Life in Turkmenistan


At the time of writing, Turkmenistan remains one of the world’s most repressive countries. The country is virtually closed to independent scrutiny, media and religious freedoms are subject to draconian restrictions, and human rights defenders and other activists face the constant threat of government reprisal. The government continues to use imprisonment as a tool for political retaliation. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, the President of Turkmenistan, his relatives, and associates enjoy unlimited power and total control over all aspects of public life.

“Let the life of every Turkmen be as beautiful as our melons.”
– Saparmurad Niyazov, President of Turkmenistan (1990-2006)

There is a total absence of media freedom in Turkmenistan. The state controls all print and electronic media, with the exception of one newspaper founded by an individual close to the President. Internet access remains limited and heavily state-controlled. The country’s only Internet service provider is state-operated, and social media and many websites are blocked, including those of foreign news organizations.

After Berdymukhamedov led a mass bicycle ride in August, civil servants and students were pressured to purchase bicycles at high prices. The government often forces people, sometimes by the thousands, to gather for hours for events attended by Berdymukhamedov. They are not permitted to leave, even to use the toilet.

“Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.”
– George Orwell, 1984

Nonconformists continue to languish in Turkmen prisons on what appear to be politically motivated charges. The actual number of those jailed on political grounds is impossible to determine because the justice system lacks transparency, trials are closed in political cases, and the overall level of repression precludes independent monitoring of these cases.

An example of conspicuous state interference with freedom of information occurred in April 2013, when Berdymukhamedov fell off his horse during a hippodrome race. Security forces forced spectators to delete from their cameras any image of the fall.

Torture also remains a grave problem, particularly in high-security facilities. The International Committee for the Red Cross does not have full access to Turkmen prisons. The government has persistently denied access to the country for independent human rights monitors.

“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.”
– John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Turkmenistan even has a unique national religion; it’s core tenets are written in the Ruhnama, a nationalistic book on spiritual guidance introduced by Saparmurad Niyazov, the country’s first President. At first, it became mandatory to read the Ruhnama in schools, universities and governmental organizations, but eventually it even became part of the driving test. New governmental employees were even tested on the book at job interviews. And in March 2006, Niyazov was recorded as saying that he had interceded with God to ensure that any student who read the book three times would automatically get into heaven.

– Courtesy of hrw.org (Human Rights Watch)

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