Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
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. See the methodology.

header1 Author

  • Anonymous

header2 Status Changes

  • No changes in 2023.

header3 Executive Summary

In 2022, the consolidated authoritarian regime in Turkmenistan showed remarkable continuity marked by the emergence of the father-son ruling duopoly. Following political turbulence in neighboring Kazakhstan in early January, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, who had ruled Turkmenistan for the past 15 years, instituted the long-awaited dynastic transfer of power to his son, Serdar Berdimuhamedov. On March 12, the country held an early presidential election, entirely under the executive’s control, which Serdar easily won. On March 19, he was officially inaugurated as Turkmenistan’s third president since the country gained independence in 1991.

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov continued to play a vital role in Turkmenistan’s politics from behind the curtain, and as chairperson of the Halk Maslahaty (People’s Council, or Senate). As formally the second-ranking person in the political hierarchy, he is endowed with significant control of the country’s major decision-making processes and the power to take over presidential responsibilities if the current president is incapable of performing his duties. This arrangement can be viewed as an insurance policy to solidify the ruling family’s political regime against any real or perceived challenges and to allow Serdar to strengthen his position as a legitimate leader under the tutelage of Berdimuhamedov senior.

Serdar’s first year as president was characterized by a lack of political or economic reforms, strengthening of his father’s personality cult, intensified state-directed discrimination of women, intensified crackdown on internet access, and continued intimidation and repression of independent journalists and human rights activists. Meanwhile, the year witnessed a modest rebounding of the economy, gradual reopening of the country’s international traffic links, imposition of a visa regime with Turkey, and worsening water shortages across the country.

Serdar Berdimuhamedov maintained his father’s micromanagement of the country, depriving its governing institutions of any real power to influence political processes or decision-making. He undermined the autonomy of institutions by directly interfering in their work, setting their priorities and tasks, and reprimanding and reshuffling officials at all levels. The regime also continued to govern Turkmenistan as a nepotistic kleptocracy. Although Serdar reportedly sacked several of his relatives from high-ranking positions, notably the infamous Gulnabat Dovletova, the Berdimuhamedov family clan and their close associates still hold prestigious posts in the public sector and maintain expansive control over the economy’s most profitable assets. Corruption at all levels remains pervasive, while the government’s anticorruption raids are symbolic and often politically motivated.

A change in leadership did not improve the human rights situation in the country. As in previous years, the Turkmen government severely violated fundamental rights and freedoms of citizens. In early April, authorities launched a campaign of unprecedented informal restrictions concerning women’s appearance and conduct, enforcing bans on “tight-fitting” clothes, dying hair, using beauty accessories, having cosmetic surgery, and sitting in the front seat of vehicles next to the driver, among other activities. The campaign was accompanied by public raids and special gatherings at workplaces and education establishments to discuss the new rules on women’s clothes, beauty routines, and appearance, as well as publications in national media promoting so-called traditional values and standards regarding women’s roles in the family and society, including the promotion of a pronatalist agenda.

The regime maintained strict control over the information space in Turkmenistan, intensifying its stranglehold on the internet as the only remaining source of propaganda-free information. Since April, authorities have executed full or partial internet disruptions and shutdowns, bandwidth throttling, and blocking VPNs and entire subnets. In December, the government proceeded to establish an autonomous national digital network, which had been discussed since September, raising concerns that it sought to disconnect the country from the global internet.

In 2022, the ruling regime continued to use various tactics to pressure and intimidate outspoken activists and critical voices. Those outside Turkmenistan, particularly Turkey-based activists, faced the threat of detention and forcible extradition, physical attacks, and surveillance, while their relatives were subjected to intimidation and harassment at home. Numerous civic and political activists continued to serve prison sentences on politically motivated charges, including Murad Dushemov, Nurgeldy Halykov, Hursanay Ismatullaeva, Mansur Mengelov, Murat Ovezov, and others. Human rights groups, such as the Committee to Protect Journalists and the international “Prove They Are Alive!” campaign, and foreign decision-makers used the momentum of formal change in leadership to issue open letters and joint statements urging Serdar Berdimuhamedov to release imprisoned activists, discontinue the practice of enforced disappearances, and take meaningful steps to improve the country’s dismal human rights record. Despite these efforts, authorities released only Pygamberdy Allaberdyev in late December, a lawyer imprisoned for prodemocracy activism in 2020.

While Turkmenistan remains in an economic downturn, the economy started to rebound in 2022. Greater volumes of hydrocarbons, the country’s primary commodity, were exported at higher prices. The gradual reopening of borders, greater domestic mobility, increased trade, and revitalized services also strengthened the country’s fiscal stance and added considerably to economic growth compared to previous years.1 The country’s “neutral” foreign policy posture regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine opened up further opportunities for Turkmenistan to diversify export routes for hydrocarbons and leverage itself as an attractive transport and logistics route within the north-south and east-west corridors.

Economic relations with Russia remained a priority. During the year, the Turkmen government continually reiterated its interest in deepening cooperation in the areas of transportation, energy, and processing. In August, Turkmenistan announced plans to join the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), established by Russia, Iran, and India.2 Economic relations with Iran and neighboring Central Asian nations also strengthened; in June, Turkmenistan and Iran signed a cooperation agreement and reached an understanding over Iran’s gas debt, which enabled the revival of Turkmen gas exports to Iran and allowed increased gas exports to Azerbaijan via a trilateral gas swap deal.3 In December, Turkmenistan hosted a trilateral Azerbaijan-Turkey-Turkmenistan heads of state summit where the parties discussed delivering Turkmen gas to Turkey and developing a transport corridor.4

To fully benefit from these and other initiatives, Turkmenistan would need to implement structural political and economic reforms to improve governance standards and the investment climate, develop a more consistent economic policy to reduce macroeconomic distortion, promote greater data transparency, and eradicate burdensome bureaucratic procedures. Thus far, however, the ruling regime has shown no interest in implementing genuine market-oriented reforms that would limit its grip on the economy. Geopolitical factors, such as Russia’s uneasiness with any project that would diminish its economic dominance (in westbound energy exports), on the one hand, and the threat of secondary sanctions on the other also pose a significant challenge. As the war in Ukraine enters a protracted state, with all attendant consequences, Turkmenistan’s ruling regime must carefully assess the opportunities and risks involved in balancing external pressures with limited economic options.

header4 At-A-Glance

In Turkmenistan, national governance is defined by personalistic authoritarianism and a complete lack of democratic and publicly accountable institutions. Elections are not free and lack transparency, political pluralism, and an informed, engaged electorate. The civic sector is dominated by government-organized NGOs (GONGOs) advancing regime interests, while independent groups are nearly nonexistent due to legislative and practical barriers. Media are not free and are used primarily to endorse government viewpoints or promote the personality cult of the ruling family. Local governance is merely an extension of central power, tasked with implementing regime policies at the subnational level. The judicial system is not independent and is widely instrumentalized by the regime to punish critics, activists, and political figures who fall out of favor. Corruption is a widespread and deeply entrenched practice that permeates all spheres and levels of society.

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 2022, Turkmenistan drifted further from any semblance of democracy, becoming the first Central Asian nation with formalized hereditary power succession. On February 11, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov announced the need to transfer power to a “younger generation of leaders” in an extraordinary session of the Halk Maslahaty (People’s Council, or Senate).1 On March 12, his son, Serdar Berdimuhamedov, won the choreographed early presidential election (see “Electoral Process”). Even so, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov maintains a tight grip on power and the country’s politics as chairman of the Halk Maslahaty. In this capacity, he held high-level meetings during the year with leadership from other countries and representatives of foreign companies, and headed Turkmenistan’s delegation at several international summits.2
  • The personality cult of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov reached new heights in 2022, which was officially declared “Epoch of the people with Arkadag.”3 Even after he stepped down as president, Berdimuhamedov senior continued to receive extensive media coverage and was referred to as the “Hero Arkadag” in official statements. On June 29, authorities held nationwide festivities to mark his sixty-fifth birthday, which involved the forcible mass mobilization of residents as “extras.”4 In November, the government proposed the creation of an online journal titled “Arkadagly ýaşlar” (the youth of Arkadag),5 and in December announced the name of the newly built $1.5 billion city, Arkadag, which will serve as the capital of the central Ahal region.6
  • The formal transfer of power did not improve the country’s governing institutions. After becoming president, Serdar Berdimuhamedov preserved his father’s controlling approach, including frequent and arbitrary changes among the leadership cadre. The postelection cabinet consisted of officials previously appointed by Berdimuhamedov senior. In July, Serdar reshuffled the deputy prime ministers overseeing economic affairs, science and education, and regional development, as well as the rectors of several universities and seven ambassadors.7 Personnel changes were carried out later in the year in other institutions. Serdar also maintained the practice of limiting independent decision-making, keeping deputy prime ministers as the only officials in charge of preparing development programs for his approval and supervising their execution.8
  • Turkmenistan’s economy showed signs of improvement in 2022 since its primary export, hydrocarbons, benefited from the surge in energy prices on global markets.9 The country’s undiversified, tightly controlled, and highly corrupt economy has been in distress since 2015, aggravating the plight of the local population, and the rebounding economy only modestly improved the living conditions of society at large. A detailed assessment is complicated by the lack of reliable government data on unemployment, inflation, average salaries, and so forth. The existence of two parallel exchange rates—the official fixed rate of 3.5 manats per $1, and the black-market rate of 19 manats per $110 —provoked further data distortions and rent-seeking opportunities for those with access to preferential rates. The availability and cost of basic foodstuffs also improved, although only moderately. In July, Ashgabat authorities canceled the delivery of foodstuffs at subsidized prices, citing their availability in markets.11 In November, Turkmen.news reported an improved food supply in the northern Dashoguz region, which decreased the cost of most foodstuffs and led to the cancellation of rationing.12
  • Turkmenistan gradually reopened international traffic links after two years of self-imposed isolation as part of its COVID-19 lockdown measures. The government consistently denied the existence of COVID-19 cases in Turkmenistan, a claim widely regarded as false by independent scientists and the international community.13 By June, authorities lifted most of the restrictions inside the country, which had been reimposed earlier in the year,14 and cautiously reopened border crossings and resumed regular international flights to certain destinations, such as Dubai, Frankfurt, Kazan, and Moscow.15 The resumption of air travel to Turkey, where the largest Turkmen diaspora lives, was not without politically motivated delay. Passenger flights to Turkey resumed on October 5,16 nearly a month after Turkey imposed a visa regime for Turkmen citizens17 at the request of Turkmen authorities.18
  • In December, Turkmenistan held its third population and housing census since its independence (previously conducted in 2012 and 1995).19 Authorities have yet to release the 2012 results, arguably because they show an emerging demographic crisis in the country. Since then, the situation has only worsened as Turkmenistan continues to experience an exodus of people for economic and political reasons.20 Regarding the 2022 census, United Nations representatives stressed that the count is regarded as complete only when results are officially published.21 In response, Turkmen officials stated that the country is ready “to study the proposals of UN experts on further publication of the census results.”22
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
  • On March 12, Turkmenistan held an early presidential election that finalized a choreographed transfer of power from Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to his son, Serdar.1 Similar to past polls, the 2022 election featured undemocratic conduct, including lack of transparency and political pluralism, the ruling regime’s total control over electoral processes, and widespread irregularities during the campaign and election day procedures. Furthermore, the independence of the Central Election Commission (CEC) is fundamentally compromised since the president personally appoints all 15 members for 5-year terms, including the chairperson (confirmed by the Mejlis, Turkmenistan’s parliamentary Assembly).
  • The conduct of the presidential election campaign, which lasted from February 14 to March 10, sought to guarantee Serdar’s conclusive victory. Political parties and initiative groups were given a week (February 14–21) to nominate and register a candidate. Since candidates may start campaigning only after registering,2 some had roughly 18 days to rally supporters. Nonetheless, Serdar’s eight competitors for the post were carefully preselected from among regime loyalists and consisted of midlevel functionaries and civil servants. To create a façade of representation, they came from all of the country’s regions. Campaign messages publicly praised Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s political and economic reforms and pledged to carry out policies in line with his socioeconomic development strategy.3 On February 14, Serdar Berdimuhamedov was unanimously nominated by the ruling Democratic Party of Turkmenistan.4 His campaign lacked substance, using vaporous language endorsing his father’s policies and the need to continue his reform agenda.
  • As in past presidential elections, exiled opposition activists and politicians were barred from standing as candidates and ineligible according to the constitution.5 In turn, they ran an “alternative” election, launching the website “saylawlar2022” (election2022) and a Telegram chatbot for online voting.6 Although the opposition stated the online voting system had mechanisms to prevent multiple voting, that claim is difficult to verify. Murad Gurbanov, leader of Democratic Choice of Turkmenistan, reportedly won the “alternative” electronic election.7
  • The OSCE ODIHR informed Turkmenistan that the constrained preelection time frame, combined with the obligation to follow a 14-day COVID-19 quarantine upon entry to the country, precluded them from deploying an election observation mission. The ODIHR also reiterated that Turkmen authorities had yet to address any of its previous recommendations, in particular, those related to political pluralism and enjoyment of fundamental human rights.8
  • According to official CEC results published on March 15, with voter turnout at 97.17 percent, Serdar Berdimuhamedov won the election, receiving 72.97 percent of votes.9 This astounding voter turnout was questioned by exiled independent media outlets and activists. Chronicles of Turkmenistan, for instance, reported that by noon, according to its informants, voter turnout had likely not exceeded 10 percent, although the CEC reported the figure to be 72 percent at that time.10
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
  • Spontaneous public protests were reported in Turkmenistan in 2022 despite the repressive climate. On January 10, around 200 people demonstrated in front of the Farap district government building protesting the sharp increase in prices for basic food staples. When authorities refused to talk to the protestors, they were dispersed by the local police.1 On January 31, dozens of vendors in the Bayramali district blocked a highway after police tried to dismantle their makeshift bazaar following the closure of the regular market due to COVID-19 measures. The protest dispersed after officials allowed the temporary market to remain open until the reopening of the central bazaar.2
  • Turkmen activists residing abroad continued to publicly express their discontent with the political regime and its policies, although the scale of protest activism significantly decreased compared to previous years. In January, a group of Turkmen activists protested in front of the UN headquarters in New York, demanding the release of political prisoners.3 In June, activists held a picket and press conference in Istanbul to spotlight difficulties facing Turkmen citizens.4
  • Authorities continued to pressure and intimidate critical voices abroad, particularly against Turkey-based activists. In February, the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation published a document, supposedly passed to Turkish officials by Turkmen authorities, containing the names of 25 activists requested to be detained and deported to Turkmenistan.5 In March, in a welcome development, Vepa Orazmuhammedov, one of the listed activists, was released from detention by a Turkish court.6 The practice of physical attacks by unknown perpetrators is another tool of intimidation. In August, several activists were injured on the premises of the Turkmen consulate in Istanbul after attempting to deliver a letter to Serdar Berdimuhamedov via the consulate staff.7 Turkmen authorities also intimidated relatives of these activists. In February, Rozgeldy Choliev’s mother was reportedly summoned by the Ashgabat police for questioning about her son’s activism.8
  • Although the Turkmen government rhetorically identifies gender equality as a political priority, and there are laws guaranteeing women’s rights, in practice, these rights are arbitrarily restricted, contrary to Turkmenistan’s commitments under international human rights law. In early April, authorities intensified efforts to strip away women’s bodily autonomy, making public the 2015 law restricting access to abortion care from 12 to 5 weeks.9 Given systemic problems in the healthcare sector, including widespread corruption and compromised access to qualified medical services, such restrictive measures put women at great risk. The scale of the problem cannot be underemphasized; in 2021, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reported that nearly 60 percent of women in Turkmenistan could not make autonomous decisions over healthcare, contraception, and the ability to say yes or no to sex.10 The situation is aggravated by widespread propaganda of the pronatalist agenda stigmatizing abortion.11
  • Since early April, law enforcement officers have imposed unofficial restrictive requirements concerning women’s appearance and conduct. They demanded that beauty salons stop providing beauty services to women, warning owners of hefty fines for disobeying requirements.12 There were also reports that male drivers were barred from offering rides to women who were not family members and that women were no longer allowed to sit in the front seat of taxis.13 Women employed in state-owned or affiliated entities were also required to write pledges, vowing to stop using beauty services and indicating that they would wear traditional dress.14
  • The campaign of state-imposed discrimination against women was accompanied by a range of activities promoting so-called traditional values and standards regarding women’s roles. Public officials, for instance, organized events in state-funded establishments to instruct women and girls on the observance of national traditions regarding behavior and appearance; attendees were also warned that, if failing to comply, they would face dismissal or expulsion.15 In addition, national media outlets published articles during the year instructing women to follow traditional familial roles and norms, including obedience to one’s husband and mother-in-law.16
  • This discriminatory environment has exacerbated victim shaming17 regarding gender-based violence, making survivors more reluctant to report abuse. In August, UNFPA published the first-ever national survey on the health and status of women in the family, drawing on data from 3,500 households. The findings revealed that 16 percent of women have experienced some form of abuse by an intimate partner, and 12 percent have been exposed to physical or sexual violence.18 The report also revealed that women who have experienced domestic violence rarely reach out for help. UNFPA’s 2019 Turkmenistan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey revealed that 58 percent of women accepted and justified intimate partner violence.19
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
  • In Turkmenistan, virtually all media outlets (print, broadcast, and online) are owned and directly controlled by the government. Censorship and self-censorship are universally applied; national media outlets endorse the government’s viewpoints and avoid reporting news unfavorable to the regime. The national media are also used to advance the personality cult of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov and his family. Although Serdar Berdimuhamedov’s portrait images have replaced those of his father on the front pages of all print media and in TV news spots since the presidential election,1 Berdimuhamedov senior still receives extensive coverage on par with the nominal president. Their daily activities constitute a significant share of national media content. Furthermore, outlets often use the “Arkadagly Serdar” title when referring to the president, which pays homage to Berdimuhamedov senior’s honorific title “Arkadag” (protector).2
  • Serdar Berdimuhamedov continued his father’s practice of criticizing and directly interfering in the work of national media in 2022 in clear violation of the law on mass media. In May and July, the president reprimanded Mahrijemal Mammedova, deputy prime minister overseeing culture and media, for the poor quality of TV programs, which did not “reflect the positive changes and the work of citizens aimed at developing the economy.”3 He also fired Shirgeldi Ishangulyev, head of the “Turkmenistan” TV channel.4
  • Independent Turkmen media outlets are forced to operate from abroad and are blocked in Turkmenistan, while the few independent journalists inside the country face constant harassment and intimidation. During the year, authorities reportedly subjected independent journalist and photographer Soltan Achilova to renewed pressure, and in January, an unidentified individual cut an exterior pipe to the air conditioning unit in her apartment. Although it was repaired, police officers did not search for the perpetrator.5 In April, she reported that she was being watched by a young man, and that security services approached people whom she had interviewed, warning them that continued contact with her may result in serious problems.6 In September, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) published an open letter urging Serdar Berdimuhamedov to release journalist Nurgeldy Halykov, who was imprisoned in 2020 on trumped-up charges likely in retaliation for sending independent media an image of a sensitive World Health Organization COVID-19 mission to Turkmenistan.7
  • Authorities intensified their stranglehold on the internet, raising concerns that the government is seeking to disconnect Turkmenistan from the global internet. On April 11–12, and in July, Turkmenistan experienced a near complete nationwide shutdown of the internet.8 Authorities also reportedly blocked access to Cloudflare services, which had helped maintain access to about 70 percent of blocked sites.9 In October, Turkmen.news reported that around 2.5 billion IP addresses had been blocked by authorities in an attempt to completely eradicate the use of circumvention tools.10 In September, authorities proposed the development of “an autonomous national digital network,”11 and in December, Serdar Berdimuhamedov signed a decree establishing a working group to develop a “concept for the formation of a national digital network, not linked to the internet.”12
  • 1“Старый новый президент. Как прошла первая неделя правления Сердара Бердымухамедова” [Old new president. How was the first week of the reign of Serdar Berdimuhamedov], Turkmen. News, 25 March 2022, https://turkmen.news/turkmenistan-serdar-nedelya/
  • 2“Посетившего Мекку и Медину Сердара Бердымухамедова теперь называют Аркадаглы Хаджи Сердар” [Serdar Berdimuhamedov, who visited Mecca and Medina, is now called Arkadaglu Haji Serdar], Chronicles of Turkmenistan, 3 June 2022, https://www.hronikatm.com/2022/06/arkadagly-haji-serdar/
  • 3“Заседание Кабинета Министров Туркменистана” [Meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan], Turkmenistan State News Agency (TDH) Turkmenistan Today, 6 May 2022, https://tdh.gov.tm/ru/post/31304/zasedanie-kabineta-ministrov-turkmenis…
  • 4“Расширенное заседание Кабинета Министров Туркменистана” [Expanded Meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan], Turkmenistan State News Agency (TDH) Turkmenistan Today, 29 July 2022, https://tdh.gov.tm/ru/post/32365/rasshirennoe-zasedanie-kabineta-minist…
  • 5“Неизвестный перерезал трубку внешнего блока кондиционера в квартире журналиста Солтан Ачиловой” [An unknown person cut the pipe of the external air conditioner unit in the apartment of journalist Soltan Achilova], Chronicles of Turkmenistan, 25 January 2022, https://www.hronikatm.com/2022/01/achilova-harassment/
  • 6“Turkmenistan: continued repression under new president”, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), 27 July 2022, https://www.iphronline.org/turkmenistan-continued-repression-under-new-…
  • 7“CPJ calls on President Berdimuhamedov to lift restrictions on Turkmenistan’s press, release journalist Nurgeldi Halykov”, Committee to Protect Journalists, 15 September 2022, https://cpj.org/2022/09/cpj-calls-on-president-berdimuhamedov-to-lift-r…
  • 8“В Туркменистане снова перебои с доступом к интернету и VPN-приложениям” [In Turkmenistan, there are again interruptions in access to the Internet and VPN applications], Chronicles of Turkmenistan, 18 July 2022, https://www.hronikatm.com/2022/07/no-internet-and-vpn-access/
  • 9“Turkmen.news: в Туркменистане заблокировали доступ к сервисам Cloudflare, с помощью которых работали две трети сайтов в стране” [Turkmen.news: Turkmenistan blocked access to Cloudflare services, with the help of which two-thirds of the sites in the country worked], Mediazona Central Asia, 14 July 2022, https://mediazona.ca/news/2022/07/14/cloudflare
  • 10“2,5 миллиарда заблокированных IP. Туркменистан остается на последнем месте в мире по скорости интернета” [2.5 billion blocked IPs. Turkmenistan remains in last place in the world in terms of Internet speed], Turkmen.News, 20 October 2022, https://turkmen.news/25-milliarda-zablokirovannyh-ip-turkmenistan-ostae…
  • 11“Заседание Кабинета Министров Туркменистана” [Meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan], Turkmenistan State News Agency (TDH) Turkmenistan Today, 17 September 2022, https://tdh.gov.tm/ru/post/32899/zasedanie-kabineta-ministrov-turkmenis…
  • 12“Кабмин: посольство в Катаре, пропагандистский инфоцентр и автономная сеть, «не связанная с интернетом»” [Cabinet of Ministers: embassy in Qatar, propaganda information center and autonomous network "not connected to the Internet"], Chronicles of Turkmenistan, 10 December 2022, https://www.hronikatm.com/2022/12/propaganda-autonomous-internet/
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
  • Governance in Turkmenistan is highly centralized, hence local governments lack any political or financial autonomy. The president personally appoints and dismisses all heads (hakims) of regional, city, and district executive bodies. As such, they are directly subordinated to him instead of being accountable to the local population. Representative bodies (gengesh) at the district and village levels are directly elected by local residents. Nonetheless, all forms of local governance have little to no say in local affairs and are primarily tasked with implementing instructions from the central government. For this reason, the president also appoints his personal “aides” (caretakers) from among the deputy prime ministers, whose mandate is to implement presidential directives at the regional level.1
  • It is common for the president to scapegoat local officials for the government’s failures to fulfill ambitious socioeconomic goals or agricultural quotas, set out by the president himself without proper consideration of local needs and capacities. In January, for instance, following an inspection tour of the regions, Berdimuhamedov senior publicly reprimanded hakims of all five velayats (regions) for shortcomings in ensuring the timely sowing of crops, maintaining irrigation and drainage systems, and other activities outlined in national strategic programs for rural development.2 Preserving his father’s controlling approach and micromanagement, Serdar, in May, reprimanded hakims of Ahal, Dashoguz, and Mary velayats on similar grounds.3
  • The pronounced disparity between the capital Ashgabat and the regions, caused by unequal distribution of capital and power, inhibits the latter’s capacity to address structural problems. In 2022, Lebap, Dashoguz, and Mary velayats experienced increasing water scarcity for agricultural needs and personal use. Dashoguz velayat has experienced acute water scarcity for the past three years. Although the central government initiated some positive steps, such as acknowledging the issue, establishing a national commission on water supply, and proposing measures to better manage water usage and modernize infrastructure,4 structural shortcomings remain a serious barrier to improving the situation. In August, Chronicles of Turkmenistan published a report discussing how water scarcity aggravates existing disparities in rural areas, namely, the uneven distribution of resources between “privileged” farmers and the rest. The report stresses, for instance, that land plots belonging to former officials or those with close ties to local authorities receive better equipment, sufficient supply of water and fertilizer, and have greater autonomy in what they grow, while ordinary farmers are required to reuse water (often contaminated with pesticides) that negatively affects the quality of their crops.5
  • It is also common for local officials to use their positions for private gain, which worsens the standard of living of the local population. In January, Turkmen.news reported about the Balkan velayat hakim, Tangryguly Atahallyev, popularly known among locals as “Mister Billion.” For bribes of 200,000 manats ($57,000), or roughly 1 billion “old” manats,6 Atahallyev had been issuing construction permits for any desired spot in Balkanabat.7 The report stressed that corruption was “omnipresent” in the region, extending to lower-level public officials.
  • 1“Сердар Бердымухамедов назначил кураторов регионов и Ашхабада” [Serdar Berdimuhamedov appointed curators of regions and Ashgabat], Turkmenportal, 5 June 2022, https://turkmenportal.com/blog/48000/serdar-berdimuhamedow-wisepremyerl…
  • 2“Президент Туркменистана провёл рабочее совещание по цифровой системе” [The President of Turkmenistan held a working meeting on the digital system], Turkmenistan State News Agency (TDH) Turkmenistan Today, 24 January 2022, https://tdh.gov.tm/ru/post/30022/prezident-turkmenistana-provyol-raboch…
  • 3“Президент Туркменистана провёл рабочее совещание по цифровой системе” [The President of Turkmenistan held a working meeting on the digital system], Turkmenistan State News Agency (TDH) Turkmenistan Today, 3 May 2022, https://tdh.gov.tm/ru/post/31266/prezident-turkmenistana-provyol-raboch…
  • 4“В Туркменистане учреждена Правительственная комиссия по водоснабжению” [The Government Commission for Water Supply has been established in Turkmenistan], Turkmenportal, 11 June 2022, https://turkmenportal.com/blog/48281/v-turkmenistane-uchrezhdena-pravit…; “Водный кризис. Бердымухамедов приказал очистить русла рек и опреснять воду из Каспия для Ашхабада” [Water crisis. Berdimuhamedov ordered to clean the riverbeds and desalinate water from the Caspian Sea for Ashgabat], Chronicles of Turkmenistan, 9 June 2022, https://www.hronikatm.com/2022/06/water-scarcity-crisis/
  • 5“Образцово-показательные поля, привилегированные арендаторы и орошение коллекторной водой. Как дефицит воды отражается на агропроме Туркменистана” [Exemplary fields, privileged tenants and irrigation with collector water. How water scarcity affects the agricultural industry of Turkmenistan], Chronicles of Turkmenistan, 19 August 2022, https://www.hronikatm.com/2022/08/water-shortage-impact/
  • 6though manat was redenominated in 2009, the population still refers to it in price calculations
  • 7“Хяким по прозвищу Миллиард. Жители Балканского велаята жалуются на повсеместную коррупцию” [Khyakim nicknamed Billion. Residents of the Balkan velayat complain about widespread corruption], Turkmen.News, 28 January 2022, https://turkmen.news/turkmenistan-hyakim-milliard/
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
  • Turkmenistan’s judicial system is not independent, effective, or transparent. Although the country’s constitution formally guarantees separation of powers, the president enjoys full control over the judiciary, appointing and dismissing judges at will. Judges and lawyers play only a marginal role in the country’s legal system, which is dominated by prosecutors (also appointed by the president) whose main activity is repression rather than oversight. The practice of frequent dismissal and reshuffling of judges and prosecutors has remained intact under Serdar Berdimuhamedov; in April, for instance, he reshuffled more than 20 prosecutors across the country.1 Similarly, in December, Serdar reassigned some 14 prosecutors and 11 judges at different levels to new posts.2
  • The country’s ineffective legal system continually fails to protect the people’s right to receive adequate compensation and other remedies when forcefully evicted from their homes. In 2022, authorities continued to pursue wide-scale urban renewal and beautification plans throughout the capital Ashgabat that required considerable house demolitions.3 As in the past, local authorities did not offer equivalent property or compensation to evicted residents, suggesting they temporarily reside with relatives instead,4 in violation of the country’s housing code. Evicted residents, however, rarely seek justice since previous cases to appeal evictions have resulted in authorities’ initial decisions being upheld by courts.5
  • The conditions in Turkmenistan’s prisons remain poor. Prisoners suffer from lack of proper nutrition, overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, lack of adequate medical care, and the spread of infectious diseases. The situation is particularly gruesome for individuals convicted on politically motivated charges. Although the president issues amnesty and pardon decrees several times a year, political prisoners are rarely included, as was the case with Nurgeldi Halykov, Khursanay Ismatullayeva, and Murat Dushemov in 2022. In fact, prison terms of political prisoners may be extended on bogus accusations, including when international organizations and human rights groups demand their release from the government.6 However, such campaigns can also bring positive results. On December 19, authorities released Pygamberdy Allaberdyev, who was imprisoned on fraudulent charges of “hooliganism” in 2020 (in reality, he was suspected of prodemocracy activism). His case had gained significant attention among international human rights groups, which called for his immediate and unconditional release.7
  • There are hundreds who have disappeared without a trace in Turkmenistan’s prisons, including top-level government officials. In March, the international “Prove They are Alive!” campaign published an open letter to Serdar Berdimuhamedov calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all prisoners who have served their terms, and to provide information on the whereabouts of forcibly disappeared prisoners.8 In November, the campaign called on OSCE participating states to take stronger action to eradicate the practice of enforced disappearances in Turkmenistan and restore justice for victims and their relatives.9 The campaign’s list currently includes 162 cases since 2002, 97 of which are continuing disappearances; 33 of the disappeared have fully served their sentences, yet their fate remains unknown.10
  • The country’s legal system also fails to defend the rights of citizens regarding sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI)-based discrimination and degrading treatment. In April, the president signed an updated version of the country’s criminal code, which now imposes harsher penalties for consensual sexual relations between people of the same sex.11 The new code increases criminal liability for nonconsensual acts to a maximum of eight years in prison (up from six) and recognizes same-sex sexual relations on par with severe crimes, such as rape and murder, with liability imposed from age 14.12
  • 1“Глава государства подписал ряд документов” [The head of state signed a number of documents], Turkmenistan State News Agency (TDH) Turkmenistan Today, 20 April 2022, https://tdh.gov.tm/ru/post/31084/glava-gosudarstva-podpisal-ryad-dokume…
  • 2“Сердар Бердымухамедов переназначил прокуроров и судей” [Serdar Berdimuhamedov reappointed prosecutors and judges], Chronicles of Turkmenistan, 9 December 2022, https://www.hronikatm.com/2022/12/judges-and-prosecutors-appointed/
  • 3“По туркменскому телевидению, кажется, впервые показали план сноса старых жилых домов в Ашхабаде. Их сотни” [It seems that for the first time on Turkmen television they showed a plan for the demolition of old residential buildings in Ashgabat. There are hundreds of them], Chronicles of Turkmenistan, 24 August 2022, https://www.hronikatm.com/2022/08/ashgabat-demolition-map/
  • 4“В Ашхабаде снова сносят жилые дома” [Houses are being demolished again in Ashgabat], Radio Azatlyk, 23 March 2022, https://rus.azathabar.com/a/31766286.html
  • 5“Туркменистан: Собственников жилья выселяют, оставляют без компенсации” [Turkmenistan: Homeowners are evicted, left without compensation], Human Rights Watch, 4 September 2017, https://www.hrw.org/ru/news/2017/09/04/308294
  • 6“Власти Туркменистана должны освободить несправедливо осужденного репортера. Заявление по делу Нургельды Халыкова” [The Turkmen authorities should release an unjustly convicted reporter. Statement on the case of Nurgeldy Khalykov], Chronicles of Turkmenistan, 15 September 2022, https://www.hronikatm.com/2022/09/halykov-2-years-statement/
  • 7“Turkmenistan: Lawyer Pygamberdy Allaberdyev Released from Prison”, Freedom Now, 19 December 2022, https://www.freedom-now.org/turkmenistan-lawyer-pygamberdy-allaberdyev-…
  • 8“Open Letter to Serdar Berdymukhamedov”, Prove They are Alive! International campaign, 21 March 2022, https://provetheyarealive.org/open-letter-to-serdar-berdymukhamedov/
  • 9“Twenty Years Since the Beginning of Mass Repression in Turkmenistan, OSCE Participating States Should Take Strong Action to Stop Enforced Disappearances”, Prove They are Alive! International campaign, 22 November 2022, https://provetheyarealive.org/twenty-years-since-the-beginning-of-mass-…
  • 10ibid
  • 11“Закон Туркменистана О внесении изменений и дополнений в Уголовный кодекс Туркменистана и утверждении его в новой редакции” [Law Of Turkmenistan On amendments and additions to the Criminal Code of Turkmenistan and approval of it in a new edition], Neutral Turkmenistan newspaper, 22 April 2022, https://orient.tm/storage/app/media/ru/2022/04/22042022RUS1.pdf
  • 12“Туркменистан: Наказание за «мужеложство» ужесточили, за педофилию – смягчили” [Turkmenistan: Punishment for "sodomy" has been toughened, for pedophilia - softened], Turkmen.News, 25 April 2022, https://turkmen.news/turkmenistan-uk-135/
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
  • In Turkmenistan, corruption is a widespread and deeply rooted practice that extends from large-scale embezzlement at the highest levels of government to petty bribery at the local level. At the top, the country’s economy is divided into spheres of influence dominated by members of the Berdimuhamedov family and close confidants. In March, a joint investigation by OCCRP (Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project), Turkmen.news, and Gundogar.org, revealed that Shyhmyrat Shaharliyev, husband of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s niece Yazgul Shaharliyeva, acts in secret as the general director of Altyn Asyr, the only mobile operator in Turkmenistan.1 Yazgul is the daughter of infamous businessman Annanazar Rejepov, whose family significantly benefitted from government contracts over the years, including his sons Hajymyrat and Shamyrat.2 The Shaharliyev family also uses corrupt money to finance a lavish lifestyle, owning several restaurants, coffee shops, and a nightclub in Turkmenistan.3
  • After becoming president, Serdar Berdimuhamedov reportedly sacked several relatives from their high-ranking positions. This clampdown primarily targeted the family of Gulnabat Dovletova (Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s elder sister), which had gained expansive informal power. Serdar reportedly sacked Gulnabat from the post of general director of the Red Crescent Society of Turkmenistan in late April,4 Rahymberdi Ishangulyyev (her son-in-law) from the post of deputy general director of Turkmenistan Airlines in October,5 and ordered to close down and demolish the Botanical Garden restaurant of Ibabekir Bekdurdiyev (her other son-in-law).6 He also sacked Ahmet Geldimyradov (Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov’s youngest sister’s son) from his post as deputy chairman of the Turkmengaz state enterprise.7 These measures, however, do not indicate Serdar’s genuine intent to crack down on the ruling family’s corruptive practices since none of the sacked relatives faced public corruption charges. Instead, these moves can be viewed as an attempt to diminish the informal influence and power accumulated by relatives, which could potentially weaken or threaten his rule.
  • Government raids on corrupt officials are often symbolic and politically motivated, seeking to boost the ruling regime’s public image and punish figures who have fallen out of favor. In May, 11 public officials received sentences of 8–20 years in prison for making illegal profits by appropriating food products meant to be sold publicly at affordable prices through state-owned shops and reselling them at higher prices.8 In December, at least 5 officials working at the state-owned Turkmenistan Airlines were sentenced 8–13 years in prison for taking kickbacks in return for preferential treatment in reserving and buying the limited number of available tickets.9
  • Public officials at lower levels are allowed and encouraged to extort bribes to pay up the power pyramid. Education is one of these highly corrupt sectors. In January, independent media reported that graduating students of Turkmen universities are forced to pay bribes of up to $6,000 to obtain a job in state enterprises as part of a mandatory two-year work tenure in order to receive their diplomas.10 Public officials also exploit rampant unemployment (unrecognized by state authorities) to extort bribes from people desperate to find work. In May, for instance, it was reported that individuals paid $2,000–3,500 for nurse and head nurse jobs, and $5,000 for a spot as doctor at a newly opened Dashoguz multidisciplinary hospital and oncology clinic.11

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  • Global Freedom Score

    2 100 not free