Last Updated: Thursday, 17 April 2014, 13:11 GMT

Nations in Transit 2012 - Turkmenistan

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as Freedom House, Nations in Transit 2012 - Turkmenistan, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd5dd2446.html [accessed 20 April 2014]
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.

Capital: Aşgabat

Population: 5 million

GNI/capita, PPP: US$7,490

Source: The data above were drawn from the World Bank's World Development Indicators 2010.

Turkmenistan 10-year ratings

* Starting with the 2005 edition, Freedom House introduced separate analysis and ratings for national democratic governance and local democratic governance, to provide readers with more detailed and nuanced analysis of these two important subjects.

2012 Scores

Democracy Score:6.93
Regime Classification:Consolidated Authoritarian Regime
National Democratic Governance:7.00
Electoral Process:7.00
Civil Society:7.00
Independent Media:7.00
Local Democratic Governance:6.75
Judicial Framework and Independence:7.00
Corruption:6.75

NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year.

Executive Summary:

On October 27, 2011, Turkmenistan marked its twentieth anniversary as an independent state amid great pomp and fanfare. The festivities celebrated the country's economic and cultural achievements while glossing over the notable failure to implement democratic change over the course of the last two decades. As recent popular risings in the Middle East and North Africa brought to the fore the vulnerability of that region's entrenched, non-democratic regimes, little news of the momentous events reached Turkmenistan, which remained unreformed and isolated after five years under the authoritarian rule of President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow.

In virtually all areas targeted for reform by Berdimuhamedow's regime – from governmental institutions and education to healthcare and culture – the government has given priority to appearance over substance. Other factors mitigating against reform are the acute shortage of qualified personnel and the small size of Turkmenistan's intelligentsia relative to other, more industrialized post-Soviet states, coupled with the reluctance of the regime to allow an intellectual elite to emerge. The liberal-minded members of the Soviet-era educated classes who served in official positions were steadily rooted out under the leadership of Turkmenistan's first president, Saparmurat Niyazov, while the current generation is constrained by serious deficiencies in the educational system.

Although the suspension of operations in Turkmenistan of Russia's largest mobile phone operator, MobileTeleSystems (MTS), in December 2010 left approximately half of the population without mobile phone communications and access to Internet, new media technologies are nonetheless penetrating Turkmenistan, albeit on a very small scale. Significantly, in July, 2011, the explosion of a weapons depot outside the capital city, which resulted in many casualties, highlighted the ability of a small band of citizen journalists using smartphones and the Internet to derail attempts by the authorities to suppress domestic and international coverage of the event.

National Democratic Governance. The construction of a leadership cult surrounding Berdimuhamedow continued apace in 2011, as the country's Council of Elders bestowed on the President the new honorific title of Arkedag, meaning 'Protector' or 'Protective Mountain,' as well as the country's highest civilian honour of Hero of Turkmenistan. Aside from school textbooks, the majority of newly published works in Turkmenistan either exalted the President or were said to be authored by him. Berdimuhamedow added two new books to his lengthy list of publications amid reports that he would soon release a new spiritual guidebook to replace Niyazov's Ruhnama (Book of the Soul).

Turkmenistan is a police state in which the activities of its citizens are carefully monitored by internal security and law enforcement agencies. As under the previous regime, only the executive branch exercises any real power, while the government-sponsored Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT) and the Galkynyş National Revival Movement are the only legally registered political parties. Rather than working towards the establishment of a meritocracy, the regime still operates on the Soviet-style central command system, whereby officials are expected to fulfill state-dictated quotas, regardless of feasibility. Turkmenistan's rating for national democratic governance remains unchanged at 7.00.

Electoral Process. In August 2011, a presidential election in Turkmenistan was announced for February 2012, which Berdimuhamedow was expected to win by a wide margin. The 2012 election will mark the first time in Turkmenistan's history that an incumbent president, who is already the object of his own personality cult, will run in a multi-candidate election for the presidency. To solve the problem of finding candidate to run against the country's exalted leader, the authorities hand-picked more than a dozen presidential candidates through orchestrated nominations by citizens' initiative groups comprised of public sector employees. A new, more restrictive law on presidential elections was passed in June, 2011, effectively barring members of the opposition-in-exile from running for the presidency.

No opposition parties or movements are officially registered in Turkmenistan. In an address to parliament in January, 2011, the President once again called on deputies to expedite work on a law on political parties. While no evident progress had been made on the legislation by the end of 2011, it was expected that parliament would pass the long-awaited law in January 2012 – too late, however, to field candidates from alternative parties for the presidential elections scheduled for February. Turkmenistan's rating for electoral process remains unchanged at 7.00.

Civil Society. Groups without official sanction wishing to register as NGOs continue to be stymied as their applications are either turned down or dragged out for years. Unregistered NGO activity is punishable by a fine, short-term detention and confiscation of property. The environment for officially sanctioned NGOs saw certain improvements in 2010-2011. Legal rights associations offering advice on employment, housing and other issues grew in number, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, presumably facilitated by a new Law on Associations of Advocates that states that bar associations are elements of civil society and not the government. Additionally, for the first time a group of registered NGOs joined forces to submit to parliament a draft Law on State Social Order that would provide a mechanism for state institutions to enter into contractual relations with public associations. In 2011 the number of known religious prisoners of conscience increased to nine, eight of whom were Jehovah's Witnesses jailed for refusing military service and one of whom was a Protestant pastor. Another Jehovah's Witness given a one-year labour camp sentence on the same charges in July. Turkmenistan's rating for civil society remains unchanged at 7.00. POSSIBLE CHANGE TO 6.75?

Independent Media. The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters without Borders included Berdimuhammedov in its list of 38 predators of press freedom for 2011, whom it described as political leaders of regimes hostile to civil liberties and as the direct organizers of campaigns of violence against journalists. Turkmenistan's media organizations uphold the ideological line of the state, which maintains its control over all forms of state-run mass media through the retention of a single information agency. At the opening of the new Turkmen Broadcasting Center in October, Berdimuhamedow urged its personnel to create productions that "glorify the outstanding achievements our Motherland has gained during the years of independence, especially in the era of new Revival".

In 2011, following the suspension of the operations of Russia's MTS, huge lines formed at the offices of Turkmenistan's sole remaining telecommunications provider, Altyn Asyr, requiring officials to call in Interior Ministry troops to maintain order. In May, Turkmenistan founded a National Space Agency, a major goal of which is to launch a satellite to develop the country's communications systems. A new presidential order to remove private satellite dishes was issued in August, which, if enforced, would deprive Turkmenistan's population of its main source of alternative information. The popular chat forum teswirler.com closed, ostensibly owing to pressure by the government to monitor comments, especially those of a political nature. In July, the explosion of an arms depot in the city of Abadan was remarkable for exposing the vulnerability of media censorship in Turkmenistan to new communications technologies as a small group of web users with access via mobile phones managed to report on the event to the outside world. Turkmenistan's rating for independent media remains unchanged at 7.00.

Local Democratic Governance. State power in Turkmenistan's five regions (welayatlar), districts (etraplar), and cities is vested in the largely decorative people's councils (halk maslahatlary). Village councils (gengeşlar), whose members are directly elected for five-year terms, follow the instructions of the local governors (hakims), directly appointed by the President at all levels. Tribal identities remain strong in Turkmenistan and continue to play an important role in Turkmen society and informal local politics. Universities and professional academies have widened their intake since Berdimuhamedow's ascension to power, although the demand for places still far exceeds supply. The government sponsors some students each year to study abroad on official programmes, although a far greater number arrange to study abroad privately. In September, 2011 Turkmenistan's State Migration Service barred some 870 non-state sponsored students enrolled at universities in Tajikistan from returning to that country to resume their studies. In August, 2011, Turkmen-Turkish schools in Turkmenbashi, Nebitdag and Turkmenabad were closed, ostensibly owing to concerns about the influence of the Turkish Islamic movement, Nurchilar, that had supported the schools since their inception. In March, 2011, the Global Fund Against AIDS, Turberculosis and Malaria announced that it will give US$20 million to combat tuberculosis to 2015. Turkmenistan's rating for local democratic governance remains unchanged at 6.75.

Judicial Framework and Independence. The Office of the Prosecutor General, whose primary function is repression rather than oversight, dominates a legal system in which judges and lawyers play a marginal role. In May, 2011, Turkmenistan presented its first-ever report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture, which UN rapporteurs subsequently described as devoid of basic information, empirical data and a basic definition of torture. After years of rebuffed requests, in July the International Committee for the Red Cross was granted permission to visit a prison in Turkmenistan for the first time. Details of the visit were not made available to the public, however, apparently in keeping with the usual principles of confidentiality. Turkmenistan's imprisonment rate is reported to be among the highest in the world, which has led to serious overcrowding and the spread of disease. Residents of Turkmenistan holding both Turkmenistani and Russian passports continued to feel pressure to relinquish their Russian citizenship in order to receive new biometric passports, possession of which will become mandatory in 2013 for travel outside the country. Authorities have used unofficial measures to prevent free travel, including "blacklists" and arbitrary confiscation of passports. Turkmenistan's rating for judicial framework and independence remains unchanged at 7.00.

Corruption. The President presides over a system that enables him to control and use at his own discretion the revenues from hydrocarbons sales, which form the country's primary source of income. There is still a notable lack of transparency with regard to true economic figures, since Turkmenistan does not publish the national budget in full. The country's patronage networks have given rise to a political culture of bribery, nepotism, and embezzlement. In 2011, Berdimuhammedow continued to use public monies to fund the construction of 'dictator chic' architectural works, carried out primarily by Turkish and French firms, the budgets for which lack transparency and appeared inflated. Turkmen authorities choose to selectively clamp down on corruption, despite retaining corruption as a fundamental part of the informal political system. Turkmenistan's rating for corruption remains unchanged at 6.75.

Outlook for 2012. While a second political party is slated for creation in 2011, its membership is virtually guaranteed to be hand-picked by the government for the purpose of creating the veneer of multi-party politics. Investment in the country's infrastructure – including the construction of expensive 'vanity' projects – will be maintained while strict political controls and a lack of qualified specialists will continue to impede the implementation of reforms. New communications technologies are expected to make it increasingly difficult for authorities to suppress information on events taking place inside the country.

National Democratic Governance:

Turkmenistan is a police state in which the activities of its citizens are carefully monitored by hypertrophied internal security and law enforcement agencies and the President's private militia, whose members receive favorable treatment relative to the rest of the population, such as higher salaries and privileged accommodation. The Ministry of National Security (MNS) has the responsibilities held by the Committee for State Security during the Soviet period – namely, to ensure that the regime remains in power through tight control of society and by discouraging dissent. The Ministry of Internal Affairs directs the criminal police, who work closely with the MNS on matters of national security. Both ministries abuse the rights of individuals and enforce the government's policy of repressing political opposition.

Throughout Turkmenistan's history as an independent state, only the executive branch has exercised any real power in practice, despite constitutional stipulations regarding the formal existence of executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The Parliament (Mejlis) operates as a presidential appendage, and presidential decree is the usual mode of legislation. Although the constitution allows parliamentarians to elect a speaker and form committees, President Berdimuhamedow usurped this prerogative at the first session of Turkmenistan's new Mejlis in January 2009 by selecting a presidential stalwart, Akjy Nurberdieva, to serve as parliamentary speaker, 'recommending' the five committees to be formed, and even nominating specific members of parliament to head them.

The President appoints the members of government and the Central Election Commission as well as high-ranking judges. He was also granted the power under the revised 2008 constitution to directly appoint the country's governors at all levels, although, ironically, Niyazov had changed the system to allow for local gubernatorial elections only a year before his death. The revised constitution retained the changes adopted in the immediate aftermath of Niyazov's death granting greater authority to the State Security Council, a body that includes leading defense and security officials. As such, according to Article 58, it is the Security Council rather than the parliament that is empowered to choose a deputy prime minister to serve as acting president in the event that the president is no longer able to perform his duties.

In similar fashion to Niyazov, President Berdimuhamedow holds the posts of president of the Republic, chairman of the Council of Ministers (prime minister), chairman of the Council of Elders, head of the Council for Religious Affairs (Gengeş), supreme commander-in-chief of the National Armed Forces, chairman of the Higher Council of Science and Technology, and chairman of both the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT) and the National Revival Movement of Turkmenistan (Galkynyş). Since 2007, he has also accumulated a number of honorific titles and degrees,) including 'Hero of Turkmenistan', the title of 'academician', two Doctor of Sciences academic degrees (for economics and medicine), the title of Army General, and a black belt in karate that was awarded to him for his contribution to the development of the sport. In 2010, the anniversary of the President's inauguration, February 14, began to be celebrated as a national holiday.

In 2011, the construction of a leadership cult surrounding Berdimuhamedow continued apace. Reminiscent of Niyazov's honorific title of Turkmenbashi (head of all Turkmen), the country's Council of Elders bestowed on President Berdimuhammedow the new honorific title of Arkedag, which means 'Protector' or 'Protective Mountain'. In an original tribute to the President, the oldest melon cultivator in Turkmenistan bred three special melon strains by the names of 'Ruhnama', 'President' and 'Arkedag' for national Melon Day. In October, the twentieth anniversary celebrations of Turkmenistan's independence served as an occasion to openly demonstrate fealty to the President, who was implored to accept the country's highest civilian honour of 'Hero of Turkmenistan' amid cries of "Long live Arkedag!" and "The Turkmen people are a happy people!"[1] The President agreed to accept the honour, despite having refused it in 2009, arguing then that he was still too young to receive such an award. According to law, the recipient receives the Altyn Ai medal, a US$25,000 prize and a fifty percent increase in salary.

Berdimuhamedow was widely quoted on television, his activities were the primary focus of state media and his ever-expanding collected works were intensively promoted. Aside from school textbooks, the majority of newly published works in Turkmenistan either exalted the president or were said to be authored by him on topics as diverse as Ahal-Teke horses and the use of medicinal plants. Unlike other books published in the country, those ostensibly written by the President appeared with his name on the front cover rather than on the inside. In 2011, Berdimuhamedow added two books to his lengthy list of publications (one on the art of Turkmen carpet weaving and the other a work of fiction about his father), while reports circulated that he would soon release a new spiritual guidebook to replace Niyazov's Ruhnama (Book of the Soul), to be titled either Turkmennama (Book of the Turkmen) or Adamnama (Book of Humanity).[2]

Rather than working towards the establishment of a meritocracy, the regime still operates on the Soviet-style central command system, whereby officials are expected to fulfill state-dictated quotas, regardless of feasibility. If targets are not met, civil servants are reprimanded or sacked. Hence, in November, 2011, the head of the Hydro-meteorology Committee in the Cabinet of Ministers was 'strongly reprimanded' for 'failing to ensure the accuracy of weather forecast information'.[3] The fate of the Minister of National Security, Charymurad Amanow, who was replaced at the beginning of April by the Minister of Defense, Yaylym Berdyyew, illustrated the regime's chaotic and unpredictable approach towards its high-ranking civil servants, who are kept in a perpetual state of fear and uncertainty. Amanow, who had been appointed security chief when Berdimuhamedow came to power in 2007, was promoted to major-general in 2008, reprimanded in 2009, and awarded a state decoration in 2010 before being fired in 2011 for 'insufficiencies' following an investigation by the Prosecutor-General.

Unrelenting harassment by the authorities has driven the relatively small opposition either underground or into exile, primarily in Russia and some Western European countries. The opposition-in-exile remains weak and prone to internal division, although some independent human rights activists from Turkmenistan operating abroad publish regular reports on the country's domestic and foreign politics.

Electoral Process:

In August 2011 a presidential election in Turkmenistan was announced for February 2012, which Berdimuhamedow was expected to win by a wide margin. The OSCE announced that it will not send observers to the election in February, arguing that even a limited mission would not 'add value at this point in time.'[4]

The 2012 election will mark the first time in Turkmenistan's history that an incumbent president, who is already the object of his own personality cult and who was nominated by the country's only legal political party, will run in a multi-candidate election for the presidency (Niyazov had a life-long tenure in the post and Berdimuhamedow was interim President at the time of the 2007 presidential election). The authorities solved the problem of finding candidates to run against the exalted Arkedag by hand-picking more than a dozen candidates through orchestrated nominations by citizens' initiative groups comprised of public sector employees.[5] The fourteen presidential candidates come from all regions of the country and represent a variety of branches of industry and the professions, thereby diluting the standing of any single opponent while giving the contest the necessary appearance of multicandidacy.

In a surprise move that took place directly on the heels of the explosion of a munitions warehouse in the city of Abadan in July, 2011 (see Independent Media below), Berdimuhamedow announced that representatives of the opposition-in-exile were welcome to come to Turkmenistan to take part in the 2012 presidential elections, and gave his guarantee that equal conditions and opportunities would be created for their participation. Upon subsequent inquiries, however, the President neither repeated nor elaborated upon his original statement. As if to underscore that his unexpected invitation to the opposition had been a bluff or possibly a diversionary tactic in the immediate aftermath of the Abadan tragedy, it transpired that Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry was concurrently engaging in a protest against the participation of Turkmenistani oppositionists at annual OSCE human rights review meetings.[6] Moreover, a new, more restrictive law on presidential elections had been passed in June, 2011, effectively barring members of the opposition-in-exile from running for the presidency by stipulating that candidates must be must be between 40 and 70 years of age, have resided in Turkmenistan and worked in the public sector for the last 15 years (the old law stipulated only 10 years), have no prior convictions, have a good command of the state language and collect at least 50,000 signatures is support of his/her nomination.

All political parties are required by law to register with the Ministry of Justice (renamed the Ministry of Fairness in September 2003), thereby allowing the government to deny official status to groups that are critical of its policies. Other than the government-sponsored Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT) and the Galkynyş National Revival Movement[7], no parties or movements are legally registered in the country. While the revised 2008 constitution allows political parties in theory, the document is not self-executing and requires enabling legislation defining the legal foundations for the formation of such parties. Consequently, even the DPT was formed without a legal basis, although it is legally registered. The constitution proscribes the formation of parties with a religious or nationalist orientation (Article 31). However, since the government has prevented all parties other than the DPT from registering and functioning, this ban is of little relevance.

In February, 2010, the President announced during a cabinet meeting that he would welcome initiatives to create a second political party, while offering the suggestion of an agrarian-based farmer's party. He repeated the call again in May at a meeting of the Council of Elders, but neither legislation on political parties nor a second political party materialized throughout the course of the year. In an address to parliament in January, 2011, the President once again called on deputies to expedite work on a law on political parties, claiming that 'the right to form political parties is one of the major political rights of our citizens'.[8] While no evident progress was made on the legislation by the end of 2011, it was expected that parliament would pass the long-awaited law in January 2012 – too late, however, to field candidates from alternative parties for the presidential elections scheduled for February. It is expected that the new law will be used to strategic advantage by the leadership to create the illusion of democratic development through the formation of state-sponsored, 'pocket' parties, such as in neighbouring Uzbekistan.

Civil Society:

The state of civil society has changed little on the ground under the Berdimuhamedow leadership. Amendments to the 2003 legislation on nongovernmental organizations (the Law on Public Associations) were still in process at the end of 2011. The law requires all NGOs to register with the Ministry of Fairness, which also approves their internal governance structures, and all foreign assistance must be registered with that ministry and coordinated with two other ministries: the Ministry of Economics and Development and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Groups without official sanction wishing to register as NGOs continue to be stymied as their applications are either turned down or dragged out for years. Since the prospects for securing official registration are considered so remote, many groups have chosen to forego the bureaucratic process and operate covertly, although the penalties for unregistered activity can be severe. Unregistered NGO activity is punishable by a fine, short-term detention and confiscation of property.

Although civil society has never thrived in Turkmenistan, steady repression by government authorities, from 2002 in particular, forced those independent NGOs that had managed to gain a foothold in the newly independent country to dissolve, re-designate themselves as commercial enterprises, or merge with pro-government public associations. While in 2000 there were approximately 200 to 300 registered and unregistered NGOs in Turkmenistan, by 2010 that number had dwindled to 99, the vast majority of which either supported the government or received direct government support.[9] Sports and government-organized NGOs were reported to account for more than three-quarters of the list of registered public associations. In December, 2010 the government registered an NGO called the Society of Guitarists – the first independent public association to be registered since 2008.[10]

The environment for officially sanctioned NGOs saw certain improvements in 2010-2011. Legal rights associations offering advice on employment, housing and other issues grew in number, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting,[11] presumably facilitated by a new Law on Associations of Advocates that states that bar associations are elements of civil society and not the government. Additionally, for the first time a group of NGOs joined forces to submit to parliament a draft Law on State Social Order in order to provide a mechanism for state institutions to enter into contractual relations with public associations.[12] Nonetheless, interaction between government and NGOs remains weak, and even registered NGOs must obtain permission from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to have a government official present at a meeting.

In addition to NGO activity, religious activity remains tightly controlled by the state. As in other parts of Central Asia, the distinction between religious and 'national' rituals is blurred in Turkmenistan; since the perestroika period of the late 1980s, the leadership has attempted to co-opt Islam as a fundamental component of its overarching nation-building campaign. In order to prevent the emergence of Islam as a locus of oppositional activity, the Turkmenistani leadership has acted to thoroughly infiltrate the official religious establishment. Religious matters are administered by the Council on Religious Affairs (CRA), set up by Niyazov in 1994, whose members are appointed by the government and report to the President. The CRA controls the hiring, promotion, and firing of Sunni Muslim and Russian Orthodox clergy, who are required to report regularly to the CRA.

As with political parties and public associations, all religious congregations are required to register with the Ministry of Fairness to gain legal status. In a report to the United Nations in January 2010, Turkmenistan's government stated that only 123 religious communities had state registration, among which 100 were Muslim (Sunni and Shia), 13 were Russian Orthodox and 10 were of other faiths, including Protestant groups, the Baha'i and the Hare Krishna communities.[13] Following 13 years of negotiation, in March 2010 Aşgabat's Catholic community was legally registered. Despite this minimal progress, many minority religious groups remain unregistered, such as the Lutheran, Jehovah's Witness, Armenian Apostolic and Jewish communities.

The benefits of formal registration remain unclear, however, as registered and unregistered groups alike continue to experience police raids or check-up visits, fines, and other forms of harassment. As the religious freedom watchdog Forum 18 News Service has reported, registration can lead to greater state control and does not facilitate the finding of a legal venue for worship services, which continues to be a major problem for many religious groups.[14] Meeting in private homes or unapproved areas is prohibited, and the construction of places of worship is strictly regulated by the state.

As no alternative civilian service is offered, conscientious objectors to military conscription were regularly given suspended jail sentences. However, in May 2009 two brothers from the city of Serdar became the first Jehovah's Witnesses since July 2007 to be jailed for refusing compulsory military service on the grounds of religious conscience. In July they were joined by two other conscientious objectors from Dashoguz; all four youths were subsequently transferred to a labour camp in the eastern town of Seydi, where inmates are reported to experience harsh, desert conditions. In 2011 the number of known religious prisoners of conscience increased to nine, eight of whom were Jehovah's Witnesses jailed for refusing military service and one of whom was a Protestant pastor. Another Jehovah's Witness given a one-year labour camp sentence on the same charges in July was freed under amnesty in late August.[15]

In 2011, as in most previous years, one planeload of 188 pilgrims – including MSS secret police and other officials – was allowed to travel to Mecca, which represented less than 5 percent of the quota believed to be allocated to Turkmenistan by the Saudi authorities. Muslims are not allowed to travel abroad for religious education, and the Magtymguly Turkmen State University remained the only university-level institution where the government allows a small number of men to be trained as imams.

Independent Media:

Turkmenistan's media organizations uphold the ideological line of the state, which maintains its control over all forms of state-run mass media through the retention of a single information agency (TDH). The output of TDH continues to be overwhelmingly concerned with praising the President and tracking his daily movements. In addition to 25 newspapers and 15 journals, the seven state television channels (two new channels – 'Sport' and 'Aşgabat' – were established in 2011) and four state radio stations function as mouthpieces for government propaganda. In 2011, a 211-meter television tower supplied with state-of-the-art digital broadcasting equipment and reported to cost over US $415 million was opened in the south of Aşgabat. At the opening ceremony in October, Berdimuhamedow urged Turkmen Broadcasting Center personnel to create productions that "glorify the outstanding achievements our Motherland has gained during the years of independence, especially in the era of new Revival".[16]

In 2008, in a partial lift of the ban imposed by Niyazov on the importation and circulation of all foreign print media, President Berdimuhamedow allowed certain official departments, research institutes as well as the Pushkin School in Aşgabat to subscribe to specific scientific journals in order to give them access to international research. In June, 2011, the President authorized the Ministry of Communications to resume subscriptions to periodicals issued by the Russian agencies Rospechat' and Informnauka and reportedly allocated five million rubles to the endeavour.[17] However, according to information received by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, ordinary citizens are still unable to subscribe to any foreign periodicals at their home addresses and foreign print matter remains generally inaccessible.[18]

In May, 2011, Turkmenistan founded a National Space Agency, a major goal of which is to launch a satellite to develop the country's communications systems. The Turkmen satellite, scheduled for launch in 2014, should end Turkmen dependence on the Russian OJSC Gazprom Space Systems satellite for transmission purposes. Aside from the programs of the Turkmen Service of the US-funded Radio Liberty and the German Deutsche Welle in Russian that are specifically targeted at Turkmenistani listeners, satellite television – widely viewed throughout Aşgabat as well as in other cities – provides the only source of alternative information in Turkmenistan. In 2007, a campaign was initiated to dismantle private satellite dishes, which are prevalent throughout Turkmenistan's urban landscape; in the event, only the satellite antennae on the route from capital's center to the presidential residence on the city's outskirts were removed. A new presidential order to remove private satellite dishes was issued in August 2011, and is likely to be enforced with greater vigour once Turkmenistan launches its own satellite and creates a cable network, thereby enabling the authorities to control the selection of both domestic and foreign channels available to the country's viewers.

The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters without Borders included Berdimuhammedov in its list of 38 predators of press freedom for 2011, whom it described as political leaders of regimes hostile to civil liberties and as the direct organizers of campaigns of violence against journalists.[19] Turkmenistan regularly denies visas to foreign correspondents; the few correspondents who manage to gain permission to enter the country are accompanied by 'minders' from the security services who severely restrict their movements and choice of interview partners. According to the Russian newspaper Argumenty i Fakty (Arguments and Facts), foreign journalists in Turkmenistan who meet with unauthorized persons are subject to a fine and/or a 14-day jail sentence and expulsion from the country.[20]

The expansion of mobile telephone services arguably has been the Berdimuhamedow regime's greatest contribution towards increased personal freedom, although this progress experienced a major setback at the end of 2010. Until December, Russia's largest mobile phone operator, Mobile TeleSystems (MTS), and Altyn Asyr (Golden Age), a subsidiary of Turkmen Telekom, offered Internet service to mobile subscribers in Turkmenistan. Altyn Asyr launched 3G service in March 2010 (with availability confined to Aşgabat);[21] however, although more expensive that Altyn Asyr, MTS services were widely regarded as faster and more reliable. Consequently, while MTS broke the two-million subscriber barrier in August 2010, covering more than 85 per cent of the country's territory and operating in 14 cities,[22] Altyn Asyr was reported to have only 400,000 subscribers as of November 2010.[23]

At the end of December, shortly after MTS announced that it would soon launch 3G service, Turkmenistan's Communications Ministry suspended the company's operations in Turkmenistan, instantly cutting off nearly half of the population's mobile phone access and drastically reducing their Internet usage. While the ostensible reason for the suspension was that the company's 5-year contract to operate in Turkmenistan had expired, the move was widely viewed as an attempt on the part of Turkmenistan's government to halt MTS's rapid takeover of Turkmenistan's market. It was also posited that the authorities had been dissatisfied with their ownership stake in MTS as well as with their dwindling ability to monitor the mobile access to the Internet that MTS provided.

Following the suspension of MTS's operations, huge lines formed at the offices of Turkmenistan's sole remaining telecommunications provider, Altyn Asyr, requiring officials to call in Interior Ministry troops to maintain order. In the event, Altyn Asyr proved unable to meet demand, with the result that the leadership was forced to ration SIM cards.[24] In April, 2011 – and after reprimanding Altyn Asyr's managers at a cabinet session – the President announced that Huawaei Technologies (of the People's Republic of China) and the Finnish-German company Nokia Siemens Networks were to act jointly with Turkmen Telekom to improve the national mobile phone system and increase capacity.[25] At the end of 2011, however, the majority of former MTS subscribers in Turkmenistan still remained without any regular replacement service.

Turkmen Telekom undertook to connect private citizens to the Internet for the first time only in June 2008, and long waits and administrative requirements for getting connected – including a signature from the local police station – continue to hinder access. Additionally, service is slow and unreliable, dial-up access rates are expensive for the average citizen and Internet websites critical of official government policy and many independent news sites are blocked by the authorities. As of June, 2010, Turkmenistan had one of the world's lowest Internet penetration rates at 1.6 per cent with an estimated 80,400 users.[26] Although no updated statistics for Internet usage in Turkmenistan are available from ITU, penetration rates are assumed to have fallen in 2011 owing to the departure of MTS. Internet World Stats listed 12,060 Facebook users as of December 2011 (0.2% penetration rate), despite the fact that access to the site is regularly blocked. YouTube, Twitter, LiveJournal and the popular social networking site odnoklassniki.ru are also often blocked or very slow to open, prompting increasing numbers of Turkmen to try popular chat forums such as vkontakte.ru. In 2011, the popular chat forum teswirler.com closed owing to pressure by the government to monitor comments, especially those of a political nature.[27]

On 7 July, 2011, the closed nature of society in Turkmenistan was highlighted through the explosion of an arms depot near the town of Abadan, located approximately 18 kilometers outside the capital. The authorities initially maintained a total news blackout until midnight on 8 July, when the state news agency noted that 'pyrotechnical matter intended for fireworks' had ignited, causing no casualties or special destruction. By way of contrast, citizen journalists who had managed to use smartphones to upload photographs and videos of the wreckage to report on the accident to the outside world described blazing buildings, clouds of smoke, large-scale evacuations and many wounded and dead. Other eyewitnesses managed to send messages to friends abroad, who then posted reports on social networking sites.[28]

Possibly as a result of the unofficial flow of information via new media, three days after the initial blasts officials finally acknowledged that munitions had exploded and casualties had occurred. The government commission set up to deal with the accident gave its own version of events, however, claiming that pyrotechnical goods had combusted owing to hot weather and then scattered over an army warehouse. While official statistics cited a death toll of 15, external human rights groups stated that at least 200 persons had been killed in the explosion. Closed trials were held in August that were not reported by the state media.[29]

A few days after the accident, security officials were reported to have started tracking down the citizen journalists responsible for leaking information. A correspondent for the US-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty was sentenced to a five-year jail term in October, most likely in connection with his outspoken coverage of the explosions at Abadan. He was subsequently amnestied after four US senators sent letters of complaint to Turkmenistan's ambassador in Washington protesting his imprisonment. The website of the Austria-based Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, which had published a series of stories on the explosions featuring witness accounts and videos, was hacked and information about website users was made publicly accessible.[30] Despite this ensuing repression, the events in Abadan were remarkable for exposing the vulnerability of media censorship in Turkmenistan to new communications technologies.

Local Democratic Governance:

State power in Turkmenistan's five regions (welayatlar), its districts (etraplar) and cities is vested in the largely decorative people's councils (halk maslahatlary). In the villages, the 1992 Constitution provided for the replacement of local soviets by legislative councils (gengeşlar), whose members are directly elected for five-year terms. The more than 600 gengeşlar are administered by arçinlar, who are elected from among their respective memberships. The gengeşlar were formally granted greater powers in 2008, but in reality they follow the instructions of the local governors (hakims). The country's hakims are directly appointed by the President at all levels.

Tribal identities remain strong in Turkmenistan and continue to play an important role in Turkmen society and informal local politics. In Turkmenistan tribalism manifests itself primarily in social practices, such as the maintenance of preferential networks, endogamy, and the persistence of dialects. Virtually all Turkmen have at least a minimal knowledge of their own tribal affiliation, which is still a relatively reliable indicator of birthplace. A disproportionate number of influential positions in central government tend to go to members of Niyazov's and Berdimuhamedow's own tribe, the Ahalteke, although this is in large part owing to the fact that the capital of Aşgabat is located in the Ahal Region, where Ahaltekes predominate.

From approximately 2000, Niyazov's government engaged in the systematic dismantling in all regions of the country of key areas of the public sector, notably education, health care, and social security. Since coming to power in 2007, Berdimuhamedow has restored the pension system and made a number of changes to the decaying education infrastructure, including restoring the tenth year of compulsory education and extending the period of higher education from two to five years. The defunct Academy of Sciences, which, before its closure in 1993, had acted as the mainstay of the scientific and academic community, was re-opened, and a presidential Higher Council on Science and Technology to coordinate the state's scientific and academic policy was established.

In practice, however, many of the educational reforms lack substance: the tenth year's curriculum is reported to be the same as that of the ninth year; textbooks for most years and subjects are outdated and in short supply; and there is a severe shortage of qualified personnel to teach the newly introduced areas of study. Participation in state-sponsored events, such as greetings for high-ranking visitors and cultural festivals, continue to be compulsory for teachers and students, thereby reducing instruction time by up to 80 days a year.

In September, 2011, 100,000 children starting school were supplied with laptops – a gift from China's Lenovo company – that included an electronic library with information that had been selectively uploaded by state educators. Significantly, it was not clear whether the laptops were supplied with Internet connections.[31] Ruhnama studies as a separate course is still required for primary school students, although state universities and institutes have been allowed to remove its study from their programs. Nonetheless, candidates for entrance exams to Turkmenistan's higher educational institutions are required to demonstrate proficiency in the Ruhnama, regardless of their area of specialization. On Ruhnama Day in 2011, celebrated on September 12, Ruhnama events were still held at schools, libraries and museums, nearly five years after Niyazov's death.

Universities and professional academies have widened their intake since Berdimuhamedow's ascension to power, although the demand for places still far exceeds supply. Unofficial reports indicate that the long-standing practice of paying large bribes to procure a place in universities, institutes and even some secondary schools has not abated, and bribe prices to enter prestigious institutions can be several thousand US dollars. The government sponsors some students each year to study abroad on official programmes, although a far greater number arrange to study abroad privately,[32] particularly in the Central Asian states of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, where tuition fees are relatively low.

At the end of August, 2011, the state organized a farewell ceremony at the International Turkmen-Turkish University in Aşgabat for the more than 2,000 Turkmenistani students on government scholarships departing for universities and specialized colleges in Russia, Turkey, China, Belarus, Malaysia and elsewhere. Only two days later, however, Turkmenistan's State Migration Service barred some 870 non-state sponsored students enrolled at universities in Tajikistan from returning to that country to resume their studies. It was not until October that some students in their final year of study were finally given permission to cross the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan border at the Farap checkpoint in order to return to Tajikistan. In a similar occurrence, in 2009, Berdimuhamedow's regime prevented some of the country's students from pursuing an education in US-affiliated universities in Kyrgyzstan and Bulgaria. The stand-off was not resolved until 2010, with the consequence that many students missed a full year of their studies. Although the leadership did not provide an explanation for its actions on either occasion, it appeared to be attempting to circumscribe the exposure of students to alternative models of education and ideologies; moreover, many young Turkmenistanis studying abroad have chosen not to return to Turkmenistan after receiving their degrees. In August, 2011, Turkmen-Turkish schools in Turkmenbashi, Nebitdag and Turkmenabad were closed in August, ostensibly owing to concerns about the influence of the Turkish Islamic movement, Nurchilar, that had supported the schools since their inception.[33]

With regard to the healthcare sector, since 2008 the state media has been reporting on the 'hundreds of millions of dollars' allocated for the construction of new medical facilities across the country, including those for specialized diseases. However, what is not reported is that most of these facilities – many of which contain state-of-the art equipment – are neither accessible to the vast majority of the population, nor staffed with qualified medical personnel. Statistical data is notoriously unreliable, medical education is sub-standard, hospital staff are discouraged from reporting malpractice and infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world.

In contrast to his predecessor, Berdimuhamedow's regime has invested heavily in the country's healthcare infrastructure, constructing a number of sanatoria and diagnostic and specialist centers in regional capitals, including the International Center for Head and Neck Diseases and the eight-story, gold-facaded Oncology Center in Aşgabat. The regime has also liaised with international organizations to introduce maternity and immunization programs. Despite this investment, in April 2010 the international organization Doctors without Borders issued a damning report arguing that healthcare in Turkmenistan is 'a system of smoke and mirrors reinforced by fear' in which data is deliberately manipulated and blood products are mismanaged.[34] Not least, the existence of certain communicable diseases is neither acknowledged nor addressed: according to the report, Turkmenistan had not reported any new HIV infections in the last 3 years[35], and the multi-drug resistant form of tuberculosis posed a high risk of creating a serious health crisis. In March, 2011, the Global Fund Against AIDS, Turberculosis and Malaria announced that it will give US$20 million to combat tuberculosis to 2015.[36]

Judicial Framework and Independence:

Unchanged since the Soviet era, the court system in Turkmenistan consists of a Supreme Court, 6 regional courts (including 1 for the city of Aşgabat), and, at the lowest level, 61 district and city courts. In addition, the Supreme Economic Court hears all commercial disputes and cases involving conflicts between state enterprises and ministries. There is no constitutional court. The President appoints all judges for five-year terms without legislative review.

The Office of the Prosecutor General dominates a legal system in which judges and lawyers play a marginal role. The Prosecutor General remains a political appointee whose primary function is repression rather than oversight. As in the former Soviet Union, convictions are generally based on confessions that are sometimes extracted by forcible means, including the use of torture and psychotropic substances. The Prosecutor General is unofficially charged with the task of collecting compromising materials on other officials in the event that the leadership chooses to dismiss or demote them.

Under an annual amnesty mandated by a 1999 law and presidential decree, the government releases thousands of prison inmates each year on state holidays, primarily to relieve overcrowding. According to a report on Turkmenistan's penitentiary facilities released in February 2010 by the Vienna-based Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR), Turkmenistan's imprisonment rate is among the highest in the world – 534 per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to 348 in Kazakhstan and 80-90 in European countries – which has led to serious overcrowding and the spread of disease.[37] Although individuals convicted of serious crimes are theoretically ineligible for amnesty, those who can pay bribes – excluding political prisoners – are generally freed, regardless of the type of crime for which they were imprisoned. However, of the thousands of prisoners amnestied by the President since coming to power in 2007, less than two dozen were considered political prisoners by international human rights groups. No political prisoners were affected by the presidential amnesties undertaken in 2011.

After years of rebuffed requests, in July the International Committee for the Red Cross was granted permission to visit a prison in Turkmenistan for the first time. Details of the visit were not made available to the public, however, apparently in keeping with the usual principles of confidentiality. In May Turkmenistan presented its first-ever report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture, which UN rapporteurs subsequently described as devoid of basic information, empirical data and a basic definition of torture.[38] One notorious aspect of Turkmenistan's prison system mentioned by the rapporteurs is that a number of persons have disappeared into it without trace, including former foreign minister Boris Shikhmuradov; who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2002 as a 'traitor to the Motherland'; two members of the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation; and the former chairman of parliament, who was designated under the Constitution to succeed Niyazov as interim president.

Berdimuhamedow's government has enacted reforms easing internal travel restrictions, which in practice has meant a reduction in the number of roadside document checks and inspections between cities. Significantly, the President signed a decree abolishing the requirement to obtain a special permit in order to travel to the country's sensitive border regions. However, at the same time the authorities have maintained a number of unofficial measures to prevent free travel, such as drawing up an extensive "blacklist" of citizens prohibited from leaving the country and the arbitrary confiscation of passports.

In line with other post-Soviet states, with the advent of independence Turkmenistan accorded a de facto higher status to its titular population, ethnic Turkmen, and legitimized the adoption of policies and practices that promoted their specific interests. Most jobs in the public sector were effectively closed to non-Turkmen, and senior state officials needed to demonstrate ethnic purity by tracing their Turkmen ancestry.

The new constitution adopted in 2008 formally enshrined Turkmenistan's non-recognition of dual citizenship (Article 7). This circumstance, in conjunction with the issuing of new biometric passports in the summer of 2008, was reported to have exerted further pressure on residents of Turkmenistan holding both Turkmenistani and Russian passports under a 1993 agreement.[39] According to reports received by human rights organizations, an unofficial policy has gone into effect requiring holders of both Russian and Turkmenistani passports to give up their Russian citizenship in order to receive the new passports, possession of which will become mandatory in 2013 for travel outside the country.[40] In practice, this means that some Russian passport-holders will likely feel compelled to permanently leave Turkmenistan in order to avoid relinquishing their Russian citizenship before their old-style Turkmenistani passports expire.

Corruption:

The President presides over a system that enables him to control and use at his own discretion the revenues from hydrocarbons sales, which form the country's primary source of income.[41] As is the case with some other resource-rich countries, the leadership of Turkmenistan is able to sustain its rule through the receipt of these export revenues, which it uses to finance pervasive security services and vanity construction projects as well as to secure the support of patronage networks as needed.

There is still a notable lack of transparency with regard to true economic figures, since Turkmenistan does not publish the national budget in full. Those figures that are published are often compiled out of local economic reports that have been inflated to show growth. No information has been forthcoming from the Berdimuhamedow leadership regarding the export revenues that were held by former President Niyazov in foreign banks, and it remains unclear what share of export revenues are currently being diverted by the Berdimuhamedow leadership to off-budget accounts.[42] While authorities have stated that foreign exchange revenues are being transferred to a new Stabilization Fund, there is no public documentation to show that the fund exists.

In Turkmenistan, political elites have traditionally built up local power bases by allocating key posts and opportunities to their loyalists. These informal networks, which have survived the demise of the Soviet system, are frequently referred to as "clans," although they are based on patron-client relationships, often with links to extended families, rather than on actual blood ties. A limited number of patronage networks commanded by Berdimuhamedow control the country's economy, which is divided into spheres of influence dominated by a close circle of the President's appointees. The existence of patronage networks as the basis of power has inevitably given rise to a political culture of bribery, nepotism, and embezzlement. Bribe-taking is particularly prevalent among customs, licensing and social service agencies. According to Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index for 2011, Turkmenistan ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world with a score of 1.6 (with 10 "highly clean" and 0 "highly corrupt"), or in 177st place out of the 182 countries surveyed, which put it on a par with Uzbekistan just below Iraq and just above Afghanistan.[43]

In 2011 Berdymuhammedov continued to use public monies to fund the construction of 'dictator chic' architectural works, carried out primarily by Turkish and French firms, the budgets for which lacked transparency and appeared inflated. US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks identified building as the most corrupt industry in Turkmenistan, with contractors inflating costs by up to 30 per cent to cover bribe payments. The 'presidential' projects tend to be of a showcase nature, such as the planned construction of an Olympic village in Aşgabat at a cost of US$1.9 billion and the transformation of the Caspian sea town of Turkmenbashi into a free economic zone and world-class resort – complete with an artificial river, a yacht club and an oceanographic centre – at an estimated cost of US$5 billion. In April, 2011, three new buildings were unveiled: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which features a giant globe, the Ministry of Communications in the shape of a telephone, and the Ministry of Education in the form of a book. In December, the authorities marked the sixteenth anniversary of the country's neutral status by officially unveiling a Neutrality Monument in the southern part of the capital city. The 95-meter monument – symbolizing Turkmenistan's declaration of its neutrality at the United Nations in 1995 – contains a Museum of Neutrality and is topped by the 12-meter, gold-covered sculpture of President Niyazov that used to crown the Arc of Neutrality in central Aşgabat.

Turkmen authorities choose to selectively clamp down on corruption, despite retaining corruption as a fundamental part of the informal political system. In May, 2011, twenty-one officials and staff from the lucrative cotton industry were handed down prison terms after being found guilty of embezzling funds and defrauding customers with regard to the quality of cotton.[44] Similarly, Berdimuhamedow ordered a crackdown on corruption in the banking system in July, citing 'grave deficiencies", as a result of which 10 senior central bank officials were convicted of bribery and sentenced to lengthy jail terms.[45]

Author:

Annette Bohr

Annette Bohr is an associate fellow of the Russian and Eurasia Program at the Institute of International Affairs in London (Chatham House). She is the author or coauthor of two monographs and numerous articles on Central Asian politics, contemporary history, and ethnic and language policies.

Notes:

[1] Natalya Shabunts, 'Dezhaviu c privkusom tsinisma' [Déjàvu with a smack of cynicism], Gundogar, 8 November 2011.

[2] 'Turkmenistan's 'Rukhnama' To Be Replaced With New 'Nama', Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 5 September 2011.

[3] Turkmen TV Altyn Asyr channel, 4 November 2011. Cited in BBC Monitoring, 5 November 2011.

[4] 'OSCE Will Not Monitor Turkmen Presidential Election,' Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 10 January 2011, http://www.rferl.org/content/osce_wont_monitor_turkmen_election/24443331.html.

[5] 'Fourteen Stalking-Horses for Turkmen President' Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 4 January 2012, http://iwpr.net/report-news/fourteen-stalking-horses-turkmen-president.

[6] 'Nurmukhammed Khanamov: oppozitsiiu ne dopustiat k vyboram [Nurmukhammed Khanamov: the opposition will not be allowed to take part in elections], Gundogar, 13 November 2011, http://gundogar.org/?02430511694000000000000011000000.

[7] Galkynyş includes the National Center of Trade Unions, the Women's Union of Turkmenistan, the Magtymguly Youth Union of Turkmenistan, the War Veterans Organization, the Democratic Party and other state-sanctioned NGOs.

[8] 'Turkmen President Reiterates Multiparty-System Idea,' Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 21 January 2011, http://www.rferl.org/content/turkmenistan_president_party_system/2283707.html.

[9] The 2010 NGO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, USAID, Bureau for Europe and Eurasia, p. 199, http://www.usaid.gov/locations/europe_eurasia/dem_gov/ngoindex/2010/complete_document.pdf#page=209.

[10] 2010 Human Rights Report: Turkmenistan, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, April 8, 2011, http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2010/sca/154488.htm.

[11] 'Turkmen Citizens Grow Litigious', Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 15 November 2011, http://iwpr.net/report-news/turkmen-citizens-grow-litigious.

[12] The 2010 NGO Sustainability Index for Central and Eastern Europe and Eurasia, USAID, Bureau for Europe and Eurasia, p. 200, http://www.usaid.gov/locations/europe_eurasia/dem_gov/ngoindex/2010/complete_document.pdf#page=209.

[13] Dovlet Ovezov and Inga Sikorskaya, 'Faith Groups under Pressure in Turkmenistan,' Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 15 September 2010, http://iwpr.net/report-news/faith-groups-under-pressure-turkmenistan.

[14] Felix Corley, "Turkmenistan: Religious Freedom Survey," Forum 18 News Service, August 2008, http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1167.

[15] Felix Corley, "Turkmenistan: Maximum sentence for latest conscientious objector," Forum 18 News Service, 22 September 2011, http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=1616.

[16] 'President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov attends ceremony of opening Turkmenistan Broadcasting Centre,' Turkmenistan: The Golden Age government website, 18 October 2011. http://www.turkmenistan.gov.tm/_eng/?id=1.

[17] 'В Туркмении вновь открыта подписка на российские СМИ' [Subscriptions to Russian mass media are possible again in Turkmenistan], regnum.ru, 16 June 2011, http://www.regnum.ru/news/fd-abroad/turkmenia/1416007.html.

[18] 'Turkmen Newspaper Readers Not Spoilt for Choice', Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 3 January 2012, http://iwpr.net/report-news/turkmen-newspaper-readers-not-spoilt-choice-0.

[19] 'Thirty Eight Heads of State and Warlords Sow Terror Among Journalists,' Reporters Without Borders, 3 May 2011, http://en.rsf.org/maghreb-et-moyen-orient-thirty-eight-heads-of-state-and-03-05-2011,40204.html.

[20] Elena Rykovtseva, 'Turkmeniiya bez SSSR' [Turkmenistan without the USSR], Gundogar, 4 January 2012.

[21] Although 3G was launched in December 2009, the first customer received service in March 2010. Annasoltan, 'State of Ambivalence: Turkmenistan in the Digital Age,' Digital Icons: Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New Media, No. 3 (2010), p.5.

[22] Turkmenistan.ru, 31 August 2010.

[23] 'Novogodnie chudesa v Turkmenistane: MTS vygoniaiut iz strany' (New Year wonders in Turkmenistan: MTS is chased out of the country), 24 December 2010, www.fergananews.com/article.php?id=6850.

[24] Catherine Fitzpatrick, 'Russian MTS Loses $140 Million, 2 Million Turkmens Lose Internet Connection,' Sifting the Karakum, 7 April 2011, http://www.eurasianet.org/node/63243.

[25] Huawei и Nokia Siemens Networks расширят возможности сотового оператора 'Алтын асыр' [Huawei and Nokia Siemens Networks expand the possibilities of the mobile operator Altyn Asyr], Turkmenistan.ru, 7 April 2011, http://www.turkmenistan.ru/ru/articles/35859.html.

[26] Available at http://www.internetworldstats.com/asia/tm.htm.

[27] Annasoltan, 'Turkmen chat sites worry parents, teachers,' Washington Times, 21 October 2011.

[28] 'Web Users Evade Controls to Report Turkmen Blast,' Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 11 July 2011, http://iwpr.net/report-news/web-users-evade-controls-report-turkmen-blast.

[29] Catherine 'Turkmenistan: 40 Tried for Abadan Explosion', Sifting the Karakum, 16 August 2011, http://www.eurasianet.org/node/64048.

[30] Central Asia: Censorship and Control of the Internet and Other New Media, November 2011, http://www.chrono-tm.org/en/wp-content/uploads/ENG-internet-briefing-paper-Nov-2011.pdf, pp. 11-12.

[31] Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, 'One (Pre-Filled) Laptop Per Child,' Sifting the Karakum, Eurasianet, 8 September, 2011, http://www.eurasianet.org/node/64149.

[32] One education ministry official has put the total figure of Turkmenistani students studying abroad at more than 40,000. 'Foreign Study Provides Escape for Turkmen Students,' Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 13 January 2012, http://iwpr.net/report-news/foreign-study-provides-escape-turkmen-students.

[33] Catherine Fitzpatrick, 'Turkmenistan: Turkish Schools Closed Amid Concerns of Spread of Nurchilar Movement,' Sifting the Karakum, 22 August, 2011, http://www.eurasianet.org/node/64079.

[34] Turkmenistan's Opaque Health System, Medecins Sans Frontieres, April 2010, p. 1., www.msf.org/turkmenistan.focus.

[35] According to the Vienna-based Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, 68 HIV-positive cases have been reported in the city of Turkmenbashi alone, primarily as a result of sex workers flocking to the area from other regions. Sifting the Karakum, Eurasianet.org, 30 October 2010, www.eurasianet.org/node/62270.

[36] На борьбу с туберкулезом в Туркменистане будет выделено почти 20 млн. долл. США [Nearly US $20 Million has been Allocated to Fight Turberculosis in Turkmenistan], 29 March 2011, Turkmenistan.ru, http://www.turkmenistan.ru/ru/articles/35815.html.

[37] Turkmenistan's Penitentiary Facilities, Turkmenistan's Independent Lawyers Association and the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, February 2010, http://www.chrono-tm.org/en/?id=1297.

[38] Diedre Tynan, 'Turkmenistan: Ashgabat's Report on Torture Underwhelms UN Representatives,' Eurasianet, 19 May 2011, http://www.eurasianet.org/node/63518.

[39] Although no census has been carried out in Turkmenistan since 1995, the Russian Interior Ministry estimates the number of Russians in Turkmenistan at 180,000.

[40] 'Rodina – ne mat'', and Viktor Pronin, 'Reshenie russkogo voprosa' [The Resolution of the Russian Question], Gundogar, 17 December 2009.

[41] For an account of the ways in which Turkmenistan's presidency has used state structures and laws to gain exclusive authority over hydrocarbons reserves and hydrocarbons export revenues, see The Private Pocket of the President (Berdymukhamedov): Oil, Gas and Law, Crude Accountability, October 2011, www.crudeaccountability.org.

[42] 'All That Gas?' Global Witness, November 2009, http://www.globalwitness.org/media_library_detail.php/879/en/all_that_gas_the_eu_and_turkmenistan.

[43] 'Corruption Perceptions Index 2011 Results,' Transparency International, 2011, http://cpi.transparency.org/cpi2011/results/.

[44] 'Mass Trial for Cotton Fraud in Turkmenistan,' Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 21 May 2011, http://iwpr.net/report-news/mass-trial-cotton-fraud-turkmenistan.

[45] Isabel Gorst, 'Turkmenistan convicts central bank officials,' Financial Times, July 31, 2011.

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