Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Turkmenistan’s media environment remained one of the most repressive in the world in 2006, although the death of President Saparmurat Niyazov in December sparked hopes that limited improvements might be possible in 2007. In 2006, the state continued to control all domestic media, using them to advance Niyazov’s personality cult and present an idealized picture of life under his rule. The government disregards any notion of press freedom, legal or otherwise, in its complete control of the country’s media and information flow.
Journalists operate under the constant threat of physical attack in Turkmenistan and several journalists were victims of attacks. The death of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova in police custody in September stood out as a potent reminder of the dangers that confronted independent media in Turkmenistan. Authorities arrested Muradova, along with two human rights activists, in June in the course of a convoluted espionage scandal. She was eventually sentenced after a closed trial in August to a six-year prison term for illegally possessing ammunition. When relatives were allowed to view Muradova’s body, they said that it bore telltale signs of abuse, suggesting she may have died under torture. The government did not conduct any investigation into the circumstances of Muradova’s suspicious death. Other instances of harassment of independent journalists by authorities included the detention of RFE/RL stringers Jumadurdy Ovezov and Meret Khommadov. The two were held briefly in March and released after they signed a statement pledging that they would no longer provide reports to RFE/RL’s Turkmen service. Also in March, Anna Kurbanova, a stringer for the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS, was stripped of her accreditation in apparent retaliation for her reporting on “reforms” that deprived thousands of Turkmen citizens of their pensions.
As in past years, the government maintained an absolute monopoly over all media, directly controlling not only media outlets, but also the printing presses and other infrastructure on which they depended. State television rebroadcast some Russian entertainment programming, and satellite dishes remained available to citizens who could afford them. Turkmen opposition groups in exile operated a number of websites that were harshly critical of Turkmenistan’s repressive political system, with original and translated materials in Turkmen and Russian. It is unclear whether these are accessible from within Turkmenistan, where the government controls and monitors the internet, but some reports indicate that individual access can be arranged for payment. Nonetheless, the cost is prohibitive for the vast bulk of the population, and less than 1 percent of citizens have regular access to the internet.