Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 30 (of 30)
Political Environment: 37 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 29 (of 30)
Total Score: 96 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

While the death of President Saparmurat Niyazov in December 2006 raised hopes for positive change in Turkmenistan's long-desperate media environment, the main story in 2007 was a lack of tangible improvements. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who won a dubious landslide victory in February, made a number of encouraging promises but failed to follow through on them, leaving Turkmenistan one of the most repressive nations on earth.

The government undertook no investigation into the death of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova in police custody in September 2006 despite credible reports that she died under torture. Meanwhile, correspondents for RFE/RL in Turkmenistan continued to experience harassment in 2007 in the form of surveillance and blocked mobile phones. Russia's ITAR-TASS maintained the only foreign bureau in Turkmenistan; other correspondents, including RFE/RL correspondents, continued to encounter insurmountable obstacles to accreditation and were forced to work unofficially. In April, independent journalist Sona Chuli-Kuli was detained and interrogated; the authorities released her only after she pledged not to work with foreign media.

The government retained its absolute monopoly over all media, directly controlling not only media outlets, but also the printing presses and other infrastructure on which they depended. The authorities maintained a ban of foreign newspapers and periodical subscriptions, with the lone exception of the private but government-sanctioned 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 there was scant evidence of any real loosening of restrictions there (despite the removal of the former president's image from the bottom of the screen in state television broadcasts in July). There were even signs that the state intended to crack down on satellite dishes, which had been one of citizens' only means of access to outside information. In November, President Berdymukhammedov called for the removal of satellite dishes from apartments and their replacement by a single dish on each building. A December cabinet decision confirmed his decision.

President Berdymukhammedov began the year with a promise in January to lift restrictions on the internet, but when the country's first internet café opened in Ashgabat a month later, it featured armed guards at the door and prohibitive prices. The number of internet cafes in the country reportedly rose to 15 by year's end, but access to regional news resources located outside Turkmenistan and émigré opposition websites was blocked. Internet usage in the country is estimated at 1% of the population. In a symbolic expression of the government's halting moves toward liberalization and ongoing desire for control, a brief experiment in allowing unmonitored comments on the state-controlled Altyn Asyr website in October ended quickly after some users posted remarks critical of former President Saparmurat Niyazov.

This 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.