The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government did not respect these rights.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law requires political parties to allow representatives of the Central Election Committee and Ministry of Justice to monitor their meetings. The government also warned critics against speaking with visiting journalists or other foreigners about human rights problems.
Press and Media Freedoms: The government financed and controlled the publication of books and almost all other print media. An independent weekly newspaper, Rysgal, continued to operate, although its stories were largely reprints from state media outlets or reflected the views of the state news agency. The government imposed significant restrictions on the importation of foreign newspapers except for the private but government-sanctioned Turkish newspaper Zaman Turkmenistan, which reflected the views of the official state newspapers, and Atavatan-Turkmenistan, a Turkish journal.
The government controlled radio and domestic television, but satellite dishes providing access to foreign television programming were widespread throughout the country. International organizations highlighted the forced removal of some satellite dishes by the government and replacement with telecommunications packages, such as cable, that limited access to certain channels and kinds of information. Citizens also received international radio programs through satellite access.
The government continued its ban on subscriptions to foreign periodicals by nongovernmental entities, although copies of nonpolitical periodicals appeared occasionally in the bazaars. The government maintained a subscription service to Russian-language outlets for government workers, although these publications were not available for public use.
There was no independent oversight of media accreditation, no defined criteria for allocating press cards, no assured provision for receiving accreditation when space was available, and no protection against the withdrawal of accreditation for political reasons. The government required all foreign correspondents to apply for accreditation. It granted visas to journalists from outside the country only to cover specific events, such as international conferences and summit meetings, where it could monitor their activities.
Violence and Harassment: The government reportedly subjected journalists to surveillance and harassment. There were reports that law enforcement officials harassed and monitored citizen journalists who worked for foreign media outlets, such as by monitoring their telephone conversations and restricting their travel abroad. During the year Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalists were questioned, detained, and otherwise harassed, and one departed the country and requested refugee status in a neighboring country. On July 7, authorities arrested Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty freelance journalist Saparmamed Nepeskuliyev and later charged and convicted him for possession of narcotics, with a sentence of three years’ incarceration. Human Rights Watch disputed the charge, stating it was politically motivated. Visiting foreign journalists reported harassment and denial of freedom of movement when they attempted to report from the country.
As in previous years, the government required journalists working for state-owned media to obtain permission to cover specific events as well as to publish or broadcast the subject matter they had covered.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits censorship and provides freedom to gather and disseminate information, but authorities did not fully implement the law. The government continued to censor newspapers and prohibit reporting of opposition political views or of any criticism of the president. Domestic journalists and foreign news correspondents engaged in self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.
To regulate domestic printing and copying activities, the government required all publishing houses, and printing and photocopying establishments to register their equipment. The government did not allow the publication of works on topics that were out of favor with the government, including some works of fiction.
The government continued to monitor citizens’ e-mail and internet activity. Reports indicated that the Ministry of National Security controlled the main access gateway and that several servers belonging to internet protocol addresses registered to the Ministry of Communications operated software that allowed the government to record Voice over Internet Protocol conversations, turn on cameras and microphones, and log keystrokes. The authorities blocked access to websites they considered sensitive, including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as virtual private network connections, including those of diplomatic missions.
According to the International Telecommunication Union, approximately 5 percent of the population used the internet, although state media reported a fourfold increase of usage from 2014. The percentage of the population that accessed the internet via cell phones reportedly was significantly higher, although official estimates were not available.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government did not tolerate criticism of government policy or the president in academic circles and curtailed research in areas it considered politically sensitive, such as comparative law, history, ethnic relations, and theology. In February a presidential decree established procedures for the government to certify foreign diplomas. In order to have foreign diplomas formally recognized, graduates must complete an application, submit information on their family history for three generations, and pass regular Turkmen university graduation exams related to their majors. Due to this extensive process, many graduates of foreign universities reported they were unable to certify their diplomas with authorities at the Ministry of Education, making them ineligible for employment at state agencies. Some reported that ministry officials demanded bribes to allow certification of their diplomas.
The government strictly controlled the production of plays and performances in state theaters, and these were severely limited. Authorities also strictly controlled film screenings and limited viewings to approved films dubbed or subtitled in Turkmen, unless sponsored by a foreign embassy.
The Ministry of Culture censored and monitored all public exhibitions, including music, art, and cultural events.