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Turkmen Report: March 1, 2004

1 March 2004
Turkmen Writer Arrested For Smuggling Own Book Into Country
28 February 2004

Rakhim Essenov, a 78-year-old Turkmen writer and journalist, has been arrested for smuggling copies of his own book into the country, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service and AFP reported on 28 February.

The Russian rights group Memorial said Essenov was jailed, despite having suffered a stroke, after it was discovered that he had smuggled some 800 copies of his book "The Nomadic Monarch" into Turkmenistan. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov said the book, published in Russia, contained "historic crimes" in its writing.

Memorial said Essenov suffered a stroke after he was questioned by security agents on 23 February. He was treated in an intensive-care unit then transferred to jail on 26 February.

Memorial said Essenov has dual Russian and Turkmen citizenship, but said so far the Russian Embassy in Turkmenistan has not taken an interest in Essenov's case. (RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, Memorial, AFP)

Niyazov's Book To Be Translated Into Zulu
27 February 2004

President Niyazov's book "Rukhnama" will be translated into Zulu, Interfax reported on 27 February, citing Turkmen media.

"'Rukhnama' is continuing its victorious march around the world. Our fellow countrymen Perkhat and Murmammed Gulberdyiev presented the holy book of the Turkmen nation to the National Library of the South African Republic and the University of Pretoria while recently traveling in South Africa," Turkmen media reported.

The translation will be complete in a few months. "Rukhnama" has been translated into more than 10 languages. Over a million copies of the book have been published. The month of September was renamed after the book and Saturday is now called "Rukhgyun" (spiritual day). (Interfax)

Turkmen President Denounces Hairy Youth
27 February 2004

Turkmenistan's authoritarian president has denounced the wearing by young men of beards or long hair, AP reported on 27 February. State-run TV reported that Saparmurat Niyazov spoke out in a cabinet meeting earlier during the week against the custom.

Niyazov's remarks often make law in Turkmenistan, where he has ruled since 1985 when it was a Soviet republic. Last year, Niyazov suggested that girls should wear braids and traditional Turkmen hats, and that immediately became a rule in secondary and high schools.

The secular governments of Central Asia have sought to inhibit any forms of perceived Islamic extremism, and beards commonly symbolize devotion to the Muslim faith. But there were no indications whether Niyazov's statement disclosed concern over fundamentalism or just a personal preference. (AP)

Turkmenistan Publishes Confession Of Alleged Presidential Assassin
26 February 2004

Authorities in Turkmenistan on 26 February released a book allegedly written by the man found guilty of organizing an assassination attempt on the Turkmen president, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service and AFP reported the same day.

The book, titled "My Associates and I: Terrorists," gives its author as former Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov. Shikhmuradov turned himself in to Turkmen authorities about one month after the reported attempt on President Niyazov's life on 25 November 2002.

Shikhmuradov was found guilty at a trial that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and international rights organizations said was reminiscent of a Stalin-era show trial. One part of the book reads, "[The book was] born of long reflection on how I turned from being an embezzler into a terrorist and enemy of Turkmenistan."

Shikhmuradov was one of the best-known Turkmen government officials, serving as deputy prime minister, foreign minister, ambassador to China, and special presidential envoy on Caspian affairs. He fled to Moscow in 2001 and declared himself an opponent of the government. (RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, AFP)

U.S. Says Turkmenistan Rights Record Remains Poor
25 February 2004

A U.S. government study says Turkmenistan's human rights record worsened last year under the one-party state dominated by President Niyazov, RFE/RL reported on 25 February.

The State Department report says Niyazov has exercised power in an authoritarian style by retaining a monopoly on political power and on his political party. Niyazov has been president of his country since its independence in 1991.

The report, mandated by the U.S. Congress annually, said the Turkmen government's poor human rights record worsened in 2003, and that the government continued to commit numerous serious abuses. The report said Turkmen authorities severely restricted political and civil liberties. It said the human rights situation deteriorated markedly after an armed attack against Niyazov on 25 November 2002, which the Turkmen government characterized as an attempted coup d'etat. (RFE/RL)

Niyazov Orders Intensified Video Surveillance In Turkmenistan
24 February 2004

President Niyazov has ordered his government to increase video surveillance of Turkmenistan, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service and Reuters reported. Speaking at a government meeting broadcast on 24 February on state-run television, Niyazov said, "We need to keep an eye on everything." He said Turkmen authorities should be able to "know if a fly quietly buzzes past."

"Now in all spots of Ashgabat, except in the upper construction areas, there are videos -- in bazaars, railway stations. If two cars crash, it is recorded," Niyazov said. He said the new, intensified surveillance regime is "not due to a lack of trust, but to avoid disorder."

Niyazov already had video cameras installed on the streets of the capital Ashgabat after an alleged coup attempt in November 2002. Several Western governments and international human rights groups regularly criticize Niyazov's regime for muzzling press freedoms, crushing his political opponents and institutionalizing rights abuses in his country.

Niyazov on 24 February also announced he was working on a textbook on good behavior. The textbook, titled "Upbringing," would supplement other texts by Niyazov already on the school curriculum. (RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, Reuters)

Turkmenistan Rejects Foreign Diplomas Of High School Graduates
24 February 2004

Turkmenistan does not recognize diplomas issued to high school graduates abroad if they were educated abroad beyond the quota of the Turkmen Education Ministry, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 February.

Parents might send their children to get educated in other countries not knowing that not all diplomas issued by foreign institutes have legal force in Turkmenistan, the Turkmen president declared, speaking at a meeting of the Turkmen cabinet on 23 February.

According to the Education Ministry, the admission quota for a full-time course at 16 Turkmen institutes is no more than 4,000, with the right of education there given to applicants who have a two-year work record in a related profession. Around 300 more students a year can be sent for education abroad, mostly to Turkey, according to the state quota. (ITAR-TASS)

U.S. State Department Issues Critical Report On Global Human Rights
26 February 2004

By Jeffrey Donovan and Frank T. Csongos

The U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights around the world highlights progress in Afghanistan and Iraq and by nongovernmental organizations in Central Asia.

But the latest survey, which covers 2003, chastises Central Asian governments -- as well as Iran, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Pakistan, North Korea, and China, among others -- for a variety of human rights abuses, including election fraud, torture, and restricting freedom of expression.

Unveiling the report at the State Department on 25 February, Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters the document has become a valuable tool for guiding U.S. policy. "President [George W.] Bush regards the defense and advancement of human rights as America's special calling, and he has made the promotion of human rights an integral and active part of his foreign policy agenda," he said. "That is why the annual human rights reports are more than an informational tool. They're a vital policy instrument."

The report -- mandated by the U.S. Congress -- covers most of the countries of the world. It comes out at a time when the United States is facing mounting criticism for its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and for provisions of the U.S. Patriot Act, among other areas. In the report, the State Department maintains that the United States has not sacrificed its principles for expediency in the global war on terrorism.

The 2003 report says the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last year ended years of grave human rights violations by Saddam Hussein's regime. It said Hussein continued to commit major violations until the time he was deposed.

Afghanistan was hailed for an improvement in democracy and human rights since the ouster of the Taliban militia in late 2001.

On Iran, the report said Tehran's poor human rights record worsened. It said Iran continued to commit numerous serious rights abuses, including summary executions, disappearances, torture and other degrading treatment. The report said the Iranian government was responsible for executions following trials in which there was a lack of due judicial process. It added that the right of citizens to change their government was significantly restricted.

On Iran, Assistant Secretary of State Lorne Craner told a briefing: "Clearly, it's an issue where we alone can't solve it or can't bring democracy [to Iran]. Clearly, it's an issue where the international community is now engaged in trying to improve the situation of human rights and democracy in Iran. And clearly, as we've seen from recent events, that's very much needed."

On Russia, the report said human rights worsened in a few areas last year. While noting some progress on increased judicial independence and criminal justice system reforms, the report said Russia's record remained poor in the continuing struggle with Chechen separatists. The study said there were credible reports of serious violations -- both by government and Chechen separatist forces, including politically motivated disappearances. The report also concluded that presidential elections in Chechnya last fall and Russian parliamentary elections in December did not fully meet international standards.

In Belarus, the report said the government had intensified its attacks on democratic institutions. And in Ukraine, the rights record remained poor.

Georgia's new President Mikheil Saakashvili has been criticized by human rights groups recently for clamping down too hard on members of the former government suspected of crimes. But Craner said while Georgia's rights record was poor last year, it is too early to judge Saakashvili, who he said appears to be a true democrat.

"Some of these criticisms are justified and some are not," Craner said. "But clearly, when you are new in government and you are trying to figure this through, this kind of thing can happen. If this kind of thing were happening a year from now, I think we would be very, very worried."

With the exception of Turkmenistan, Central Asian countries saw some expansion of religious freedoms. But the report noted that most progress on civil society came from nongovernmental organizations.

However, Craner said in both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, authorities are starting to address prison reforms, and that in Kyrgyzstan some independent media outlets have recently opened up. "You are beginning to see convictions of officials for torture of prisoners in both Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan," he said. "You are beginning to see freedom of assembly being granted in some of these countries. And in Kazakhstan, and to an extent in Kyrgyzstan, I think there's less religious discrimination. But clearly, as you see in the reports, there are many, many problems."

For example, the report said that in Uzbekistan, the government continued to commit numerous rights abuses, such as mistreating suspects and torturing and beating detainees.

In Turkey, the report says the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens but that several serious problems remained, including torture, beatings, and other abuses by security forces.

The report says Pakistan's human rights record remained poor, including serious flaws in national elections held in 2002 and abuses by security forces.

North Korea is ranked among the world's worst human rights offenders. Craner said the country has camps that house hundreds of thousands of prisoners. Human rights advocates have urged the U.S. government to make individual liberties a key point in its talks with North Korea about its nuclear program.

The full country-by-country reports can be found on the Internet at (RFE/RL)