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)
While the death of President Saparmurat Niyazov in December 2006 raised hopes for positive change in Turkmenistan’s long-oppresive media environment, there was a distinct lack of tangible improvements in 2007. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who won a dubious landslide election victory in February, made a number of encouraging promises but failed to follow through on them, keeping the media environment in Turkmenistan one of the most repressive on earth. Libel is a criminal offense, and the burden of proof rests with the defendant. However, libel laws are rarely invoked given how infrequently independent critical reports are even published.
The government failed to investigate the September 2006 death of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova while in police custody, despite credible reports that she died under torture. Meanwhile, the remaining correspondents for RFE/RL and other news outlets continued to experience harassment in 2007 in the form of surveillance, blocked phone access, threats, and intimidation. Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agency maintained the only foreign bureau in Turkmenistan, while other foreign reporters continued to encounter insurmountable obstacles to accreditation, forcing many to work unofficially if at all. The government gives accreditation to foreign outlets only for coverage of specific events, like the election, that are easily monitored. Moreover, many local journalists are fearful of working with foreign correspondents, because those who have worked with them in the past have often been punished. In April, independent journalist Sona Chuli-Kuli was detained for three days and interrogated; the authorities released her only after she pledged never to work with foreign media outlets.
The government retained its absolute monopoly over all media in 2007, directly controlling not only all media outlets, but also the printing presses and other infrastructure on which they depended. Printing presses are prevented from publishing material unpopular with the government, including all fiction. Authorities also maintained a ban on foreign newspapers and periodical subscriptions, with the sole exception of the Turkish newspaper Zaman. The dismissal of Culture Minister Enebai Atayeva in June came with criticism that she had allowed excessive liberalization on state-controlled television, although the only evidence to support this claim was the removal of the former president’s image from the bottom of the screen on state television broadcasts. The state even began to crack down on satellite dishes, which have been one of the only means of accessing outside information. In November, President Berdymukhammedov called for the removal of satellite dishes from apartment buildings and their replacement by a single dish on each in order to “beautify the city.”
The new president began the year with a promise to lift restrictions on internet access. But when the country’s first internet café opened in the capital city of Ashgabat in February, it featured armed guards at the door and prohibitive prices. The number of internet cafés in the country reportedly rose to 15 by year’s end, but the government continued to control the sole internet service provider and to restrict access to critical sites, including regional news sources located outside Turkmenistan, opposition websites operated by Turkmens living abroad, and foreign outlets like the British Broadcasting Corporation. Internet usage in the country is estimated to be only 1.5 percent of the population. In October, the government cut short a brief experiment allowing unmonitored comments to be posted on the official government website, Altyn Asyr, after users posted comments critical of the former president.