Although the constitution declares the country to be a secular democracy and presidential republic, Turkmenistan is an authoritarian state dominated by president-for-life Saparmurat Niyazov who retained his monopoly on political power. Its population is approximately five million. Niyazov has been president since independence in 1991, and legally may remain in office until 2010. In August 2003 Niyazov was elected by the Halk Maslahaty (people's council) to a life term as its chairman, giving him a substantial say in the selection of any presidential successor.
Government efforts continued to focus on fostering centralized state control and the glorification of the president. All candidates who ran in the December 2004 parliamentary elections were members of the Democratic Party, the only legally recognized political party in the country, and were cleared by the authorities. Of the country's 2 parliamentary bodies, the 2,500-member people's council is the supreme legislative body and surpasses the 50-member Mejlis (parliament) in authority. The judiciary was not independent and was under the control of the president. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.
The government continued to commit serious abuses and its human rights record remained extremely poor. Authorities severely restricted political and civil liberties. The following human rights problems were reported:
- citizens' inability to change their government
- torture and mistreatment of detainees
- incommunicado and prolonged detention
- arbitrary arrest and detention of religious minority group members, civil society workers, and family members of accused criminals
- house arrest
- denial of due process and a fair trial
- arbitrary interference with privacy, home, and correspondence
- restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association
- restrictions on religious freedom
- a government-maintained black list of individuals not permitted to travel abroad
- violence against women
- restrictions on free association of workers
Measured improvements in human rights included: government registration of five minority religious groups, release of four prisoners of conscience, the February ratification of new child labor laws, and less evidence of child labor during the cotton harvest.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reliable reports that the government or its agents committed any politically motivated killings, although soldiers in the state border service killed eight people attempting to cross the border illegally.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices; however, security officials tortured, routinely beat, and used excessive force against criminal suspects, prisoners, and individuals critical of the government. Police abuse also targeted religious minorities (see section 2.c.).
For example in April police detained private educator Alexander Fataliyev for nine days, beat him, and threatened him with death.
Authorities detained people in psychiatric hospitals as punishment.On July 23, authorities detained Krishna Consciousness Society of Turkmenistan member Cheper Annaniyazova, who returned to the country during the year, in a psychiatric hospital for illegally leaving the country in 2000. Annaniyazova was charged with illegal departure, illegal entry, and conspiracy to commit illegal departure; she was sentenced to a seven-year prison term. At year's end conviction documents had not been released.
Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev remained in a psychiatric ward since his February 2004 detention in response to petitioning the government to hold a peaceful demonstration.
Unlike the previous year, there were no reports that Ministry of National Security (MNB) members beat Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) associates. There were no developments nor were any expected in the case of the January 2004 abduction and beating of a RFE/RL associate.
No developments were expected in the case of the April 2004 beating of Mukhametgoldy Berdyyew, Moscow-based RFE/RL correspondent and executive director of the human rights organization Turkmen ili.
There was no government action taken in the following 2003 cases: the detention, beating, and injuring of a person suspected of buying a forged passport; the reported detention, torture, and severe injuring of five relatives or associates of Saparmurat Yklymov; and the abduction and beating of a local correspondent by suspected MNB officers.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were poor; they were unsanitary, overcrowded, unsafe, and posed a threat to life. Disease, particularly tuberculosis, was rampant. International monitoring organizations continued to report that prisoners with tuberculosis were released untested and untreated into the general population. Government officials protested these allegations and the allegations of foreign diplomatic missions, but they refrained from responding to direct inquiries about prison conditions. Nutrition was poor, and prisoners depended on relatives to supplement inadequate food supplies, although prisoners convicted for treason were unable to receive supplies from relatives. The government defined treason as any opposition to the government.
Former government officials and others imprisoned for various alleged crimes, including those implicated in the 2002 armed attack against the president, were singled out for harsh treatment. There were no reports available on the conditions and treatment of prisoners arrested after the 2002 armed attack.
Local sources reported that authorities detained and threatened relatives of those implicated in the 2002 attack to coerce confessions and limit their contact with foreigners. Many were placed on a black list that prevented them from traveling outside of the country (see section 2.d.).
Government opponents reported that former high-level officials were denied proper medical treatment and suffered beatings while in detention. Security forces also denied them medical treatment and food, and used verbal intimidation to coerce confessions.
Unlike the previous year, members of minority religions did not report that they were singled out for harsher treatment than other prisoners (see section 2.c.). Four Jehovah's Witnesses imprisoned as conscientious objectors--three in 2004 and one in February--were released in April. There were no remaining imprisoned conscientious objectors at the end of the year.
Family members and international publications claimed some prisoners died due to the combination of overcrowding, untreated illnesses, and lack of adequate protection from the summer heat. On August 23, the Helsinki Foundation reported that political prisoner Yazgeldi Gudogdyev died in prison due to an untreated illness.
In early November a presidential pardon amnestied 8,145 prisoners. Amnestied prisoners swore an oath of allegiance to the Rukhnama, President Niyazov's spiritual guidebook on the country's culture and heritage.
There were three types of incarceration facilities throughout the country: educational-labor colonies, correctional-labor colonies, and prisons. Some prisoners, usually former government officials, were sent into internal exile. In the correctional-labor colonies, relatives of prisoners reported excessive periods of prisoner isolation. There were reports that prisoners were forced to work under hazardous and unhealthy conditions in a kaolin mine in Gyzylgaya prison, near Dashoguz.
Prisoners connected with the November 2002 attack were reportedly held separately at the Owadan Depe prison. Government officials refused to respond to inquiries from family members and diplomats about political prisoners' location or condition. Government officials also refused to permit family members, foreign diplomats, or international observers, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), access to detainees or prisoners associated with the November 2002 attack. During the year the ICRC did not conduct any prison visits, due to unacceptable government limitations on visiting certain types of prisons and prisoners.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, arbitrary arrest and detention were serious problems.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) directs the criminal police, who worked closely with the MNB on matters of national security. The MNB exercises control over personnel changes in other ministries and enforces presidential decrees. Both the MNB and criminal police operated with impunity. Corruption existed in the security forces.
The government investigated some allegations of abuse and held some members of the security forces accountable for abuses. The MNB's primary responsibility was ensuring the government remained in power. The MNB limited personal freedoms and maintained a black list of citizens restricted from foreign travel. This list is enforced by the MVD's sixth department--the Department of Organized Crime and Terrorism Prevention.
Arrest and Detention
A warrant is not required for an arrest. Authorities can detain individuals for 72 hours without a formal arrest warrant, but legally have to issue a formal bill of indictment within 10 days of arrest to hold detainees longer; these provisions were not always adhered to in practice.The chairman of the Cabinet of Ministers, a position held by the president, has sole authority for approving arrest warrants.
Detainees are entitled to immediate access to an attorney once a bill of indictment is issued and they were able to choose their counsel; however, in practice they did not have prompt or regular access to legal counsel. In some cases legal counsel ceased advising their clients after government officials altered the charges or case details initially provided to defendants. Incommunicado detention was a problem. By law detainees are to be charged within 72 hours; there was no evidence of authorities not respecting this right in practice. There was no bail system.Authorities denied some prisoners visits by family members during the year. Families sometimes did not know the whereabouts of imprisoned relatives (see section 1.c.).
The law characterizes any opposition to the government as an act of treason. Those convicted faced life imprisonment and were ineligible for amnesty or reduction of sentence. During the year approximately 50 to 60 persons were arrested or convicted under the law.
Those expressing views critical of or different from those of the government were arrested on charges of economic crimes against the state and various common crimes (see section 2.a.).
Representatives of minority religions claimed that law enforcement officers forcibly detained their members throughout the year (see section 2.c.).
Dunya Yklimova Mahtimagamedova, a relative of one of the convicted 2002 coup plotters who fled the country in 2004, reportedly also fled the country after security forces repeatedly detained her.
Opposition groups and international organizations, such as Amnesty International (AI), claimed the government held many political detainees, although the precise number was unknown. Several hundred relatives and associates of those implicated in the November 2002 attack were held without charge for their perceived political opinions and possible involvement in the attack.
Pretrial detention may legally last no longer than two months, which in exceptional cases may be extended to one year. In practice pretrial detentions averaged two to three months; authorities often exceeded limits.
The government used house arrest without due process to control regime opponents and prevent citizens from meeting with foreign diplomats. Some nongovernmental organization (NGO) leaders were also discriminately placed under house arrest. During the year relatives of those suspected in the 2002 armed attack and some of the 100 individuals placed under house arrest in 2003 to prevent meeting with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) remained under occasional or permanent house arrest or were restricted from traveling outside of certain regions.
During the year numerous former ministers and government officials were dismissed from their positions, sent into internal exile, placed under house arrest, or sentenced to jail terms, often for valid, though politically motivated, charges (see sections 2.d. and 3.).
In early November the president amnestied 8,145 prisoners. No political prisoners were granted a pardon.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary; however, in practice the judiciary was subordinate to the president. There was no legislative review of the president's judicial appointments, except for the chairman (chief justice) of the supreme court who was reviewed by the rubber stamp parliament. The president has the sole authority to dismiss all judges before the completion of their terms and has done so frequently down to the city level.
The court system consists of a supreme court, 6 provincial courts (including 1 for Ashgabat), and, at the lowest level, 61 district and city courts. Criminal offenses committed by members of the armed forces are tried in civilian courts under the authority of the office of the prosecutor general.
In August 2004 the government released a revised draft criminal procedure code that could significantly alter the 1961 Soviet code, still in force. The proposal incorporated rights of the accused--including the introduction of the presumption of innocence, restraints on police searches, establishment of a bail mechanism, and limits on pretrial detention. The proposal was pending at year's end.
The law provides due process for defendants, including a public trial, access to accusatory material, the right to call witnesses to testify on their behalf, a defense attorney, a court-appointed lawyer if the defendant cannot afford one, and the right to represent oneself in court. In practice authorities often denied these rights, and there were few independent lawyers available to represent defendants. There is no jury system. At times defendants were not allowed to confront or question witnesses against them, defendants and their attorneys were denied access to government evidence against them, and defendants frequently did not enjoy a presumption of innocence. Even when due process rights were observed, the authority of the government prosecutor far exceeded that of the defense attorney, and it was very difficult for the defendant to receive a fair trial. Lower courts' decisions could be appealed, and the defendant could petition the president for clemency. Courts allegedly ignored allegations of torture that defendants raised in trial.
Foreign observers have been permitted at some trials, and some attended trials during the year.
There were regular reports of individuals being arrested and requested to pay fines for breaking specific laws; however, when asked to see the law, government officials refused or stated the laws were secret.
The law characterizes any opposition to the government as an act of treason. Those convicted faced life imprisonment and were ineligible for amnesty or reduction of sentence.
The exact location of over 50 prisoners being held in connection with the 2002 attack remained unknown. There were reports they were being held at Owadan Depe prison outside of Ashgabat and subject to abuse.
At year's end the government held at least one political prisoner, Mukhametkuli Aimuradov, imprisoned since 1995.
Former mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah was sentenced to 22 years imprisonment on charges of treason in March 2004. He was accused of involvement in the 2002 attack.
The government failed to enforce the law consistently with respect to restitution or compensation for confiscation of private property (see section 1.f.).
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions; however, authorities frequently did not respect these prohibitions in practice. Authorities routinely, and in some cases forcibly, searched the homes of suspected regime opponents, minority religious groups, and relatives of those suspected in the 2002 attack. No evictions occurred during the year, but the threat persisted.
The law does not regulate surveillance by the state security apparatus, which regularly monitored the activities of officials, citizens, opponents and critics of the government, and foreigners. Security officials used physical surveillance, telephone tapping, electronic eavesdropping, and informers. There was one government-controlled Internet service provider. The government monitored citizens' e-mail and Internet usage and cut service for accounts used to visit sensitive sites. The government reportedly intercepted surface mail before delivery, and mail taken to the post office had to remain unsealed for inspection. The government closed the last remaining international courier service, DHL, and all business was diverted to state-run Turkmenpochta.
The government continued to engage in forcible resettlement, a practice observers stated was used to displace "internal enemies," political opponents, and ethnic minorities. According to the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights and the Global IDP Project, during April the government forcibly resettled approximately 40, mostly ethnic Uzbek, families from border villages in Dashoguz Welayat to Balkan Welayat. In April 2004 the government took the homes and relocated the families of dismissed government officials to Dashoguz Welayat. Humanitarian conditions of the displaced persons were unknown, and international observers were unable to independently verify all reports of internal migration.
During the year the government continued to demolish large numbers of private homes, including those to which residents had valid legal title, as part of an urban renewal program to make way for construction in and around Ashgabat and elsewhere. In some of the worst cases, the government required evicted families to pay for removal of the rubble of their destroyed homes, reportedly gave persons as little as 12 hours to collect their belongings and vacate, and did not provide homeowners with alternate accommodations or compensation. Others were given two weeks notice to vacate and offered apartments or plots of land in compensation, albeit undeveloped or nonirrigated plots that resulted in the loss of livelihood for some.
In December authorities demolished a housing complex in the middle of Ashgabat, mostly inhabited by ethnic Russian retirees. Authorities gave less than two days notice of the demolition and no compensation other than a commitment to resettle the occupants in new housing within a year. Residents were told the demolition was in order to build new residential high-rises, but trees were planted at the location instead (see section 2.d.).
On April 18, the 2001 presidential decree restricting noncitizens from marrying citizens was amended to allow a noncitizen to marry a citizen after one year's residency in the country. There were no reports of such marriages under the new or the old law.
The government targeted family members of suspected or convicted criminals for abuse. In late March Major General Ruslan Tukhbatullin was forced to resign and vacate his military quarters with his family. His brother Farid Tukhbatullin was an exiled human rights defender and former prisoner of conscience.
On July 8, authorities prevented Larisa Aranbayeva from boarding a flight to Moscow because of charges against her former spouse who was living in St. Petersberg.
Authorities continued to punish individuals for the alleged violations of their family members, including with house arrest and detainment (see section 1.d.).
Harassment of the relatives of Saparmurat Yklymov, convicted as one of the primary plotters of the 2002 attack, continued.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, but the government did not respect these rights in practice. Persons expressing views critical of or different from those of the government were arrested on false charges of committing common crimes and in some cases subject to abuse, harassment, and deprivation, including loss of opportunities for advancement and employment.
Almost all print media was government financed. Foreign newspapers were banned. The government completely controlled radio and local television, but use of satellite dishes and access to foreign television programming was widespread.
During the year government agents reportedly subjected journalists to arrest, harassment, intimidation, and violence. In May the government banned local journalists from all contact with foreigners unless specifically permitted. Journalists who did not comply were threatened with losing their jobs. On March 12, the government deported Russian news agency RIA Novosti correspondent Viktor Panov, following his February 24 arrest and detainment, on suspicion of espionage.
The government denied telephone service to local RFE/RL correspondent Halmyrat Gylgychdurdyev for several months and dismissed his daughter from her position with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The government continued to harass RFE/RL reporters and associates. There were no developments in the following RFE/RL cases: January 2004 MNB abduction and beating of an associate correspondent, March 2004 arrest of associate Ashyrguly Bayryev for smuggling novels into the country, April 2004 MNB beating of a Moscow-based correspondent, and the 2003 abduction and torture of Saparmurat Ovezberdyev, who received asylum overseas in 2004.
In March 78-year-old writer Rahim Esenov decided not to travel to Moscow for medical treatment, because of threats he received during the year connected with his February 2004 arrest on charges of instigating social, ethnic, and religious hatred. Esenov's crime was writing a biographical book about a medieval Turkmen figure, which was "inaccurate" according to President Niyazov. All copies of the book were confiscated.
The government censored newspapers; prepublication approval from the office of the president's press secretary was required.
To regulate domestic printing and copying activities, the government required all publishing houses and printing and photocopying establishments to obtain registration licenses for their equipment. The government required the registration of all photocopiers and mandated that a single individual be responsible for all photocopying activity.
All publishing companies were government-owned, and works on topics that were out of favor with the government, including fiction, were not published. The government‑controlled Union of Writers expelled members who criticized government policy, and libraries removed their works.
The government kept Russian government-supported, Russian‑language Radio Mayak transmissions off the air during the year.
The government required all foreign correspondents to apply for accreditation; however, there were no reported difficulties with foreign media outlet personnel changes during the year.
The government prohibited reporting the views of opposition political leaders or any criticism of the president. Criticism of officials was only permitted if directed at those who had fallen out of presidential favor; public criticism of officials was done almost exclusively by the president himself. Domestic journalists and foreign news correspondents engaged in self‑censorship due to fear of government reprisal.
The government continued to dictate media focus on President Niyazov's achievements and his love of his people to amplify his cult of personality. The president personally approves the first page content every day of the major dailies, which always includes a prominent picture of him.
Journalists responded to the president's instruction to report on the poor cotton harvest openly, accurately, and critically.
Intellectuals and artists reported that security officials instructed them to praise the president in their work and warned them not to participate in receptions hosted by foreign diplomatic missions. Ministry of Culture officials temporarily were banned from attending foreign embassy functions after foreign embassy officials failed to attend official Rukhnama anniversary commemorative events. Plays required Ministry of Culture approval before opening to the public, to ensure against antigovernment or antipresidential content. Although classical music was still taught and performed throughout the country, there was little or no government support for non‑Turkmen music.
While Internet access was available, government-owned Turkmen Telecom was the sole provider (see section 1.f.); generally only accredited journalists, embassies, and a few others had Internet access authority in Ashgabat. Access was prohibitively expensive for most citizens, and service was poor. Turkmen Telecom blocked access to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service Web site.
During the year the government increased already significant restrictions on academic freedom. It did not tolerate criticism of government policy or the president in academic circles, and it discouraged research into areas it considered politically sensitive, such as comparative law, history, ethnic relations, or theology. No master's degrees or doctorates were granted since 1998 and the degrees were no longer available in the country. Government permission is required to study abroad and receive recognition of foreign degrees.UNICEF reported university enrollment decreased from 40 thousand in the 1990s to 3 thousand in 2004.
In September 2004 the Rukhnama, Volume II was published and teachers reported having to spend more class time on the Rukhnama rather than traditional academic subjects. Niyazov's poetry volume The Spring of My Inspiration was released prior to the opening of the school year and was also added to the curriculum. A second poetry volume, My Beloved, was released in November and was slated for incorporation into the curriculum.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The law provides for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right in practice. Authorities did not grant the required permits for any public meetings and demonstrations during the year. Unregistered organizations, particularly those perceived to have political agendas, were not allowed to hold demonstrations.
In June 2004 the MVD detained 50 women assembled outside the UN office to request support and protest house demolitions; the women were subsequently allowed to present their grievances to the Hakim and were released.
In February 2004 retired citizen Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev was forcibly detained in a psychiatric hospital after requesting permission from authorities to conduct a peaceful demonstration against President Niyazov's policies (see section 1.c.). Durdykuliev remained incarcerated at year's end.
Freedom of Association
Although the law provides for freedom of association, the government restricted this right in practice. The law requires all NGOs to register with the Ministry of Justice, and all foreign assistance be registered with the State Agency for Investment, the Ministry of Justice, and coordinated through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Criminal penalties for unregistered NGO activity were abolished in November 2004; the government continued to routinely deny registration to NGOs and other private organizations using subjective criteria.
Of 89 registered NGOs, international organizations considered 7 of the NGOs to be independent; the last registration completed occurred in January. While some groups reported good cooperation with the Ministry of Justice in the registration process, other NGOs reported difficulties registering, such as frequently having their applications returned on technical grounds. Some NGOs found alternative ways to carry out activities, such as registering as businesses or subsidiaries of other registered groups. Other groups considered themselves temporarily closed.
No political groups critical of government policy were able to meet the requirements for registration. The only registered political party was the Democratic Party, the former Turkmen Communist Party. The government did not prohibit membership in political organizations; however, in practice those who claimed membership in political organizations other than the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan were harassed.
In December a member of the Ikinciler Farmer's Cooperative was convicted of embezzlement. In the past the cooperative unsuccessfully attempted to run an independent candidate for local office and was critical of the government's agricultural policy. The collective farmers believed the conviction was politically motivated.
c. Freedom of Religion
The law provides for freedom of religion, although the government restricted this right in practice. There is no state religion, but the majority of the population is Sunni Muslim. The government has incorporated some aspects of Islamic tradition into its efforts to redefine a national identity, but in practice the government closely controlled and monitored all religious activities and placed some restrictions on Muslims. The government required all religious groups and individual mosques and churches to register. Some groups reported confusion over registration requirements because of conflicting statements by government officials from different ministries.
In April five more religious groups were registered: Greater Grace Church, Church of Christ, Light of the East, Full Gospel Christians, and New Apostolic Church. At an October 20 government meeting with representatives of religious minority groups, the government explained that individual branches of religious groups could be temporarily registered by requesting representative powers of attorney from the registered branch of their particular group. Ten branch groups used this temporary registration mechanism, but only two groups met by the end of the year; the eight others were waiting for local government validation of the temporary registration process before meeting.
Nonregistered religious congregations such as Jehovah's Witnesses, a separate group of Baptists, and Evangelical Christian groups were present in the country, although the government restricted their activities. Nonregistered groups were officially prohibited from conducting religious activities.
The government-supported Council on Religious Affairs (CRA) was part of the government bureaucracy and appeared to exercise direct control over the hiring, promotion, firing, and, in some cases, compensation of both Sunni Muslim and Russian Orthodox clergy.
Some members of minority religions claimed that law enforcement officers tortured and abused their members. During the year there were reports that government agents sexually harassed, detained, interrogated, evicted, and pressed religious minority group members to abandon their beliefs. Some were assessed fines.
On February 11, city officials warned Jehovah's Witness member Nazikgul Orazova to discontinue proselytizing; Orazova reported that, on March 2, MVD officers beat and threatened her with imprisonment and large fines while she was held for 8 hours in the sixth department of the MVD for questioning; she was detained again 4 times in March, and on April 5 was ordered to pay an approximately $50 fine (1,250,000 TM) for proselytizing and possessing religious literature. On May 26, the court ordered the confiscation of her property to pay the fine.
In July, August, and September several minority religious organizations, registered and unregistered, complained that local police increased harassment, particularly in areas outside of Ashgabat. Baptists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Seventh-day Adventists experienced disrupted meetings, detainments (including of children), and administrative fines.
Between July and August security forces broke up at least three Baptist meetings in Turkmenabat, Mary, and Dashoguz; members described harassment, detention, questioning, and at least one beating. Jehovah's Witnesses reported eight incidents of harassment or short-term detention for the same time period.
On July 11, authorities did not allow Pentecostal Church pastor Victor Mokrousov to cross the border into Uzbekistan at the Farap checkpoint. Forum 18 reported that three members of two other religious minority groups were prevented from leaving the country in October.
On July 19, Forum 18 reported that hearing and speech-impaired Independent Baptist Church member Asiya Zasedatelevaya was hit with her Bible during a local police raid on a worship service in her home.
On July 23, Krishna Consciousness Society of Turkmenistan member Cheper Annaniyazova was detained in a psychiatric hospital for illegally leaving the country in 2000 (see section 1.c.).
There were no developments in the September 2004 case of police detaining, harassing, and beating Jehovah's Witnesses.
The government controlled the establishment of Muslim places of worship and limited access to Islamic education. In March 2004 President Niyazov announced no more mosques would be built in the country. During the year one mosque, in Turkmenbashy, was destroyed. Minority religious groups reported difficulties in finding appropriate places of worship.
At the end of the year, an imam placed under house arrest in March 2004 was no longer confined.
Local police officers subjected ethnic Turkmen who converted to Christianity to official harassment and mistreatment, such as verbal abuse for denying their heritage by converting.
Foreign missionary activity is prohibited, although both Christian and Muslim missionaries were present in the country.
There was no official religious instruction in public schools; however, students were required to study the Rukhnama at all public schools and institutes of higher learning. Observers maintained the president used these teachings in part to supersede other established religious codes, as well as historical and cultural texts, and thereby influence citizens' religious and cultural behavior. Extracurricular religious education was allowed only with CRA and presidential permission.
On June 30, the Turkmen State University Theological Faculty was dissolved and absorbed into the history faculty. Only one institution of Islamic education remained open and the government controlled the curriculum.
Government-supported mosques were required to display copies of the Rukhnama.
Religious literature was not published in the country. Government representatives informed religious groups they could only import as much religious literature as corresponded to registered congregants.
Ethnic Turkmen members of unregistered religious groups accused of disseminating religious material received harsher treatment than members of other ethnic groups, particularly if they received financial support from foreign sources.
During the year the government controlled the number of people allowed to participate in the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca (the hajj), specifying that only 188 pilgrims would be allowed to journey to Mecca, out of the country's quota of 4,600 persons.
Four Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors were released from prison in April. In contrast to previous years, they reported no discriminatory abuse during their detention.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There were two thousand self-identified Jews and no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2005 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The law does not provide for full freedom of movement.
Internal passports and residence permits were required. The government controlled travel to border cities and regions, and large parts of the country were considered restricted zones.
The government maintained a list of persons not allowed to travel within or depart the country, which included some members of minority religious groups, regime opponents, relatives of those implicated in the 2002 attack, and those considered to possess "state secrets." The December 5 migration law stipulates that people with access to state secrets involved in education and military training may be denied travel abroad.
The government also refused to allow some study abroad and exchange program participants to attend the programs.
Citizens may only spend three days a month in neighboring Uzbekistan, under a 2004 summit agreement between President Niyazov and President of Uzbekistan Karimov, which in some cases impeded citizens' ability to visit relatives.
The law permits forced exile, and some individuals remained in forced exile; the government also used forced and internal exile as punishment during the year. The government confiscated the passports of political opponents to enforce internal exile during the year. Numerous former ministers and government officials dismissed from their positions and sent into internal exile remained under house arrest. The president proposed that the officials, who were sometimes accompanied by their families, could work off their sentences in internal exile. Almost all prominent political opponents of the government chose to move to other countries for reasons of personal safety; none returned during the year.
In April Alexander Fataliyev was exiledafter he was detained and beaten by security forces for receiving foreign funding for his private educational center.
Sazak Begmedov remained in internal exile after being forced to leave Ashgabat in late 2003 after his daughter founded the Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation in Bulgaria. In November local authorities prevented Begmedov from traveling to Ashgabat for medical treatment.
Maral Yklymova, the daughter of one of the accused organizers of the November 2002 attacks, remained under house arrest in Mary where she was regularly watched by security officials and periodically had her passport confiscated and telephone lines cut.
There were reports that authorities harassed ethnic Russians and confiscated their property to hasten their migration. In contrast to previous years, the government did not overtly discourage emigration of ethnic Turkmen living in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and other countries and emigration of non-Turkmen from the former Soviet Union.
Protection of Refugees
The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. In practice the government provided protection against refoulement, the return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. The government granted refugee or asylum status to some ethnic Turkmen from Afghanistan and Tajikistan, including other groups of ethnic Uzbeks and Russians. The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 convention and the 1967 protocol and granted citizenship or legal residency to over 16 thousand individuals during the year. Most of those granted citizenship included ethnic Turkmen who had fled conflict in Tajikistan in the early 1990s, ethnic Uzbeks, and Russians.The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees and asylum seekers.
Since the beginning of international military operations in Afghanistan, the government has cooperated with the UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and other international refugee and relief agencies to assist refugees from Afghanistan.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
Citizens could not freely choose and change the laws and officials that govern them. The constitution declares the country to be a secular democracy in the form of a presidential republic. It calls for the separation of powers among the various branches of government, but vests a disproportionate share of power in the presidency. In practice the president's power over the state was absolute; despite the appearance of decision making by consensus, all important and many minor decisions were made at the presidential level. Citizens swore a national oath of personal allegiance to President Niyazov, rather than just to the country or to the presidency as a general institution.
A constitutional amendment named President Niyazov chairman-for-life of the people's council, giving him substantial authority to approve any potential successor. A 1994 national referendum, which was neither free nor fair, extended the president's term to 2002, eliminating the 1997 scheduled presidential election. A 1999 law allowed an exception to constitutionally mandated term limits (normally two five-year terms) for President Niyazov, effectively permitting him a lifetime term in office. In effect, Niyazov makes the laws and determines candidates for elections.
Elections and Political Participation
In 2004 parliamentary elections all candidates were pre-approved and were members of the Democratic Party. Many citizens had very little knowledge about the elections, including both the date and candidates' biographies. Foreign observers were not invited to monitor the elections.
Although the government did not prohibit membership in political organizations, political parties other than the president's Democratic Party were effectively banned, and those who claimed membership in political organizations other than the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan were harassed.
Authorities fired or threatened to fire supporters of opposition movements, removed them from professional societies, and threatened them with the loss of their homes. In addition some citizens who met with foreigners were subject to official intimidation.
There were 8 women in the 50-member parliament. Women were also represented in the 2,500-delegate people's council. Women served in a few government positions, including deputy chair of the parliament, acting chairman of the Central Bank (until she was removed in May), prosecutor general, minister of culture, and ambassador to the UN.
There was 1 member of a minority group in the 50-seat parliament. Ethnic minorities were also represented in the 2,500-delegate people's council. Preference for appointed government positions was given to ethnic Turkmen, but ethnic minorities occupied several high governmental positions. The largest tribe, the president's Teke tribe, held the most prominent roles in cultural and political life.
Government Corruption and Transparency
Most statistical data was considered a state secret. There was no public disclosure of demographical data, and observers asserted that published economic and financial data was manipulated to justify state policies and expenditures.
While the president fired numerous officials of all ranks on justifiable charges ofbribery, nepotism, abuse of office, and embezzlement, observers maintained that authorities used anticorruption campaigns to remove potential rivals.
Presidential apparatus chief administration officer and deputy chairman of the people's council Rejep Saparov was dismissed on July 1 and was serving a 20-year sentence for numerous convictions. Deputy Chairman for Energy and Industry Issues and Chief of the State Competent Agency for Exploration of Hydrocarbon Resources Yolly Gurbanmuradov was dismissed on May 20 and later sentenced to 25 years for crimes including embezzlement. Following Gurbanmuradov's purge, most of the Oil and Gas Ministry also was purged and the ministry was reorganized to deposit all decisions regarding the hydrocarbons industry with the president.
The president fired 15 officials for alleged corruption in the cotton harvest and state agricultural sector. The president also fired the head of the State Wheat Association, Kemal Atdayev, for receiving a bribe as well as his successor Tachberdy Shikhberdiyev for committing fraud.
On July 1, whistleblower Tachmyrat Shyhberdiyev was demoted from his post of Chairman of the Grain Products Association to Deputy Chairman and accused of embezzlement; Shyhberdiyev was reportedly demoted for telling the president that the year's harvest was actually lower than officially reported in the media. Shyhberdiyev was detained after the demotion but subsequently released and dismissed from the government.
There is no law that allows access to government information and in practice the government did not provide access. Requests for information were denied on the basis of information being a state secret.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
There were no domestic human rights groups. The government warned its critics against speaking with visiting journalists or other foreigners wishing to discuss human rights problems. During the year the government maintained pressure on nonpolitical social and cultural organizations. This included detention and routine summoning for questioning at security services.
There were no international human rights NGOs with an ongoing permanent presence in the country; however, the government permitted international organizations, including the OSCE, UNHCHR, and the ICRC; international human rights groups monitored the situation from abroad. Government restrictions on freedom of speech, press, and association severely restricted international organizations�Œ ability to investigate and criticize the government's human rights policies. Officials were somewhat responsive to questions regarding alleged human rights abuses; during the year diplomats engaged in dialogue with the government on a number of religious freedom and human rights cases.
The UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination wrote a number of concerns and recommendations on the country, published in November, and noted the need for respect of the rule of law.
On January 27, the government accredited a new OSCE country director, after it had declined to renew accreditation of the OSCE country director in 2004, accusing her of focusing on negative information.
The National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights (IDHR), nominally headed by President Niyazov, oversaw the work of law enforcement agencies, the military, and the judiciary, but appeared to have little real authority. On February 1, the Committee on the Protection of Human Rights and Liberties was established in the parliament to oversee human rights-related legislation. The IDHR was mandated to support democratization and monitor the protection of human rights. The IDHR also maintained a human rights library. In principle the institute reviewed citizens' complaints and returned its findings to the individual and the organizations involved; however, the institute was not an independent body, and its ability to obtain redress was limited.
In July the institute released and distributed Democracy and Law 2004 in three languages: Turkmen, Russian and English. The book, which represented government views on human rights protection in the country, was distributed to diplomatic missions and international organizations.
Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Although the law provides for equal rights and freedoms for all, independent of nationality, origin, language, and gender, violence against women and discrimination against ethnic minorities continued to be problems.
The law prohibits domestic violence, including spousal abuse, but is not effectively enforced. Anecdotal reports indicated that domestic violence against women was common; most victims of domestic violence kept silent, either because they were unaware of their rights or afraid of increased violence from husbands and relatives. There were a few court cases and occasional references to domestic violence in the media. One official women's group in Ashgabat and several informal groups in other regions assisted victims of domestic violence.
Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, with penalties of between 3 to 25 years based on the level of violence of the incident and whether the attacker is a repeat offender. The government generally enforced it effectively against citizens; however, it used rape as a threat against female family members of persons held for religious offenses (see section 2.c.).
Prostitution is illegal, but remained a growing problem throughout the country that the authorities did not counter effectively.
There is no law specifically prohibiting sexual harassment, and there were anecdotal reports that sexual harassment existed in the workforce.
Women had equal rights under family law, property law, and in the judicial system. Women were underrepresented in the upper levels of government-owned economic enterprises and were concentrated in health care, education, and service professions.Women were restricted from working in some dangerous and environmentally unsafe jobs.
The government did not acknowledge or address discrimination against women.
The government did not take effective steps or have adequate resources to fully address the needs of children.
The government provided nine years of basic education for girls and boys. Primary and secondary education was free and compulsory. The government stated approximately 95 percent of children between the ages of 7 and 16 attended school on a regular basis; however, a 2003 UN Development Program report listed school attendance at 81 percent. Most children completed school and some went on to university and vocational schools. Although children no longer worked in the cotton fields in a number of agricultural areas, schools were disrupted because teachers were called to pick cotton.
A 2000 presidential decree continued to reduce the number of teachers; class sizes therefore continued to increase rapidly, facilities deteriorated, and funds for textbooks and supplies decreased (see section 2.a.). The amount of classroom time dedicated to learning the Rukhnama I and II and other books by Niyazov increased during the year, dramatically reducing the school time available for basic core academic subjects. During the year the government limited courses taught in non-Turkmen languages, further degenerating the secondary school system and educational opportunities. There were no Turkmen-language curricula or textbooks in many subject areas and at most grade levels.
Poverty and healthcare problems led to a high rate of infant mortality. By law the government provides free health care for children until the age of 18. Children are entitled to consultations with doctors and specialists, and vaccinations, except for hepatitis B, are free for children that are at least one-year old. Hospital care is also free; however, observers noted that parents regularly had to pay bribes for service and provide medicines and syringes necessary for treatment.
There were isolated reports of child abuse.
Some child labor was seen in the cotton fields during the harvest; however, this was not encouraged by the government and contrary to a presidential decree (see section 6.d.).
Trafficking in Persons
The law does not specifically prohibit trafficking in persons; however, articles in the criminal code deal with sexual exploitation and prostitution, slavery, and encouraging illegal border crossing prohibit trafficking de facto. Women were trafficked to, from, or within the country; however, trafficking was not a significant problem.
Traffickers are subject to between two and eight years' imprisonment and the confiscation of property, depending on which law they are convicted under.
The State Service for the Registration of Foreigners (SSRF) is responsible for combating trafficking, and officers participated in a July North Atlantic Treaty Organization/Partnership For Peace training of law enforcement officials hosted by the Turkish military.
In December 2004 the IOM reported that airport and border officials facilitated the repatriation of a trafficking victim from Turkey, whose traffickers had forcibly taken her passport and identification documents.
There were six known cases of trafficking in persons and one successful prosecution on charges of sexual exploitation, slavery, and encouraging deceitful border crossing.
Victims involved in these cases were reportedly trafficked to Turkey, although Iran was assumed also to be a trafficking destination.NGOs noted that young women from minority ethnic groups were most vulnerable to being trafficked.
The Ministry of Justice worked with foreign embassies and international organizations to promote public awareness of trafficking issues.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, although various regulations contradict the law, in effect nullifying it. Persons with disabilities encountered discrimination in employment, education, access to health care, and other state services. Many persons with physical disabilities were systematically categorized as mentally disabled and housed at facilities for the mentally ill. The government provided subsidies and pensions for persons with disabilities, although they were inadequate to maintain a decent standard of living. Some groups of students with disabilities were unable to obtain education because there were no teachers. Students with disabilities did not fit the unofficial student university profile and were not admitted to universities. Children with disabilities, including those with mental disabilities, were placed in boarding schools. They were to be provided with educational and future employment opportunities if their condition allowed them to work; in practice neither was provided.
Although the law requires that new construction projects include facilities to allow access by persons with disabilities, compliance was inconsistent and older buildings were not accessible.
The law provides for equal rights and freedoms for all citizens, although the president has previously made statements promoting the importance of ethnic purity. Approximately 77 percent of the population was Turkmen, 9 percent Uzbek, and 7 percent Russian. There were smaller numbers of Kazakhs, Armenians, Azeris, and many other ethnic groups. Turkmen themselves are divided into five main tribes: the Teke, the Yomut, the Ersary, the Yasyr, and the Goklen. Several minority groups tried to register as NGOs in order to have legal status for cultural events. No minority groups succeeded in registering by year's end, although the Polish minority application was pending.
During April approximately 40, mostly ethnic Uzbek, families from border villages in Dashoguz Welayat were reportedly forcibly resettled to Balkan Welayat (see section 1.f.).
The law designates Turkmen as the official language, although it also provides for the rights of speakers of minority languages. While Russian remained prevalent in commerce and everyday life, the government intensified its campaign to conduct official business solely in Turkmen. During the year the government required employees of ministries to pass tests demonstrating knowledge of the Rukhnama, state symbols, and professional subjects in Turkmen; employees who failed the exam were dismissed. Turkmen was a mandatory subject in school, although it was not necessarily the language of instruction. Teachers and staff at Turkish schools were systematically replaced with ethnic Turkmen teachers and administrators.
Non-Turkmen complained that some avenues for promotion and job advancement were closed to them and only a handful of non-Turkmen occupied high-level jobs in the ministries. In some cases applicants for government jobs had to provide family information on their ethnicity going back three generations. Non‑Turkmen were often the first targeted for dismissal when government layoffs occurred. There was societal discrimination against ethnic minorities, specifically Russians.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There was a strong societal dislike of homosexuality. Homosexuality between men is illegal and punishable by up to two years in prison; it was believed that homosexuality between women would also be considered illegal, although it is not specifically written in law.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law provides for the right to form or join unions; however, in practice the government does not permit independent unions. Under the umbrella organization Center for Professional Unions of Turkmenistan, led by a presidential appointee, there were numerous professional unions in most fields, including medicine, construction, and banking.Some unions circumvented government restrictions on independent unions by registering as public associations (or NGOs), for example, the unions of accountants, economists, entrepreneurs, and leaseholders. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination by employers against union members and organizers and there were no mechanisms for resolving complaints of discrimination; however, there were no reports of discrimination.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Unions may not legally conduct activities, and the government controlled and interfered in union activities. The law does not protect the right of collective bargaining. There is no law regulating strikes or retaliation against strikers, and strikes were extremely rare.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor; however, there were reports it occurred (see sections 1.c. and 6).
The government prohibits forced and compulsory labor by children, and on February 1, the president signed a law banning child labor and stated no children would participate in the cotton harvest. Journalists accused local officials of using children to complete the cotton harvest, and observers saw children working in fields. However, there was a dramatic decrease in the number of children working in the fields.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
There are laws and policies to protect children from exploitation in the workplace but they were not implemented effectively. The minimum age for employment of children is 16 years; in a few heavy industries, it is 18 years. The law prohibits children between the ages of 16 and 18 years from working more than 6 hours per day (the normal workday was 8 hours). A 15‑year-old child may work 4 to 6 hours per day with parental and trade union permission, although such permission was rarely granted. Child labor laws were not effectively enforced in practice, although implementation appeared to have improved during the year.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum monthly wage in the state sector of approximately 1 to 1.5 million TMM (approximately $40 to $60 at the unofficial rate) per month did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family.
The standard legal workweek is 40 hours with 2 days off. Individuals who worked fewer hours during the week or were in certain high-level positions can also work on Saturdays. The law states overtime or holiday pay should be double the regular payment; maximum overtime in a year is 120 hours and cannot exceed 4 hours in 2 consecutive days. This law, however, is not enforced.
The government did not set comprehensive standards for occupational health and safety. Industrial workers in older factories often labored in unsafe environments and were not provided proper protective equipment. Some agricultural workers were subjected to environmental health hazards. Workers did not always have the right to remove themselves from work situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their continued employment.