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Turkmen Rights Group Says Media Freedom Still Poor


Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is still in the driver's seat when it comes to dictating media freedom in the country.

Don't be fooled by the Turkmen government's claims of reform, a Turkmen rights group says in a new report.

The Vienna-based Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) says the new authorities in Turkmenistan "continue to violate the right to freedom of speech and the right to free access to information."

Freedom of the mass media is "nonexistent" in Turkmenistan, it concludes.

TIHR says the new regime in Ashgabat, led by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, has sought to build its image by contrasting its actions and decisions with the iron-fisted rule of the late President Saparmurat Niyazov. Niyazov died suddenly in office in December 2006.

The group says this may mislead international observers into believing the current Turkmen authorities are prepared to implement democratic reforms.

TIHR Chairman Farid Tukhbatullin Rights says Turkmenistan's 24 newspapers, 15 magazines, four television channels, and four radio stations remain government-controlled.

"If some kind of independent newspaper, even with a small circulation, or website appeared in Turkmenistan, that would already be a big step toward what the Turkmen authorities are promising," Tukhbatullin told The Associated Press. "But over the last two years, nothing of that kind has appeared."

Only one Turkish-owned classified advertising publication is not state-controlled.

The group is urging the Turkmen government to pass laws guaranteeing freedom of expression and access to information. It is also calling for an independent investigation into the unexplained death in prison in September 2006 of Ogulsapar Muradova, a rights activist and correspondent for RFE/RL's Turkmen Service.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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