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Turkmenistan: new report describes 'total repression' in oil-and-gas-rich country

  • People not socialising for fear of being reported over anti-state comments 
  • Elections this weekend are being held in virtual one-party state
The authorities in the oil-and-gas-rich Central Asian state of Turkmenistan are denying even basic rights to the country’s inhabitants, and have created an atmosphere of “total repression” where people avoid socialising for fear of a misplaced word that could see them arrested as an enemy of the state.
In a new 42-page report - Turkmenistan: An “Era of Happiness” or more of the same repression? - published today (12 December), Amnesty shows how in Turkmenistan there is near-total control of communications and information, with the Turkmenistani authorities having reportedly invested heavily in monitoring internet and telephone communications. The country’s few independent journalists are regularly harassed and torture is widely used to obtain confessions and convictions in unfair trials.
All individuals in Turkmenistan are expected to report any criticism of the state to the authorities and conversations about politics simply do not take place openly. People expressing views that differ from the government’s are treated as enemies of the state.  More than 37,000 people - dissidents, members of religious communities and their families - are reported to be blacklisted and barred from leaving Turkmenistan even for life-saving medical treatment. Amnesty is among a number of human rights organisations prevented from entering the country. 
President Berdymukhamedov’s Turkmenistan is a one-party state in all but name, said Amnesty, with a recently-formed “opposition” group - the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs - actually a government ally, one that had a portrait of President Berdymukhamedov hanging on the wall at their first party meeting.
In 2012, Turkmenistan instituted reforms which they claimed would lead to the establishment of a second political party and for an independent media. Amnesty believes the Turkmenistan’s authorities have simply paid lip-service to reform in a bid to appease the international community in the run up to parliamentary elections this weekend.
Amnesty International Europe and Central Asia Director John Dalhuisen said:
“Recent reforms amount to no more than token gestures designed to distract the international community. Eager foreign investors should not be fooled by these moves or use them to justify uncritical engagement.
“There is still no genuine opposition party, no independent media and not a single independent human rights organisation operating freely inside the country.
“In the atmosphere of total repression, denial of the basic human rights, and the all-permeating fear that has gripped society in Turkmenistan for years, these elections are meaningless and all pretence of progress is simply deceitful.”
Torture and imprisonment 
Torture is widely used in Turkmenistan to elicit confessions and secure convictions in unfair trials. Methods of torture reported to Amnesty include: pushing needles under fingernails; electric shocks; asphyxiation; systematic sexual violence; forcibly administering psychotropic drugs; beating with batons, truncheons, or plastic bottles filled with water; punching; kicking; food and drink deprivation; and exposure to extreme cold. There have been no effective independent investigations into any allegations of torture. 
Prisoners serving life sentences are reportedly kept in shackles for lengthy periods of time and beaten regularly. Cells in one high security prison in Turkmenistan were built with a maximum height of five feet to prevent detainees from standing upright. All communication with families is barred, and prisoners are effectively “disappeared” from the outside world. 
No independent media 
In its Press Freedom Index 2013, Reporters without Borders ranks Turkmenistan 177 out of 179 countries.  A new law on mass media has not created space for genuinely independent media. The few independent reporters working in the country face regular harassment. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondents in Turkmenistan are singled out for harassment by the security services and repeatedly imprisoned. The death in custody of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Ogulsapar Muradova in 2006 has never been investigated. Her relatives reported seeing her body with a head injury and marks around her neck, as well as bruises and cuts on her hands. 

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