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The Worst of the Worst 2010 - Turkmenistan

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 3 June 2010
Cite as Freedom House, The Worst of the Worst 2010 - Turkmenistan, 3 June 2010, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 5,110,000
Capital: Ashgabat

Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 7
Status: Not Free

Ten-Year Ratings Timeline for Year under Review
(Political Rights, Civil Liberties, Status)
Year Under Review2000200120022003200420052006200720082009

2009 Key Developments: President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov appeared more interested in diversifying his country's natural gas exports in 2009 than in political and economic reforms at home. Progress away from the repressive legacy of former president Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in 2006, remained slow, producing token improvements rather than systemic change.

Political Rights: Turkmenistan is not an electoral democracy. The late Niyazov wielded virtually absolute power, serving as "president for life" until his death in 2006. None of the country's elections – including the February 2007 vote that gave Niyazov's successor, Berdymukhammedov, a five-year term in office – have been free or fair. The new constitution, approved by the National Assembly in August 2008, gives citizens the right to form political parties, although only one political party, the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan, is officially registered at present. Local council elections held in July 2009 mimicked previous elections amid reports of low turnout. Corruption is widespread, with public officials often forced to bribe their way into their positions.

Civil Liberties: Freedom of speech and the press is severely restricted by the government, which controls all broadcast and print media. A government-run service provider controls access to the internet and reportedly blocks undesirable websites. The government restricts freedom of religion, and independent groups face persecution. Practicing an unregistered religion remains illegal, with violators subject to fines. However, a European representative of the Seventh Day Adventist Church was allowed into the country in October 2009, and a Church spokesperson pointed to limited improvements in religious freedom. The government places significant restrictions on academic freedom, and the Rukhnama, a rambling collection of quasi-historical and philosophical musings attributed to Niyazov, is still used in the school system, although its prominence appears to be declining gradually. The restoration of the Academy of Sciences in 2009 was a small but welcome step toward education reform. The constitution guarantees peaceful assembly and association, but these rights are severely restricted in practice. While not technically illegal, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are tightly controlled, and Turkmenistan has no civil society sector to speak of. Doctors Without Borders, the last international humanitarian NGO active in Turkmenistan, withdrew from the country in December 2009 due to a lack of cooperation from the government. The judicial system is subservient to the president, who appoints and removes judges without legislative review. The authorities frequently deny rights of due process, including public trials and access to defense attorneys. Prisons suffer from overcrowding and inadequate nutrition and medical care, and international organizations are not permitted to visit prisoners. Employment and educational opportunities for ethnic minorities are limited by the government's promotion of Turkmen national identity. Freedom of movement is restricted, with a reported blacklist preventing some individuals from leaving the country. Traditional social and religious norms and a lack of employment prospects limit professional opportunities for women, and anecdotal reports suggest that domestic violence is common.

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