U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Turkmenistan
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Turkmenistan, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1e12.html [accessed 23 April 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
TURKMENISTANTurkmenistan, a one-party state dominated by its President and his closest advisers, made little progress in moving from a Soviet-era authoritarian style of government to a democratic system. Saparmurad Niyazov, head of the Turkmen Communist Party since 1985 and President of Turkmenistan since its independence in October 1990, may legally remain in office until 2002. The Democratic Party, the renamed Communist Party, retained a monopoly on power; the Government registered no parties in 1997 and continued to repress all opposition political activities. Emphasizing stability and gradual reform, official nation-building efforts focused on fostering Turkmen nationalism and glorification of President Niyazov. In practice the President controls the judicial system, and the 50-member unicameral Parliament (Mejlis) has no genuinely independent authority. The Committee on National Security (KNB) has the responsibilities formerly held by the Soviet Committee for State Security (KGB), namely, to ensure that the regime remains in power through tight control of society and discouragement of dissent. The Ministry of Internal Affairs directs the criminal police, which works closely with the KNB on matters of national security. Both operate with relative impunity and have been responsible for abusing the rights of individuals as well as enforcing the Government's policy of repressing political opposition. Turkmenistan is largely desert with cattle and sheep raising, intensive agriculture in irrigated oases, and huge oil and gas reserves. Its economy remains dependent on central planning mechanisms and state control, although the Government has taken a number of potentially significant steps to make the transition to a market economy. Agriculture, particularly cotton cultivation, accounts for nearly half of total employment. Gas, oil and gas derivatives, and cotton account for almost all of the country's export revenues. Seeking increased outlets for its gas exports (and, thereby, greater economic independence), the Government is considering construction of new gas export pipelines to or through a number of countries, including neighboring Iran and Afghanistan. The Government continued to commit human rights abuses, and the authorities in particular severely restricted political and civil liberties. Citizens do not have the ability to change their government peacefully. Dissident Durdymurad Khodzha-Mukhammed remains in a psychiatric hospital in Geok-Depe, and dissident Ata Aymamedov is still imprisoned for calling for the President's removal from office. Senior government officials failed to respond to inquiries regarding these two cases. Security forces continued to beat and otherwise mistreat suspects and prisoners, and prison conditions remained poor and unsafe. Arbitrary arrest, detention, unfair trials, and interference with citizens privacy remained problems. The Government completely controls the media, censoring all newspapers and rarely permitting independent criticism of government policy or officials. The Government generally gave favored treatment to ethnic Turkmen over minorities and to men over women. Women experience societal discrimination, and domestic violence against women is a problem. The recently amended law on religion reaffirmed a number of important religious freedoms but also tightens government control of religious groups. The requirement that religious organizations have at least 500 members to be legally registered has prevented some minority religions from legally establishing themselves. The Institute for Democratization and Human Rights, given a mandate to conduct research in support of the democratization of the Turkmen government and society and to monitor the protection of human rights, completed its first year of operation in October. During the year, it continued to develop its research and monitoring activities. Early in 1997, it conducted inspections of prisons, and several reforms resulted from these inspections.