Democratic Choice of Turkmenistan (DVT). A new genuine opposition party, DVT was founded on May 1, 2020.15 The party conducts a Telegram chat group, “Activist DVT,” in which citizens inside and outside the country discuss the current situation in Turkmenistan and how to change it. DVT is led by the exiles Kakamurad Hydyrov and Murad Kurbanov.16
  • The country’s deepening economic crisis in 2020 affected the regime’s ability “to ensure an adequate standard of living and the right to food” to its citizens, according to Human Rights Watch.17 The government continued to provide subsidized basic foods through state shops.18 Food shortages led to rationing and long lines at these stores. According to local observers, domestic food production meets only 40 percent of the country’s needs, while the remaining 60 percent is imported, mainly from Iran19 but also from European Union (EU)20 and Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) countries.21 There is also a lack of hard domestic cash and foreign currency in Turkmenistan. The Central Bank has kept the official exchange rate at 3.5 manats per U.S. dollar,22 while the black-market rate reached 23.5 manats per dollar in October 2020.23 Free currency conversion at the official exchange rate is only available to people close to the regime.24 The lack of cash has caused long lines at ATMs,25 with hundreds of people waiting up to six hours to take out money.26 Tensions among citizens unable to use their earnings have led to stabbings and small-scale protests.27 The government decided to “solve” the issue of long lines by transferring ATMs from city centers to remote areas,28 or by simply dismantling them altogether.29
  • As of December 31, 2020, Turkmenistan had not officially registered any cases of COVID-19, a claim widely regarded as false by independent scientists.30 Even though experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) toed the government’s line regarding the lack of coronavirus cases in the country,31 many citizens, including medical doctors32 and prisoners,33 were reported to have died of “pneumonia.” Lack of public awareness on how to detect and protect against the virus, as well as where to seek aid, caused many to self-treat and avoid seeking medical assistance even in the presence of COVID-19 symptoms. In August, President Berdimuhamedow signed a law that could punish those who avoid seeking treatment for dangerous infectious diseases with prison sentences of two to five years.34 Furthermore, during a closed meeting among national healthcare personnel, officials from the Ministry of Health recognized the COVID-19 pandemic.35 Coronavirus testing services were made available for 110 manats ($30).36 Reportedly, any positive test results were simply not recorded by the authorities. Medicines to treat “pneumonia” can cost two to three months’ salary,37 which has created a black market for drugs that address COVID-19 symptoms.38
  • Although the government seemed to recognize and acknowledge the negative socioeconomic consequences of the global pandemic, it continued to report on economic successes in the country, claiming 5.8 percent GDP growth in 2020.39 Meanwhile, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) forecasted a 1-percent decline in the country’s GDP.40 Similarly, a UN-government joint working group developed a $1-billion Socio-Economic Response Plan (SERP) for Turkmenistan that aims to mitigate the negative impacts of the pandemic through loans from international development banks.41 The very existence of the SERP demonstrates the government’s lack of financial means to address the crisis.
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 neither free nor fair. They lack transparency, pluralism, and an informed and engaged electorate. They neither represent the people’s will nor serve as a mechanism to hold officials accountable. Elections are staged and merely symbolic attempts to give the regime the aura of democratic legitimacy.
  • Following the constitutional changes and creation of a bicameral parliament, now called the National Council, President Berdimuhamedow suggested that regional Halk Maslahatys (People’s Councils) should organize elections for the national Halk Maslahaty in early 2021, which will take place on the last Sunday in March.1 Regional Halk Maslahatys are representative bodies of local governments in regions, districts, and cities. Members are directly elected through secret ballot for four-year terms by the citizens of their respective administrative-territorial units.2
  • Turkmenistan’s new parliament will comprise the Mejlis (legislative lower chamber) and the Halk Maslahaty (upper chamber). The Mejlis, as before, will consist of 125 deputies elected for five-year terms via electoral districts. Current deputies will remain in their roles until the next regular parliamentary elections in 2023.3 The national Halk Maslahaty will consist of 56 members, 8 of whom will be directly appointed by the president and 8 elected from each of the 5 regions and the capital city Ashgabat. These other 48 members will be elected by secret ballot at the regional Halk Maslahatys.4 Candidates must be over 30 years old, citizens of Turkmenistan, have a higher education degree, and permanently reside in the country for the last 10 years.5 The chair and deputy chair of the national Halk Maslahaty are elected by its members.6
  • Previously, the process for appointing members of the national Halk Maslahaty was rather nontransparent; some were elected while others were appointed by the president.
  • 1. “Участники Халк Маслахаты единогласно одобрили изменения в Конституцию Туркменистана,” [Halk Maslahaty participants unanimously approved amendments to the Constitution of Turkmenistan], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, September 25, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/09/constitution-accepted/
  • 2. “ЗАКОН ТУРКМЕНИСТАНА О представительных органах местной власти, [Law of Turkmenistan on Representative Bodies of Local Government], Turkmen Business, October 1, 2011, http://www.turkmenbusiness.org/content/zakon-turkmenistana-o-predstavit…
  • 3. “Как будет работать двухпалатный парламент Туркменистана” [How the bicameral parliament of Turkmenistan will work], ORIENT, September 29, 2020, https://orient.tm/kak-budet-rabotat-dvuhpalatnyj-parlament-turkmenistan…
  • 4. “Краткий разбор новой редакции Конституции Туркменистана,” [Brief analysis of the new edition of the Constitution of Turkmenistan], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, September 26, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/09/constitution-v-9/
  • 5. “Выборы в новую палату парламента Туркменистана пройдут в марте 2021 года,” [Elections to the new chamber of the parliament of Turkmenistan to be held in March 2021], Turkmenportal, September 29, 2020, https://turkmenportal.com/blog/30736/vybory-v-novuyu-palatu-parlamenta-…
  • 6. “Определены полномочия Национального совета. Экс-президенты получают место в Верхней палате,” [The powers of the National Council have been determined. Ex-presidents get a seat in the Upper House], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, February 24, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/02/parliament/
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
  • In 2020, there were a record number of peaceful demonstrations by Turkmen citizens both abroad and at home. The most openly political protests were provoked by government inaction after a catastrophic hurricane in April (see “Local Democratic Governance”) and during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as on the occasion of President Berdimuhamedow’s June 29 birthday and the September constitutional changes. These protests mainly occurred outside of the country, among opposition circles in Cyprus, Turkey, United States, and elsewhere.1
  • While there was no media coverage or official reaction to these protests in Turkmenistan, Turkmen diplomats tried to prevent and track down activists, accusing them of terrorism.2 To illustrate, after a June 26 protest in Istanbul, activist Khanum Rasulova was approached by two Turkish men who tried to forcefully put her in a car and take her to the Turkmen Consulate.3 In the following month, the consulate shared with Turkish authorities the names of five activists who had supposedly threatened Turkmen diplomats. As a result, the Turkish authorities banned a large-scale antigovernment demonstration planned in Istanbul on July 19 and arrested around 80 people. After four to five hours, all participants (except Dursoltan Taganova) were released, but their names were shared with the Turkmen authorities.4 Taganova, one of the leaders of the DVT branch in Turkey, was fined 2,000 Turkish lira5 and detained at a deportation center in Istanbul until October 12,6 when she was finally released following requests by international human rights organizations.
  • The Turkmen opposition abroad also tried to organize peaceful protests inside Turkmenistan, including ahead of the national Halk Maslahaty meeting on September 25 that approved the constitutional changes. Turkmen security services reacted by tightening surveillance and harassing activists. To illustrate, after a staged street conflict on September 5 in Balkanabat, lawyer Pygamberdy Allaberdyev was accused of hooliganism and sentenced to six years in prison. In reality, however, he was suspected of communicating with activists abroad.7 Security officials also requested that civic activists in Turkmenistan sit for “preventive conversations” in which they were warned about the consequences of communicating with the Turkmen opposition abroad.8 They also had such talks with high school students who were threatened with expulsion if they were found to participate in unauthorized street actions.9
  • Even under these repressive conditions, initiative groups inside the country still found ways to protest against the regime. In June, residents in Ashgabat distributed antigovernment leaflets in public places with President Berdimuhamedow’s photo captioned “Güm bol!” (“Go Away!”) and “Ogry” (“Thief”).10 Similarly, banknotes with handwritten inscriptions, such as “Death to Haramdag, the people have woken up” and “Haramdag, Go Away!”—a play on words with haram, meaning something forbidden, and Arkadag, meaning “protector” (an honorific for the president)—were found in Ashgabat and Lebap.11 In the Mary region, banknotes with inscriptions in Russian appeared, saying: “Dear Turkmen people! Russia sees your suffering and waits for your actions. Every day from 14.09.2020 go to a rally in front of the Mary city library. Russia will support you!” Ministry of National Security (MNS) officials spent many nights at the local library interrogating staff and anyone standing outside.12 On September 16, a 25-year-old coach stood in front of the hakimlik (government administration office) in Turkmenabat wearing white clothes to protest corruption as well as the lack of cash and basic food. He was sentenced to seven days of administrative arrest.13
  • In the face of increasing public discontent at home and abroad during the year, security officials tightened control and harassment of civic activists and their families. On June 16, activist Murad Dushemov was detained in Ashgabat for several days and later put under house arrest for posting a video on YouTube calling on the Turkmen opposition to unite.14 The security services stood watch outside the apartment of human rights activist Natalya Shabunts for two weeks ahead of the president’s birthday.15 MNS officials also threatened families of Turkey-based activists Gulnar Kakalieva,16 Hamida Babajanova,17 Khanum Rasulova,18 Bayram Allalyev,19 and Dursoltan Taganova,20 along with the Russia-based activists Azat Isakov and Rozgeldi Choliyev,21 among others.22
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 are neither independent nor free. President Berdimuhamedow regularly criticizes the work of national media, dictates the topics they should cover, and fires editors-in-chief. On January 28, the president criticized Turkmen TV channels for failing to sufficiently and regularly cover the country’s socioeconomic achievements. He dismissed the director of the Miras TV channel, Guvanch Bayramdurdyev, for failing to fulfill his responsibilities,1 and thus violated the Law on Mass Media himself. According to Article 16, an editor-in-chief is appointed and dismissed by the founder of a given media organization.2 Neither broadcast nor print media cover news that is unfavorable to the regime. These media also ignored the COVID-19 situation in the country, yet they did recommend that people protect themselves from acute respiratory diseases by practicing good hygiene, consuming herbs (like saxaul and harmala), and drinking tea according to President Bedimuhamedow’s recipes.3 Moreover, national media provided no coverage of the devastating hurricane in the Lebap and Mary regions (see “Local Democratic Governance”). A week after the hurricane, Lebap’s regional news platform, Jeyhun, published two articles that did not directly address the storm but stated that local authorities had reacted swiftly with a team to clean up the streets and repair power lines and houses. The articles were deleted two days later.4
  • Meanwhile, independent and citizen journalists are constantly harassed for describing an alternative reality in the country.5 To illustrate, 66 people who took photos and videos of the aftermath of the hurricane were detained by police. Most of them were released after being interrogated and threatened with imprisonment.6 One was charged with defaming and insulting public officials.7 She was later pardoned in honor of Gadyr gijesi (“Night of Forgiveness,” a national holiday) and released after paying a fine.8 Similarly, Nurgeldy Halykov was sentenced to four years in prison on fabricated charges after sharing a photo of WHO representatives, who visited Turkmenistan in July with independent media.9
  • Internet connections in Turkmenistan are slow, unstable, expensive, and tightly monitored.10 State-owned Turkmentelecom remains the sole internet provider in the country. The slowest and cheapest internet package is 256 Kbps for 150 manats per month (about 10 percent of the average monthly salary). However, in reality, the internet speed barely reaches 130 Kbps.11 This makes online education extremely difficult for Turkmen students at foreign universities who have had to study remotely due to the pandemic.12 Moreover, Turkmentelecom has apparently installed new technology imported from Germany to tighten internet censorship and surveillance in the country.13 According to Article 42 of the constitution, citizens have the right to freely search, receive, and disseminate information that is not prohibited by law.14 In practice, social media channels and independent media outlets are blocked, and security services harass internet users who visit these websites.15 For instance, a resident of the Farap district in Lebap was interrogated and threatened by security officials for using a virtual private network (VPN) to access information criticizing the regime.16
  • On top of this, the authorities regularly block VPN applications and harass specialists who install such programs.17 On July 31, security services arrested more than 30 cellphone merchants in Ashgabat who installed VPNs for a fee of 100 manats. They were fined, detained for 15 days, and warned that they could face criminal charges if they continued to offer this service.18
  • 1. “Бердымухамедов раскритиковал работу туркменских СМИ и поручил освещать экономические успехи страны,” [Berdymukhamedov criticized the work of the Turkmen media and instructed to cover the economic success of the country], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, January 29, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/01/free-press/
  • 2. “Закон Туркменистана о средствах массовой информации,” [Law of Turkmenistan on mass media], Turkmen Business, December 22, 2012, http://www.turkmenbusiness.org/content/zakon-turkmenistana-o-sredstvakh…
  • 3. “Туркменское телевидение COVID-19 не упоминает, но рекомендует защищаться саксаулом и гармалой, а "звезды" пить чай по рецепту президента,” [Turkmen television does not mention COVID-19, but recommends defending with saxaul and harmala, and "stars" drinking tea according to the president's recipe], Radio Azatlyk, April 2, 2020, https://rus.azathabar.com/a/30524819.html
  • 4. “Ураган, который был. Власти уже месяц молчат о трагедии в Лебапе,” [The hurricane that was. The authorities have been silent about the tragedy in Lebap for a month], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, May 27, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/05/hurricane-that-happened/
  • 5. Rachel Denber, “Turkmenistan Government’s Deafening Silence After Hurricane,” Human Rights Watch, May 4, 2020, https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/05/04/turkmenistan-governments-deafening-…
  • 6. “В Туркменабате помиловали одну из женщин, распространявших видео об урагане,” [In Turkmenabat pardoned one of the women who spread the video on hurricane], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, May 19, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/05/pardoned-2/
  • 7. “В Туркменистане заведены уголовные дела на двух женщин, распространявших видео об урагане,” [Criminal cases opened in Turkmenistan against two women for distributing video about hurricane], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, May 7, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/05/arrests/
  • 8. “В Туркменабате помиловали одну из женщин, распространявших видео об урагане,” [In Turkmenabat, one of the women who shared the video of the hurricane was pardoned], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, May 19, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/05/pardoned-2/
  • 9. “«Репортеры без границ» призвали освободить Нургельды Халыкова,” [Reporters Without Borders called for the release of Nurgeldy Khalykov], Turkmen News, December 18, 2020, https://turkmen.news/human-rights/rsf-nurgeldi-halykov-turkmenistan/
  • 10. “Increased Internet Censorship; Mass Mobilisation For Regime-Praising Events Continues,” CIVICUS, March 19, 2020, https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2020/03/19/new-cases-internet-censo…
  • 11. “Скорость подключения к интернету через «Туркментелеком» вдвое меньше заявленной,” [The speed of connecting to the Internet through Turkmentelecom is half the declared speed], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, January 23, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/01/turkmenet/
  • 12. “Медленный интернет создает проблемы в онлайн обучении туркменских студентов,” [Slow internet creates problems in online learning for Turkmen students], Radio Azatlyk, November 17, 2020, https://rus.azathabar.com/a/30955257.html
  • 13. “Türkmenistan Internete gözegçiligi has-da güýçlendirýär,” [Turkmenistan tightens Internet control], Radio Azatlyk, August 12, 2020, https://www.azathabar.com/a/30780403.html
  • 14. “Обращение ТИПЧ к омбудсмену по поводу пострадавших от урагана жителей Туркменистана,” [TIHR's appeal to the Ombudsman on hurricane-affected residents of Turkmenistan], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, June 10, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/06/ombudsperson-open-letter/
  • 15. “Türkmenistan VPN-i bloklaýar, ygtybarly internete bolan isleg artýar,” [Turkmenistan is blocking VPNs, increasing demand for secure internet], Radio Azatlyk, September 15, 2020, https://www.azathabar.com/a/30840055.html
  • 16. “Туркменистанцев допрашивают за просмотр заблокированных в стране сайтов,” [Turkmenistanis interrogated for viewing websites blocked in the country], Radio Azatlyk, December 14, 2020, https://rus.azathabar.com/a/30999952.html
  • 17. “Скорость подключения к интернету через «Туркментелеком» вдвое меньше заявленной,” [The speed of connecting to the Internet through Turkmentelecom is half the declared speed], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, January 23, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/01/turkmenet/
  • 18. “Türkmen häkimiýetleri daşary ýurtlardaky protestlere garşy VPN hyzmatyny hödürleýänleri yzarlap göreşýär,” [Turkmen authorities crack down on VPN service providers abroad], Radio Azatlyk, August 21, 2020, https://www.azathabar.com/a/30795298.html
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. 1.001 7.007
  • Regional and local governments have limited power over local affairs as they strictly follow regime policies. Nonetheless, they make some concessions to local residents in their attempts to keep things under control and please Ashgabat. The April 27 hurricane, which mainly affected the Lebap and Mary regions, was a test of the effectiveness of local authorities, who failed resoundingly. The strong winds blew off rooftops and damaged infrastructure, while heavy rain flooded streets and houses. The city of Turkmenabat was left without electricity, drainage system, or communications.1 Apparently, the hydrometeorological service of Turkmenistan informed the local administration, police, and emergency services in Turkmenabat an hour before the storm, but officials failed to inform the public.2 Furthermore, during the crisis, the staff at the regional and district hakimliks were not available to the public, neither in person nor via telephone. They also shut down communications, including mobile and landline phone services and the internet, blocked entry to the affected areas, and harassed activists who shared the news with the world.
  • Citizens were highly discontented with local government inaction after the cataclysm. On April 29, residents from Turkmenabat and nearby villages sent their elders to the hakimliks to request help. While officials told them to collect information on the damage and losses, they also asked elders to share names of people who were particularly outspoken with their grievances and demanding help.3 On May 13, in the Zheleznodorozhny district of Turkmenabat, nearly a thousand people, mainly women and children, held a protest by sitting on the main road to express their outrage at the government’s inaction.4 On May 14, residents managed to meet with representatives of the city administration.5 Officials promised to restore public housing at the expense of the state, while providing loans and construction materials at fixed prices to private homeowners.6 However, the money for this work was collected from citizens themselves. Officials deducted 200–300 manats from the April salaries of public sector employees in Ashgabat without informing people ahead of time,7 and 270 manats from the June and July salaries of employees in Turkmenabat.8
  • Economic hardships and food shortages also led to several small-scale demonstrations. In some cases, local officials were responsive to these actions. On April 4, about 30 women in Mary gathered in front of the mayor’s office and eventually managed to meet with the official. They complained about the lack of flour and vegetable oil in state shops. Officials promised to resolve the issue within three days and eventually provided two kilograms of flour to each.9 In other cases, protesters were dispersed by the police10 or by persuasion.11 On April 14, around 100 women who gathered in Farap to request the provision of flour were refused and threatened with 15 days of administrative arrest.12 Although applied inconsistently, pandemic restrictions also affected the livelihoods of Turkmen people, triggering displays of discontent. On October 4, when police moved to dismantle a spontaneously formed flea market in Turkmenabat (established markets were closed due to COVID-19), the merchants fought back, stating their economic hardships, and marched towards the regional administration building. When police tried to block their way, they started shouting, and residents of nearby houses came out to support the merchants. Some individuals even threatened self-immolation. Police eventually allowed the merchants to continue their business.13
  • 1. “На Туркменабат обрушился ураган,” [Hurricane hit Turkmenabat], Radio Azatlyk, April 28, 2020, https://rus.azathabar.com/a/30579890.html
  • 2. “Число погибших в результате урагана в Туркменистане превысило 30 человек, много детей,” [Hurricane death toll in Turkmenistan exceeded 30, many children], Radio Azatlyk, May 2, 2020, https://rus.azathabar.com/a/30589172.html
  • 3. “Ураган, который был. Власти уже месяц молчат о трагедии в Лебапе,” [The hurricane that was. The authorities have been silent about the tragedy in Lebap for a month], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, May 27, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/05/hurricane-that-happened/
  • 4. “«Хяким испугался, прислав вместо себя заместителя». Подробности протеста в Туркменабаде,” [The hyakim was frightened and sent a deputy instead. ” Details of the protest in Turkmenabat], Turkmen News, May 14, 2020, https://turkmen.news/news/protest-turkmenabat/
  • 5. “В Туркменабате прошла встреча представителей мэрии с жителями города, возмущенными бездействием властей,” [In Turkmenabat, representatives of the mayor's office met with residents of the city, outraged by the inaction of the authorities], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, May 14, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/05/zheleznodorozhny/
  • 6. “В Туркменабате прошла встреча представителей мэрии с жителями города, возмущенными бездействием властей,” In Turkmenabat, representatives of the mayor's office met with residents of the city, outraged by the inaction of the authorities], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, May 14, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/05/zheleznodorozhny/
  • 7. “С зарплат жителей Ашхабада удержали по 300 манатов на восстановление Лебапа,” [300 manats deducted from Ashgabat residents' salaries for the restoration of Lebap], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, May 15, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/05/turkmenabat-tax/
  • 8. “С двух зарплат жителей Туркменабата удержат деньги на восстановление Лебапа,” [Money for the restoration of Lebap will be withheld from two salaries of Turkmenabat residents], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, May 20, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/05/hurricane-tax/
  • 9. “Жительницы Мары потребовали от губернатора решить проблемы с продовольствием,” [Residents of Mary demanded that the governor solve food problems], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, April 6, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/04/zhitelniczy-mary-potrebovali-ot-guber…
  • 10. “Жители Мары обратились в районную администрацию требуя выдать продовольственный паек,” [Residents of Mary applied to the regional administration demanding to issue food rations], Radio Azatly, November 10, 2020, https://rus.azathabar.com/a/30940827.html
  • 11. “В Мары десятки женщин попытались обратиться к властям за помощью,” [In Mary, dozens of women tried to turn to the authorities for help], Radio Azatlyk, December 22, 2020, https://rus.azathabar.com/a/31013638.html
  • 12. “Силовые органы Туркменистана усиливают давление на граждан за жалобы на нехватку продовольствия,” [Law enforcement agencies of Turkmenistan increase pressure on citizens for complaints about food shortages], April 15, 2020, Radio Azatlyk, https://rus.azathabar.com/a/30554627.html
  • 13. “Блошиный рынок в Туркменабаде стал причиной ещё одного стихийного протеста,” [A flea market in Turkmenabat has caused another spontaneous protest], Radio Azatlyk, October 6, 2020, https://rus.azathabar.com/a/30878416.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 neither independent nor transparent. Often, the judiciary is used to further the regime’s agenda rather than to protect the rights of citizens. As human rights activists say, the courts in Turkmenistan never really provide any acquittals, and citizens suspected of crimes are forced to confess and testify against themselves through torture, despite constitutional protections from forced confessions and torture.1 Instead of preventing widespread corruption, courts in Turkmenistan serve as an integral part of regime propaganda and are used to eliminate those who are no longer favored by the regime.
  • Moreover, it is common for court cases to be held behind closed doors without granting the accused their right to a lawyer or witnesses. To illustrate, on September 29, the trial of Pygamberdy Allaberdyev (see “Civil Society”), in which the attorney was sentenced to six years in jail on fabricated charges, was held in Balkanabat behind closed doors. It is unclear whether the defendant was assigned a lawyer. The two witnesses who could confirm Allaberdyev’s innocence were not allowed to participate in the trial. Moreover, his head was shaved before the proceedings even began, something that should not happen unless the accused is convicted.2
  • The judicial system generally stands on the side of the government and does not protect the rights of citizens. The state prosecutor’s office in the Lebap region, for example, demanded that farmers reimburse the state for the unfulfilled portion of the state plan for cotton. Farmers failed to meet the quota primarily due to the April 27 hurricane. However, the state prosecution made no concessions and threatened to confiscate farmers’ cattle or furniture if they failed to pay.3
  • Occasionally, the Ministry of Justice organizes meetings with citizens to discuss legal issues with the participation of the state prosecutor’s office, the courts, the bar association, and hakimliks. One such meeting was organized in the city of Mary on August 21 in which 50 citizens were selected to participate. Before the meeting, they were told not to raise issues related to court decisions that had already entered into force or comment on the internal politics of the government.4
  • Turkmenistan also failed to comply with international human rights obligations during the year, including those related to freedom of conscience and religion. As of September, the UN Human Rights Committee’s website had published 21 complaints from Turkmenistan, 14 of which were from Jehovah’s Witnesses. Of these cases, one is related to persecution for religious beliefs and fabrication of a criminal case, while the remaining cases are related to criminal prosecution for conscientious objection to mandatory military service. While the committee found violations of individual rights, appeals made by these believers to Turkmen courts at different levels were rejected. So far, there were no cases in which the courts ruled in favor of the believers.5
  • The judicial system has also failed to defend the rights of citizens as they continue to face discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation. For instance, female drivers cannot renew their driver’s licenses because of unwritten rules that prevent women from driving. Even after complaining and receiving statements from the presidential administration, Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the state prosecutor’s office affirming there are no legal obstacles to renewing driver’s licenses, they are still unable to do so.6 Similarly, consensual sexual relations between people of the same sex are criminalized in Turkmenistan. In March, artist G. S. was arrested and suspected of homosexuality along with about a dozen other men. Some of the detainees were released after paying fines.7 In May, a court in Ashgabat sentenced G. S. to two years in prison under Article 135 of the Criminal Code, which outlaws “sodomy.”8 Defendants accused of “sodomy” often have difficulty convincing lawyers to take their cases because they are usually considered hopeless and damaging to the lawyers’ reputation.9
  • 1. “Туркменское телевидение снова показало осуждённых за преступления бывших чиновников,”[Turkmen television once again shows former officials convicted of crimes], Radio Azatlyk, October 11, 2020, https://rus.azathabar.com/a/30887102.html
  • 2. “Туркменистан: закрытый суд в Балканабаде приговорил Аллабердыева к шести годам лишения свободы,” [Turkmenistan: closed court in Balkanabat sentenced Allaberdiev to six years in prison], Memorial Human Rights Center, September 30, 2020, https://memohrc.org/ru/news_old/turkmenistan-zakrytyy-sud-v-balkanabade…
  • 3. “Прокуратура допрашивает задолжавших государству хлопкоробов,” [The prosecutor's office interrogates the cotton growers who owe the state], Radio Azatlyk, November 20, 2020, https://rus.azathabar.com/a/30958848.html
  • 4. “Людям запретили поднимать вопросы политики на приеме в Минюсте,” [People banned from raising political issues at a reception at the Ministry of Justice], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, August 18, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/08/2-min-justice/
  • 5. “Решения Комитета ОOH По Правам Человека По Индивидульным Жалобам Свидетелей Иеговы Из Туркменистана,” [Decisions of the United Nations Committee on Human Rights on Individual Complaints of Jehovah's Witnesses from Turkmenistan], Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, September 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/wp-content/uploads/2020_10_05_jehovahs_witnes…
  • 6. “Azat Türkmen #46. Aýal-gyzlara garşy terror…,” [Terror Against Women], YouTube, September 22, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50yOhR0e8Ug&feature=youtu.be
  • 7. “В Ашхабаде арестован известный шоумен. Его подозревают в гомосексуальности,” [A famous showman was arrested in Ashgabat. He is suspected of being homosexual], Turkmen News, April 15, 2020, https://turkmen.news/human-rights/gay-turkmenistan/
  • 8. “Туркменского шоумена осудили на 2 года за мужеложство,” [Turkmen showman sentenced to 2 years for sodomy], Turkmen News, May 23, 2020, https://turkmen.news/human-rights/turkmenskogo-shoumena-osudili-na-2-go…
  • 9. “В Ашхабаде арестован известный шоумен. Его подозревают в гомосексуальности,” [A famous showman was arrested in Ashgabat. He is suspected of being homosexual], Turkmen News, April 15, 2020, https://turkmen.news/human-rights/gay-turkmenistan/
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 has become a normal part of everyday life in Turkmenistan. It starts among the highest echelon and proceeds to the lowest levels of power. In a recent report by TRACE International, Turkmenistan placed 193rd out of 194 countries on the effectiveness of antibribery measures.1 When new appointees come to power in Turkmenistan, it is common that they hire their own relatives and friends or sell vacancies for a lucrative sum. For instance, Serdar Meredow, hakim of the Turkmenbashy district of Dashoguz region since January 2019, has reportedly charged $2,000–3,000 per position.2
  • Although corruption is regularly practiced among high-ranking officials, it is also the most common charge used against them. On September 21, President Berdimuhamedov reprimanded Internal Affairs Minister Mammethan Chakyev for corruption in the ministry and for rising crime in the country. Apparently, Chakyev appointed his friends and relatives to high positions at various institutions in the Ahal region and promoted officers for a fee of $10,000–12,000.3 Similarly, State Migration Service chair Mergen Gurdov, fired on October 7, is under investigation for delaying approval of passports for international travel in order to receive bribes.4 After an inspection of various cultural and education institutions in October, a number of government officials in Ashgabat and the regions were prosecuted and sentenced to 10–15 years in prison on corruption charges. While official media reported on these cases, they did not specify when and where the investigations and court proceedings took place.5
  • Moreover, the title “Honorary Elder,” bestowed by the president, reportedly costs 4,000 manats ($1,142 at the official rate, or about $170at the black-market rate) in bribes. The title offers bearers proximity to high-ranking officials, such as regional governors, who can provide personal favors. Allegedly, nearly 70 percent of honorary elders are former police officers.6
  • Corruption is also common in prisons. One month before a general amnesty is conducted, the prison administration receives a list of articles from the Criminal Code that are eligible for pardons. Based on the list and convict behavior, the administration asks select prisoners if they are ready to write a request for forgiveness and pay bribes of as much as $700. A final list of prisoners is then sent to Ashgabat for the president’s signature.7
  • COVID-19 restrictions were implemented unevenly as authorities used them to their advantage. While there were restrictions on holding mass gatherings, individuals with high-ranking acquaintances or who were willing to pay bribes to inspectors could organize events.8 For instance, to have a big gathering in Turkmenabat, one needed to pay a bribe of 5,000 manats divided among various officials.9 Likewise, police fined people who were not wearing face masks 50–100 manats without writing invoices. In the Mary region, those who were unable to pay these fines were sent to the fields to pick cotton.10
  • 1. “TRACE Bribery Risk Matrix,” TRACE Anti-Bribery Compliance Solutions, 2020, https://www.traceinternational.org/trace-matrix#193
  • 2. “Жители этрапа им.С.Туркменбаши рассказали о коррупции в хякимлике,” [Residents of S. Turkmenbashi etrap told about corruption in the hakimlik], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, May 18, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/05/turkmenbashy/
  • 3. “Бердымухамедов недоволен Чакыевым из-за коррупции в МВД и роста преступности,” [Berdymukhamedov is unhappy with Chakyev over corruption in the Interior Ministry and rising crime], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, September 25, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/09/chakyev/
  • 4. “Ведется следствие в отношении уволенного главы Миграционной службы,” [An investigation is underway against the dismissed head of the Migration Service], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, October 12, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/10/gurdov-corruption/
  • 5. “Туркменское телевидение снова показало осуждённых за преступления бывших чиновников,” [Turkmen television once again shows former officials convicted of crimes], Radio Azatlyk, October 11, 2020, https://rus.azathabar.com/a/30887102.html
  • 6. “За звание «Почетный старейшина Туркменистана» нужно заплатить 4000 манатов,” [For the title "Honorary Elder of Turkmenistan" you need to pay 4,000 manats], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, June 4, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/06/yasuly/
  • 7. “Попасть в список помилованных Бердымухамедовым стоило $700,” [It cost $700 to get onto the list of people pardoned by Berdimuhamedov], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, September 28, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/09/700-usd-clemency/
  • 8. “Полицейские используют запреты на работу ресторанов для получения взяток,” [Police use restaurant bans to take bribes], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, September 17, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/09/restrictions-for-unprivileged/
  • 9. “В Туркменабате провести торжество можно за взятку в частном дворе,” [In Turkmenabat, a celebration can be held for a bribe in a private courtyard], Chronicle of Turkmenistan, November 21, 2020, https://www.hronikatm.com/2020/11/corona-corruption/
  • 10. “Jerime töläp bilmeýän raýatlar meýdanlarda ‘gul ýaly’ işledilýär,” [Citizens who cannot pay the fine are treated like slaves in the squares], Radio Azatlyk, October 9, 2020, https://www.azathabar.com/a/30884125.html

On Turkmenistan

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  • Global Freedom Score

    2 100 not free