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Title:  Turkmenistan Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State
Date:  March 1996


Turkmenistan, a one-party state dominated by its President and his 
closest advisors, made little progress in moving from a Soviet-era 
authoritarian style of government to a democratic system.  Saparmurad 
Niyazov, head of the Communist Party since 1985 and President since 
October 1990 when the post was created, remained in office.  The 
Democratic Party, the old Communist Party under a new name, retained a 
monopoly on power; the Government registered no opposition parties in 
1995 and continued to repress all opposition political activities.  
Emphasizing stability over reform, the President's nation-building 
efforts centered on developing Turkmen nationalism and glorification of 
the President.  In practice, the President controls the judicial system.

The Committee on National Security (KNB) has the responsibilities 
formerly held by the Soviet Committee for State Security (KGB), with 
membership and operations essentially unchanged.  The Ministry of 
Internal Affairs directs the criminal police, which works closely with 
the KNB on matters of national security.  These agencies have been 
responsible for human rights abuses in enforcing the Government's policy 
of repressing political opposition.

Turkmenistan continued to have a centrally planned economy, although the 
Government continued to take small steps toward a transition to a market 
economy.  The country has the world's fourth largest reserves of natural 
gas and is heavily dependent on revenue from gas exports.  Seeking 
fuller economic independence, it is considering construction of new gas 
pipelines to or through a number of countries, including neighboring 
Iran and Afghanistan.  Agriculture, particularly cotton cultivation, 
accounts for nearly half of total employment.  According to statistics 
of the International Monetary Fund, Turkmenistan has a gross domestic 
product of $516 per capita.

The Government continued to commit human rights abuses.  Turkmen 
authorities severely restricted political and civil liberties.  
Dissidents Mukhammetkuli Aimuradov and Khoshaly Garayev were sentenced 
to 15 and 12 years' imprisonment for participating in the work of an 
antistate organization and for plotting to kill the President.  Other 
political dissidents were jailed and beaten.  Security forces continued 
to beat suspects and prisoners, and prison conditions remained poor and 
unsafe.  The Government completely controlled the media, censoring all 
newspapers and rarely permitting 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 appears 


Section 1   Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 

   a.   Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

In June a man arrested in Ashgabat on suspicion of passing counterfeit 
money reportedly died from injuries sustained while in police custody.  
Others are also believed to have died as a result of beatings inflicted 
by the police during interrogations (see Section 1.c.).  The Government 
denies that any extrajudicial killings have occurred, and no 
investigations or prosecutions have taken place.

   b.   Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

   c.   Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 

The 1992 Constitution makes illegal torture or other cruel, inhuman, or 
degrading treatment.  While systematic torture was not known to have 
occurred, the beating of criminal suspects and prisoners was widespread.  
In February while in detention at the Ministry of Internal Affairs 
political dissident Mukhammed Aimuradov was severely beaten and required 
hospitalization with two broken arms.  Forced confessions are common.

Prisons are unsanitary, overcrowded, and unsafe.  Food is poor, and 
facilities for prisoner rehabilitation and recreation are extremely 
limited.  Government representatives have admitted that some prisoners 
have died due to overcrowding and lack of adequate protection from the 
severe summer heat.

   d.   Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Those expressing views critical of or different from those of the 
Government have been arrested on false charges of committing common 
crimes.  On July 12, at least 80 persons were arrested after 
participating in a peaceful protest march.  The Government claimed that 
all those who demonstrated were under the influence of narcotics or 
alcohol.  On July 19, the security forces arrested poet and journalist 
Mukhammed Muradliev, reportedly on suspicion of organizing the July 12 
demonstrations.  Five days later, his colleague and fellow journalist, 
Yowshan Anagurgan, was arrested, reportedly for the same reason.  

On December 27, the trial of Muradliev, Anagurban and 25 others 
connected with the demonstration began in secret.  The two journalists 
were convicted of hooliganism.  The other defendants were all convicted, 
too, on as yet unknown charges.  Twenty of the 27 tried and convicted, 
including the two journalists, were subsequently granted amnesty and 

The Government occasionally uses forced exile.  In January 1994, the 
authorities temporarily exiled political activist Durdymurad 
Khojamukhamed to Baku, Azerbaijan, without either his consent or due 
process.  Almost all prominent political opponents of the present 
Government have chosen to move to either Moscow, Stockholm, or Prague 
for reasons of personal safety.  Forced exile was not known to have 
occurred in 1995.

   e.   Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution theoretically established judicial independence; 
however, the President's power to select and dismiss judges subordinates 
the judiciary to the Presidency.  The court system has not been reformed 
since Soviet days.  It consists of a Supreme Court, 6 provincial courts 
(including 1 for the city of Ashgabat only), and at the lowest level, 61 
district and city courts.  A Supreme Economic Court hears cases 
involving disputes between state economic concerns and ministries.  
There are also military courts, which handle crimes involving military 
discipline, criminal cases concerning military personnel, and crimes by 
civilians against military personnel.  

The President appoints all judges for a term of 5 years without 
legislative review, except for the Chairman (Chief Justice) of the 
Supreme Court, and he has the sole authority to remove them from the 
bench before the completion of their terms.

The law provides for the rights of due process for defendants, including 
a public trial, the right to a defense attorney, access to accusatory 
material, and the right to call witnesses to testify on behalf of the 
accused.  In practice, these rights are often denied by authorities.  
The accused has the right to select counsel, but there are no 
independent lawyers, with the exception of a few retired legal 
officials.  When a person cannot afford the services of a lawyer, the 
court appoints one.  A person may represent himself in court.

Decisions of the lower courts may be appealed to higher courts, and in 
the case of the death penalty the defendant may petition the President 
for clemency.  In practice, adherence to due process rights is not 
uniform, particularly in the lower courts in rural areas.  Even when due 
process rights are observed the authority of the prosecutor vis-a-vis 
the defense attorney is so great that it is very difficult for the 
defendant to receive a fair trial.

In June opposition members Mukhammet Aimuradov and Khoshali Garaev were 
tried in a closed session of the Supreme Court for conspiracy to 
assassinate the President.  Both were arrested in Uzbekistan in October 
1994 and subsequently extradited to Ashgabat under a treaty that the 
Government of Turkmenistan had yet to sign.  Neither the public nor 
international observers were allowed to observe the trial.  Both 
defendants were found guilty and were sentenced to 15 and 12 years 
respectively in a maximum security prison.  The Government has yet to 
make public any credible evidence of the guilt of either Aimuradov or 
Garaev.  The charges against the pair are widely believed to be 

   f.   Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 

The Constitution provides for the right of protection from arbitrary 
interference by the State in a citizen's personal life.  However, there 
are no legal means to regulate the conduct of surveillance by the state 
security apparatus, which regularly monitors the activities of opponents 
and critics of the Government.  Security officials use physical 
surveillance, telephone tapping, electronic eavesdropping, and the 
recruitment of informers.  Critics of the Government, and many other 
people as well, report credibly that their mail is intercepted before 

Section 2    Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

   a.   Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for the right to hold personal convictions and 
to express them freely.  In practice, however, freedom of speech is 
severely restricted, and there is no freedom of the press.  The 
Government completely controls radio and television.  Its budget funds 
all print media.  The Government censors all newspapers; the Committee 
for the Protection of State Secrets must approve all prepublication 
galleys.  Russian language newspapers from abroad are routinely 
confiscated at international airports.

The Government prohibits the media from reporting the views of 
opposition political leaders and critics, and it rarely allows the 
mildest form of criticism in print.  The government press has condemned 
the foreign media, including Radio Liberty, for broadcasting or 
publishing opposing views, and the Government has subjected those 
mentioned in critical foreign press items to threats and harassment.

The Government also restricts academic freedom.  It does not tolerate 
criticism of government policy or the President in academic circles, and 
it discourages research into areas it considers politically sensitive.  
The government-controlled 

Union of Writers has in the past expelled members who have criticized 
government policy; libraries have removed their works.  Intellectuals 
have reported that the security organs have instructed them to praise 
the President in their art and have warned them not to participate in 
receptions hosted by foreign diplomatic missions.

Critics of the Government in all fields were frequently reminded that 
continued criticism could lead to many repercussions including the loss 
of employment and opportunities for advancement.  In the past, children 
have been dismissed from school and adults have been removed from their 
jobs because of the political activities of relatives.

On occasion, the authorities resorted to stronger methods to silence 
their critics.  On August 10, dissident Khudaiberdy Khalliev was 
abducted by assailants believed linked to the security organs.  After 
being driven to the desert, Khalliev was severely beaten and abandoned.  
In July two journalists were arrested, reportedly on suspicion of 
organizing protest demonstrations (see Section 1.d.).

Almost all prominent political opponents of the present Government have 
chosen to leave the country for reasons of personal safety (see Section 

   b.   Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Government restricts these rights.  Unregistered organizations, 
including those with a political agenda, are not allowed to hold 
demonstrations or meetings.  No political groups critical of government 
policy have been able to meet the requirements for registration (see 
Section 3).  Social and cultural organizations without political aims 
may normally register and hold meetings without difficulty.  Those with 
an ethnic or religious orientation may, however, be refused registration 
under constitutional provisions that prohibit political parties based on 
nationality or religion.

Theoretically, citizens have the freedom to associate with whomever they 
please.  However, supporters of opposition movements have been fired 
from their jobs for political activities, removed from professional 
societies or threatened with dismissal, or with the loss of their homes 
or work space.

On July 12, the authorities dispersed a peaceful demonstration arresting 
over 80 participants.  Over 20 people were tried in secret on December 
27 (see Section 1.d.).

   c.   Freedom of Religion

Citizens of Turkmenistan are overwhelmingly Muslim, but Islam does not 
play a dominant role in society, in part due to the 70 

years of repression under Soviet rule.  The Constitution provides for 
freedom of religion and does not establish a state religion.  Official 
harassment of religious groups has ended, and the State generally 
respects religious freedom.

A modest revival of Islam has occurred since independence.  The 
Government has incorporated some aspects of Muslim tradition into its 
efforts to define a Turkmen identity, and it gives some financial and 
other support to its Council on Religious Affairs, which plays an 
intermediary role between the government bureaucracy and religious 

Religious congregations are technically required to register with the 
Government, but there were no reports that the Government enforced this 
requirement or denied registration to any religious groups.

There is no law specifically addressing religious proselytizing.  The 
Government, however, would have to grant permission for any mass 
meetings or demonstrations for this purpose.  The Government does not 
restrict the travel of clergy or members of religious groups to 
Turkmenistan.  Islamic religious literature is distributed through the 
mosques.  Orthodox churches offer a variety of Christian religious 

   d.   Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation

The Government does not generally restrict movement within the country, 
although travel to the border zones is tightly controlled.  Citizens 
still carry internal passports which are used more as a form of 
identification than a means of controlling movement.  Residence permits 
are not required, although place of residence is registered and noted in 

The Government uses its power to issue passports as a means of 
restricting international travel for its critics.  Exit visas are 
required for international travel and most ordinary travelers find the 
process of obtaining passports and exit visas to be difficult.  Many 
allege that officials solicit bribes in exchange for permission to 
travel abroad.

While most citizens are permitted to emigrate without undue restriction, 
some government opponents have often been denied the opportunity to 
emigrate.  For example, although journalist Mamedniyaz Sakhatov and five 
members of his family were granted refugee status by the United States, 
the Government refused to issue the documents the family needed to 
emigrate.  Some ethnic Russians and other non-Turkmen residents, 
including some Jews, left for other former Soviet Republics, Germany, 
and Israel during 1995.

The government-funded Council of World Turkmen provides assistance to 
ethnic Turkmen abroad who wish to return to Turkmenistan and apply for 
citizenship.  The Government, however, has not permitted many ethnic 
Turkmen from Iran, Afghanistan, and other countries to resettle in 
Turkmenistan.  Authorities also tend to discourage the influx of non-
Turkmen workers from other areas of the former Soviet Union.

Turkmenistan is not a signatory to the 1951 U.N. Convention and its 1967 
Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees and has yet to develop a 
written policy on people seeking refugee status.  In July however, the 
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) established an office in 
Turkmenistan and the Government has cooperated with it and other 
humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees.  There were no reports 
of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim to refugee status.

Section 3   Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government

The 1992 Constitution declares Turkmenistan to be a secular democracy in 
the form of a presidential republic.  In practice, however, it remains a 
one-party state dominated by the President and his closest advisers 
within the Cabinet of Ministers.  Citizens have no real ability 
peacefully to change the Government and have little influence on 
government policy or decisionmaking.  In the 1992 presidential election, 
the sole candidate was Saparmurad Niyazov, the incumbent and nominee of 
the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (successor to the Communist Party).  
The Government announced the election barely a month before voting day, 
giving opposition groups insufficient time to organize and qualify to 
submit a candidate.

A 1994 national referendum extended the President's term to 2002, 
obviating the need for the scheduled presidential election in 1997.  
According to the official results, 99.9 percent of those voting cast 
their ballots to extend his term.  In the 1994 elections for a 
reconstituted Mejlis (Parliament) no opposition participation was 
permitted.  The Government claimed that 99.8 percent of all eligible 
voters participated.

The Constitution calls for the separation of powers between the various 
branches, with concomitant checks and balances.  However, it vests a 
disproportionate share of power in the Presidency, particularly at the 
expense of the judiciary.  In practice, President Niyazov's power is 
absolute.  Despite appearance of consensus, all decisions are made at 
the President's level.  The Mejlis routinely supports presidential 
decrees and has no genuinely independent authority, although it has 
taken several measures to become a more professional body.

In addition to its near total control over the flow of information, the 
Government also uses laws on the registration of political parties to 
prevent the emergence of would-be opposition groups.  At present the 
only registered party is the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan.  The 
policy of the Democratic Party, according to its leadership, is to 
implement the policy of the President.

Women are underrepresented in the upper levels of government.  Women 
currently serve as the Deputy Chairman of the Parliament and as the 
Permanent Representative to the United Nations.  There are no women, 
however, in the positions of greatest authority such as the Cabinet of 
Ministers or provincial governors.

Section 4   Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There are no local human rights monitoring groups, and government 
restrictions on freedom of speech, press, and association would preclude 
any effort to investigate and criticize publicly the Government's human 
rights policies.  Several independent journalists report on these issues 
in the Russian press in Russia and have contact with international human 
rights organizations.  On numerous occasions in the past the Government 
has warned its critics against speaking with visiting journalists or 
other foreigners wishing to discuss human rights issues.

Section 5   Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status

Article 17 of the Constitution provides for equal rights and freedoms 
for all, independent of one's nationality, origin, language, and 
religion.  Article 18 specifies equal rights before the law for both men 
and women.  There is no legal basis for discrimination against women or 
religious or ethnic minorities.  Cultural traditions and the 
Governments's policy of promoting Turkmen nationalism, however, limit 
the employment and educational opportunities of women and nonethnic 


Domestic violence against women appears to be common, but, no statistics 
are available.

Despite constitutional provisions, women are underrepresented in the 
upper levels of state economic enterprises and are concentrated in 
health care, education, and service industries.  Women are restricted 
from working in some dangerous and environmentally unsafe jobs.  Under 
the law, women are protected from discrimination in inheritance and 
marriage rights.  In traditional Turkmen society, however, the woman's 
primary role is as homemaker and mother, and family pressures often 
limit opportunities for women to enter outside careers and advance their 
education.  Religious authorities, when proffering advice to practicing 
Muslims on matters concerning inheritance and property rights, often 
favor men over women.

There are no women's groups in Turkmenistan.  The Women's Council of 
Turkmenistan, a carryover from the Soviet system, was disbanded 
following the election of the new Parliament in December 1994.  The 
professional businesswomen's organization now is no longer active.  The 
Government has no program specifically aimed at rectifying the 
disadvantaged position of women in Turkmen society, as it does not 
believe that women suffer discrimination.


Turkmenistan's social umbrella covers the welfare needs of children.  
The Government has not, however, taken effective steps to address the 
environmental and health problems that have resulted in a high rate of 
infant and maternal mortality.  During the annual cotton harvest, 
children as young as 10 are sometimes taken from schools to work in the 
cotton fields.  Other than this, there is no pattern of societal abuse 
against children.

   People with Disabilities

Government subsidies and pensions are provided for those with 
disabilities, and those capable of working are generally provided with 
jobs under still-valid preindependence policies which virtually 
guarantee employment to all.  According to existing legislation, 
facilities for the access of the disabled must be included in new 
construction projects.  Compliance is not complete, however, and most 
older buildings are not so equipped.

   National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Constitution provides for equal rights and freedoms for all 
citizens.  Turkmen comprise 72 percent of the population of about 4 
million, Russians 9.5 percent, and Uzbeks 9 percent.  There are smaller 
numbers of Kazaks, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, and many other ethnic 
groups.  Since independence, Turkmenistan has been spared the ethnic 
turmoil that afflicted many other parts of the former Soviet Union.

As part of its nation-building efforts, the Government has attempted to 
foster Turkmen national pride, in part through its language policy.  The 
Constitution designates Turkmen the official language, and it is a 
mandatory subject in school, although not necessarily the language of 

The Constitution also provides for the right of speakers of other 
languages to use them.  Russian remains in common usage in government 
and commerce.  The Government insists that discrimination against 
Russian speakers will not be tolerated.  However, efforts to reverse 
past policies that favored Russians work to the benefit of Turkmen at 
the expense of the other ethnic groups, not solely ethnic Russians.  
Non-Turkmen fear that the designation of Turkmen as the official 
language will put their children at a disadvantage educationally and 
economically.  They complain that some avenues for promotion and job 
advancement are no longer open to them.  Only a handful of non-Turkmen 
occupy high-echelon jobs in the ministries, and government employees 
from minority ethnic groups are sometimes assigned lesser positions than 
their experience and qualifications would warrant.

Section 6   Worker Rights

   a. The Right of Association

Turkmenistan has inherited the Soviet system of government-associated 
trade unions.  The Federation of Trade Unions claims a membership of 
some 1.6 million and is divided along both sectoral and regional lines.  
Turkmenistan joined the International Labor Organization in late 1993.

While no law specifically prohibits the establishment of independent 
unions, there are no such unions, and no attempts were made to register 
an independent trade union in 1995.  The state-sponsored unions control 
key social benefits such as sick leave, health care, maternal, and 
childcare benefits, and funeral expenses.  Deductions from payrolls to 
cover these benefits are transferred directly to the Federation.

The law does not prohibit strikes, but strikes are extremely uncommon.  
In July workers at a state carpet factory went on strike to protest the 
fact that they had not been paid for several months.  The strike ended 
the same day after the authorities threatened the strikers with 
dismissal.  No other strikes are known to have occurred.

   b.   The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law does not protect the right to collective bargaining.  The 
Ministry of Economics and Finance prepares general guidelines for wages 
and sets wages in health care, culture, and some other areas.  In other 
sectors, it allows for some leeway at the enterprise level, taking into 
account local factors.  Annual negotiations involving the trade union 
and management determine specific wage and benefit packages for each 
factory or enterprise.  In practice, in the predominantly state-
controlled economy, the close association of both the trade union and 
the enterprise with the Government seriously limits the workers' ability 
to bargain, and workers often go months without receiving their 

There are no export processing zones.

   c.   Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced labor.  Although the Government 
apparently had abandoned its policy of requiring students to pick cotton 
at minimal rates of pay during the annual harvest, schools ordered 
hundreds of students to work in the cotton fields.  In certain areas 
those who refused to work were not allowed to graduate or in some 
instances were held back.  No other incidents of compulsory labor were 

   d.   Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for employment of children is 16 years; in a few heavy 
industries it is 18 years.  The law prohibits children age 16 through 18 
years from working more than 6 hours per day (the normal workday is 8 

Fifteen-year-old children may work 4 to 6 hours per day but only with 
the permission of the trade union and parents.  This permission rarely 
is granted.  Violations of child labor laws occur in rural areas during 
the cotton harvesting season, when teenagers work in the fields and 
children less than 10 years of age sometimes help with the harvest.

   e.   Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government sets the national minimum wage quarterly, based on a 
market basket of commodities reviewed by the Ministry of Economics and 
Finance.  On January 1, the Government increased the minimum wage, but 
subsequent devaluations reduced the value of the wage to $.50 (1,000 
manats) per month.  This figure falls far short of the amount required 
to meet the needs of an average family.  Most households are 
multigenerational, with several members receiving salaries, stipends, or 
pensions.  Even so, many people lack the resources to purchase an 
adequate diet, and meat is a luxury for most of them.

The standard legal workweek is 40 hours.  

Turkmenistan inherited an economic system with substandard working 
conditions from the Soviet era, when productivity took precedence over 
the health and safety of workers.  Industrial workers often labor in an 
unsafe environment and are not provided proper protective equipment.  
Some agricultural workers are subjected to environmental health hazards.  
The Government recognizes that these problems exist and has taken some 
steps to deal with them but has not set comprehensive standards for 
occupational health and safety.


[end of document]


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