6 May 2001
NATIONAL AND REGIONAL NEWS
RFE/RL Marks 50th Anniversary Of Broadcasts
4 May 2001
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty marked on 4 May the 50th anniversary of its broadcasting operations.
The occasion was marked by a ceremony in Prague, in the presence of Czech President Vaclav Havel, members of the radios supervisory council, management and hundreds of employees. (RFE/RL)
Azerbaijan's Position In Caspian Talks 'Non-Constructive'
3 May 2001
The talks held in Ashgabat on 2-3 May between Turkmen and Azerbaijani experts to determine the median line in the Caspian Sea have ended inconclusively because of the non-constructive position taken by Azerbaijani negotiators, says a Turkmen Foreign Ministry statement made public on 3 May.
"The technique proposed by the Azerbaijanis is inadmissible for Turkmenistan and, under international law, cannot be used unilaterally. It is inconsistent with the standards and principles of international law, the geographic specifics of the shoreline, in particular of the Apsheron Peninsula, and does not fit the principle of equity and equality," the statement says.
The Azerbaijani position ignores the need to work out a mutually acceptable solution and "leads the negotiating process into a cul-de-sac," the statement says.
The Turkmen approach, which follows the standards of international law, takes into account the specifics of the shape of the sea between the two countries, and embodies the principle of equity, it says.
With a view to working out an accord based on international standards, Turkmenistan calls on Azerbaijan to cease all activities for the prospecting and recovery of oil and gas, in particular seismic tests in the disputed areas, until the coordinates of the median line are determined, the statement says.
"If the disputed areas are used illegally, Turkmenistan will apply to the International Arbitration Court and other appropriate international organizations," the statement says.
Turkmenistan also called on foreign companies to cease all activities in the disputed oil and gas fields until the issue is resolved in a peaceful and equitable way, it says. (Interfax, ITAR-TASS)
U.S.-Turkmen Relations Discussed In Ashgabat
3 May 2001
On 3 May Turkmen President Niyazov met Steven Robert Mann, the U.S. ambassador in Turkmenistan. During the meeting the state and future of Turkmen-U.S. relations, and possibilities for the creation of new mutually beneficial cooperation, were widely discussed.
New U.S. leadership is trying to strengthen political negotiations, economic cooperation, and mutual relations in the region, the U.S. ambassador said, and then told Niyazov about the results of his visit to Washington. Mann informed the Turkmen leader about U.S. policy towards Central Asia and other regions, and efforts for the establishment of mutual understanding and broadening of ties.
Niyazov voiced his satisfaction with the desire expressed by the U.S. president for full-scale cooperation, and said that dozens of contracts signed earlier had successfully been fulfilled in various economic fields, and this was a sign of active support of Turkmen projects by U.S. business circles.
The U.S. is ready to support in every possible way an independent, neutral Turkmenistan that builds a powerful and dynamic economic model oriented towards the full use of its own resources' potential, Mann said. After the meeting the ambassador gave an interview and said:
"As usual Saparmurat Atayevich received me kindly. We had a long talk on different issues. I visited Washington two weeks ago; after coming back last week I wanted to inform the Turkmen president of the new views of President Bush's administration. We had a talk during two and a half hours on political, economic, and regional issues. I think this talk was successful. First of all, I want to stress that the new U.S. administration fully supports the independence and neutrality of Turkmenistan. Of course, I said this to Mr President [Turkmen]. Also we are supporters of investment by foreign countries, especially U.S. companies, in Turkmenistan. We want to support the economic development of Turkmenistan." (Turkmen TV, Turkmenistan.ru)
Ukraine, Turkmenistan To Sign Cooperation Agreement
3 May 2001
A treaty on economic cooperation for a period of ten years between Ukraine and Turkmenistan, as well as a long-term agreement on Turkmen gas deliveries to Ukraine will be signed on 14-15 May during an official visit of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov to Kiev. The date of the visit was finally coordinated by the Turkmen president and his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma during a recent telephone conversation, a spokesman for the administration of the Ukrainian president told ITAR-TASS on 3 May.
Kiev would like to reach agreement with Turkmenistan during the summit talks on bringing annual gas deliveries from Turkmenistan to Ukraine to 50 billion cubic meters. When the present agreement was signed, Niyazov promised that "if Ukraine fulfills the terms of the agreement and if it needs more gas, the problem will be settled in May 2001, and an agreement for a longer period of time will be signed."
The agreement on Turkmen gas deliveries to Ukraine in 2000-2001 was signed by the two presidents in October 2000. Under the agreement, five billion cubic meters of gas were delivered to Ukraine in 2000. This year the amount of gas will be 30 billion cubic meters at a price of $40 per 1,000 cubic meters. Half of the gas revenues will be paid in the form of goods and services.
Turkmen performers will accompany Niyazov to Ukraine, where they will take part in the days of Turkmen culture celebration in Odessa. (ITAR-TASS, Turkmenistan.ru, Interfax)
Niyazov Fines Press Secretary For Smoking
1 May 2001
On 1 May Turkmen President Niyazov held a meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers.
Positive results in carrying out Niyazov's decree against smoking were noted at the meeting, and the action is considered a successful step in improving the health of the nation. Niyazov demanded that officials themselves set an example in this campaign, and also mentioned violations of the decree.
In this connection, Niyazov adopted a decree to withhold and transfer to the state budget the salary for one month of the press secretary of the Turkmen president and head of the Turkmen state news agency, Kakamurat Ballyyev. Niyazov stressed that great attention must be paid to this campaign for the sake of people's health.
In January 2000 Niyazov issued a decree banning smoking in ministries, departments, enterprises, organizations, military units, educational establishments, theaters, cinemas, public transport, and public places. The president quit smoking in 1997, on the insistence of German cardiologists.
Violation of the ban is punishable with a fine in the amount of the minimum monthly salary. The press secretary seems to be an exception from this rule, because his salary is higher.
Tobacco advertising is also completely prohibited in Turkmenistan. (Turkmen TV, ITAR-TASS, Lenta.ru)
U.S., Turkmen Governments Award Turkmen Teachers Of English
1 May 2001
Twenty-seven teachers of the English language from schools all over Turkmenistan were given awards as semifinalists of the program for teachers of the English language (TEA) during a special ceremony held on 25 April.
The awards ceremony was organized by ACCELS, an American nonprofit organization which administers the program on behalf of the U.S. government, and was held at the National Institute of Manuscripts of Turkmenistan.
The deputy head of the U.S. mission in Turkmenistan, Eric T. Shulz, and the chief of the international relations department of the Turkmen Ministry of Education, Nury Bairamov, congratulated semifinalists and awarded them special certificates.
Each of the semifinalists' schools will receive an award of $2000 to be used for the purchase of equipment and teaching materials for these schools. The program is financed by the U.S. government.
The special commission on 29-30 April will select finalists. Five of the 27 teachers will be selected as finalists (national winners) and will participate in a seminar on teaching in the U.S. For two months, which teachers will spend in the U.S., they will exchange experience and teaching techniques with their U.S. colleagues and also participate in various cultural events.
Last year, five teachers from Turkmenistan were selected as winners of this program and spent two successful months in the U.S. Two U.S. English teachers -- winners of this program in the U.S. -- came to Turkmenistan and exchanged professional experiences with their Turkmen colleagues. (RFE/RL)
New Tajik Ambassador Presents Credentials To Niyazov
30 April 2001
Tojiddin Mardonov, Tajikistan's ambassador in Ashgabat presented his credentials to the Saparmurat Niyazov on 30 April.
Before becoming head of the diplomatic mission in the Turkmen capital, Tojiddin Mardonov was Tajikistan's ambassador in neighboring Uzbekistan for five years.
During a meeting after the ceremony, there was discussion of the further development of bilateral relations between Turkmenistan and Tajikistan in the economic field, trade, and humanitarian ties. (Turkmenistan.ru)
Azerbaijan To Refine Kazakh, Turkmen Oil
28 April 2001
Talks with the Turkmen and Kazakh governments have been under way for a month on refining the low-quality oil from these countries by the AzerNeftYag refinery, said general director Ramiz Mirzayev.
He said the parties have reached initial agreement. Without specifying the volume of oil to be refined, Mirzayev said it would be enough to keep the enterprise working. Oil refining is expected to commence next year. ("Financial Times")
FEATURES AND ANALYSIS
Iran Critical Of Turkmen-Azerbaijani Rapprochement
5 May 2001
By Michael Lelyveld
Iran issued a warning last week against bilateral pacts on the Caspian Sea as two of its neighbors met in an effort to resolve their differences.
Speaking in the port of Bandar-e Anzali, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei repeated that no division of the Caspian would be legal without the consent of all five shoreline states.
Khamenei said, "The legal status of the Caspian must be determined by all the five. Bilateral accords cannot bind other states as far as determining the legal status of the sea is concerned."
The Iranian leader seemed to be directing his comments both toward the Caspian countries and the nations beyond. He said that "on the basis of international law, the Caspian Sea should be shared by all the five littoral states, and no foreign power can interfere in affairs related to the sea." He added, "The Islamic Republic will not allow any power to trample on its rights."
The statement sounded a policy position that has been heard many times before. But the timing suggested that it was aimed at neighboring Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan as they held a rare bilateral meeting in Ashgabat to deal with one of the Caspian's toughest disputes.
The gathering of experts came about suddenly following the Turkic summit in Istanbul late last month, when presidents Heidar Aliyev and Saparmurat Niyazov reportedly resolved to end a long-standing feud between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.
The argument is over the Caspian oil field that Azerbaijan calls Kiapaz. In Turkmenistan, which also claims it, the field is known as Serdar. In 1997, Russia cancelled a contract with Baku to develop the deposit after Ashgabat objected. The disagreement has stalled cooperation between the two countries for years.
Since Kiapaz/Serdar lies in the middle of the Caspian, it has been a central problem for the entire demarcation issue and the principles of division. Last month, a Caspian summit in Ashgabat was called off for six months after Niyazov claimed that Turkmenistan was about to sign $10 billion in foreign contracts, including one for Serdar. Western oil firms have so far refused to sign deals until a settlement is reached.
The dispute has also produced a procedural dilemma. Only a bilateral agreement can resolve the competing claims. Yet, as Iran argues, a consensus of the five Caspian states will be needed before it is legally recognized.
Russia has proposed a broader rule that calls for parties to share contested fields. Moscow's formula would also divide the seabed into national sectors while keeping the waters in common. The position has won partial backing from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.
Iran prefers a condominium principle of joint control except for a coastal strip, although it has said it will settle for an even 20 percent share of both the sea floor and the waters. Other countries have balked because Iran's coastline would give it only about 13 percent.
Speaking at Harvard University last week, Doug Blum, a Caspian expert and professor at Providence College in the eastern U.S. state of Rhode Island, said the Iranian claim was "clearly an aggrandizement that doesn't correspond with their geographic position."
The counter-argument was given by an Iranian legal expert last month at a Columbia University conference. Saeid Mirzaee Yengejeh, legal adviser to Iran's U.N. Mission, said the country was actually entitled to 50 percent of the Caspian because it had signed treaties with the Soviet Union.
He said, "In the new era, Iran no longer claims 50 percent ownership in the Caspian Sea." Yengejeh added that by seeking only a 20 percent equal share with the four successor states, Iran "has indeed adapted its position with the new situation in the region." In other words, Iran has already shown flexibility.
One effect of the impasse over Kiapaz/Serdar is that it makes it impossible to determine what Iran's final position really is. In the same way, Russia may be able to delay saying what it will settle for. As a result, the dispute may help to keep negotiations at a preliminary stage indefinitely.
Khamenei may have worried that a settlement between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan would have forced Iran to take a new bargaining stand. But reports on the talks suggest there may be little reason for concern.
News agencies reported on 4 May that the talks had collapsed in failure, with Turkmenistan accusing Azerbaijan of pumping oil from other fields which it claims. Azerbaijan is now asking the United Nations to intervene. As long as the deadlock between the two sides goes on, there may be little chance that the real bargaining between Russia and Iran will begin. (RFE/RL)
Turkmenistan Plans Sharp Rise In Gas Exports to Ukraine
3 May 2001
By Michael Lelyveld
Turkmenistan plans a sharp rise in its gas sales to Ukraine over the next five years, but the deal could increase Ashgabat's economic risk.
Speaking in Istanbul last week, President Saparmurat Niyazov told a news conference that Turkmenistan will sign an agreement this month to nearly double its gas exports to Ukraine. The accord is expected to be signed with President Leonid Kuchma during Niyazov's two-day visit to Kyiv starting 13 May.
The plan calls for raising gas exports to Ukraine from the current level of 30 billion cubic meters to 50 billion annually. Last February, the national petroleum company Naftogaz Ukrainy said that it wanted to buy up to 60 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas per year.
Turkmenistan's gas sales to Ukraine can be seen as one of Niyazov's most successful trade policies. Despite widespread doubts about its record, Ukraine has reportedly kept its pledge to make payments to Turkmenistan on time since last year. Kiev is required to pay for half of the gas in cash, with the rest in goods and services.
Increased gas sales to Ukraine helped to drive a 17.6 percent jump in Turkmenistan's gross domestic product last year. This year, the economy is forecast to grow by another 16 percent, the Economist Intelligence Unit said.
Ukraine has also been participating in an increasing number of Turkmen projects as part of its barter arrangement. Kyiv has been helping to build a bridge over the Amudarya River, as well as civil works in Ashgabat, compressor stations and a fertilizer plant.
Last month, Turkmenistan said it would award several Caspian oil and gas blocks to Ukraine for exploration. The two sides are scheduled to sign a 10-year economic pact.
But the involvement with Ukraine is not without problems.
Kyiv is in crisis after a no-confidence vote against Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko and demonstrations against Kuchma. The turmoil could raise questions about any new agreements that Ukraine signs.
Barter trade also makes it hard to place a value on Ukraine's total payments. Turkmenistan has already rescheduled the country's past debts twice, giving sales to Ukraine a higher real cost.
Ukraine has become Turkmenistan's biggest customer, following the failure to renew a gas agreement with Russia at the same level as last year. With the latest increase, Ukraine may account for over 70 percent of Turkmenistan's gas exports. Yet, the gas must be piped through Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Russia, making the deal potentially dependent on priorities in Moscow.
Since Ukraine owes Russia nearly $2 billion for gas, Moscow could take the position that any payments to Turkmenistan are at Russia's expense. Over the winter, the Russian gas trader Itera threatened to stop deliveries from Turkmenistan unless Ukraine's bills for Russian gas were paid.
The question for Turkmenistan is whether Russia will allow its trade with Ukraine to flourish, using Russian pipelines. If the deal goes through, Turkmenistan would replace Russia as Ukraine's biggest supplier, perhaps making it even less likely that Kyiv will pay its debt to Moscow.
While Russia is working on alternatives, it continues to ship 90 percent of its gas to Europe through Ukrainian pipelines. It has agreed to pay 30 billion cubic meters of gas to Ukraine for transit this year.
With the addition of 50 billion cubic meters from Turkmenistan, Ukraine would have more gas than it needs, freeing it to sell some in Europe, where it could compete with Russia's Gazprom.
Moscow seems unlikely to tolerate such a possibility, particularly when it may need more Turkmen gas for itself to meet its export commitments to Europe. Niyazov insisted last week that his country can supply "any amount" of gas to other countries like Turkey. But in reality, export capacity is limited. More Turkmen gas for Ukraine is likely to mean less available for Russia, and perhaps for Turkey and Iran.
So far, Niyazov has succeeded in boosting exports and recovering much of the growth that was lost during a dispute with Russia over pipeline transit in 1997. But the deal with Ukraine could lead to a new conflict unless it wins approval from Moscow. (RFE/RL)
Niyazov Moves To Expand Personality Cult
2 May 2001
By David Hunsicker
Recent moves to expand Turkmenistan�s already comprehensive cult of personality threaten to leave the Central Asian nation perilously isolated. The personality cult that Niyazov has developed since Turkmenistan gained independence in 1991 is reaching levels rivaling that in North Korea. Portraits and statues of Niyazov have long been ubiquitous in the Central Asian nation. In recent months, however, the Turkmen leader has elevated his status to a higher level, in which he lays claim not only to the mantle of political ruler, but also that of spiritual leader.
Niyazov�s spiritual views are on display in the first of a planned three-volume work, "Ruhnama," which appeared in connection with the president�s birthday on 19 February. "Ruhnama" is described in Turkmenistan�s press as the collection of all of the customs and traditions of the Turkmen people. According to an article in the newspaper "Turkmenistan," "Ruhnama" is "a book that, for the Turkmen people, is holy like the miraculous Qur�an�its importance is unlimited. This powerful book is a book created so that the permitted (halal) will be raised over the unpermitted (haram)." The same newspaper describes Niyazov as "having the wisdom of a prophet." In the press the book has been described using an Islamic idiom that connotes revelation as having "descended to earth."
The effort to infuse the work with spiritual significance coincides with a change in slogans in Turkmenistan. The oft-repeated mantra "Halk, Watan, Turkmenbashi," or "The people, the nation, Turkmenbashi!" is quickly being replaced by a new declaration of faith: "Alla birdir, Watan birdir, Halkymy� Serdary bir," or "Allah is one, the Nation is one, and my people�s Leader is one!" Despite the considerable publicity surrounding the publication of "Ruhnama," the book is difficult to find, having not received wide distribution so far. And while the Turkmen media has been effusive in its praise for the book, weeks after its supposed release it was still not possible to find a single quote or passage from "Ruhnama" reprinted by the press.
Niyazov is quoted in the newspaper "Turkmen Dili" as saying "Ruhnama must be in a Turkmen�s heart, it must be his happiness, each person when he reads it must see and find his own path."
By staking out a role as a spiritual leader, Niyazov may be seeking additional justification for moves that effectively increase Turkmenistan�s isolation. A number of decisions taken in recent weeks have the potential to remove Turkmenistan from the region�s intellectual mainstream. In early April, for example, Niyazov banned ballet and opera in Turkmenistan, saying they were "alien" to Turkmen culture. Around the same time, the president also announced at a cabinet meeting that Ashgabat would no longer recognize diplomas awarded by higher educational institutions in other former Soviet states. In addition, the Turkmen leader has for weeks criticized the work of government agencies connected with education, culture, and mass media, citing a need to for a more Turkmen orientation.
Over the long term, Niyazov�s isolationist tendencies could have a profound political and economic impact, diminishing the Turkmen population�s ability to operate in a global environment. In the nearer term, the moves suggest that Turkmenistan will continue to prove a fickle negotiating partner on multinational issues, including the division of the Caspian Sea and the selection of oil and gas export routes. Differences on the division of the Caspian Sea have already forced the postponement of a five-nation summit until this fall. (Eurasia View)
The World's Most Repressive Regimes
Each year, Freedom House appears before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights at its session in Geneva to present its findings and to highlight areas of concern. In this year's report, Freedom House again emphasizes the most repressive regimes in the world. "The World's Most Repressive Regimes" report that follows is excerpted from the 2000-2001 Freedom House survey, "Freedom in the World."
Turkmenistan has the following rating:
Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 7
Status: Not Free
Turkmenistan's already isolated position in the international community was further reinforced in 2000, as the government banned Turkmen citizens from holding foreign bank accounts, ordered the monitoring of foreign nationals, and shut down the last independent Internet service providers. In this energy-rich country suffering from limited export routes, plans to construct a U.S.-backed gas pipeline project to Turkey showed little real progress throughout the year.
The southernmost republic of the former Soviet Union, Turkmenistan was conquered by the Mongols in the thirteenth century and seized by Russia in the late 1800s. Having been incorporated into the USSR in 1924, Turkmenistan gained formal independence in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
Saparmurat Niyazov, the former head of the Turkmenistan Communist Party, ran unopposed in elections to the newly created post of president in October 1990. After the adoption of a new constitution in 1992, Niyazov was re-elected as the sole candidate for a five-year term with a reported 99.5 percent of the vote. The main opposition group, Agzybirlik, which was formed in 1989 by leading intellectuals, was banned and its leaders harassed. Niyazov's tenure as president was extended for an additional five years, to the year 2002, by a 1994 referendum that exempted him from having to run again in 1997 as originally scheduled. In December 1994 parliamentary elections, only Niyazov's Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (DPT), the renamed Communist Party, was permitted to field candidates.
In 12 December1999, elections to the National Assembly (Mejlis), 104 candidates competed for the legislature's 50 seats. Every candidate was selected by the government, and virtually all were members of President Niyazov's DPT. According to government claims, voter turnout was 98.9 percent. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which cited the lack of provisions for participation by nongovernmental parties and the executive branch's control of the nomination of candidates, refused to send even a limited assessment mission. Some diplomatic observers noted various irregularities, including empty polling stations.
In a further consolidation of President Niyazov's extensive powers, parliament unanimously voted in late December to make Niyazov president for life. With this decision, Turkmenistan became the first Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) country to formally abandon presidential elections.
Already one of the most closed societies in the world, Turkmenistan took several steps in 2000 to further isolate itself from the international community. In June, Niyazov approved the creation of a government council to register and monitor all foreign nationals arriving or temporarily residing in the country. The same month, the president issued a decree forbidding Turkmen citizens from holding accounts in foreign banks. On 20 July, a new policy was announced in which potential university students would be screened back three generations to exclude all but the most "worthy" applicants. In a country already lacking most basic school supplies, Niyazov ordered the destruction in October of thousands of new history textbooks that he claimed had overstated the role of other nations in Turkmenistan's history.
Turkmenistan, which has the fourth-largest known natural gas reserves in the world, has struggled to bring its energy resources to foreign markets in the face of limited export routes and nonpaying customers. In 1999, a joint venture of Royal Dutch/Shell and PSG announced plans to build a 1,250-mile gas pipeline stretching from gas fields in Turkmenistan through Azerbaijan and Georgia to Turkey. The estimated $2.5 billion project, which would allow Turkmen gas to bypass Russian and Iranian routes, is supported by the United States as a way of reducing the influence of both Moscow and Tehran in Central Asia. However, a September 2000 agreement for Turkmenistan to sell increased amounts of gas to Russia, which would deprive the pipeline of much of its supply source, as well as disputes with rival supplier Azerbaijan over sharing pipeline space have cast ongoing doubts on the project's future viability. Turkmenistan continued to pursue other energy development options throughout the year, including possible gas routes to China through Afghanistan. Despite the country's wealth of natural resources, there have been few reforms of the Soviet command system, and the majority of citizens live in poverty. The economy suffers from low levels of gross domestic product (GDP) and record low harvests, and major industries remain state-owned. In late 2000, Niyazov announced plans to build a 1,300-square-mile artificial lake in the Karakum Desert to increase the country's agricultural output. However, critics charge that the plan, which is estimated to eventually cost between $4 billion and $6 billion, is neither environmentally nor economically sound.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties:
Citizens of Turkmenistan cannot change their government democratically. President Niyazov enjoys virtually absolute power over all branches and levels of the government. He has established an extensive cult of personality, including the erection of monuments to his leadership throughout the country. In 1994, he renamed himself Turkmenbashi, or leader of the Turkmen. The country has two national legislative bodies: the unicameral National Assembly (Mejlis), composed of 50 members elected in single-mandate constituencies for five-year terms, is the main legislature; and the People's Council (Khalk Maslakhaty), consisting of members of the Mejlis, 50 directly elected representatives, and various regional and other executive and judicial officials, meets infrequently to address certain major issues. Neither parliamentary body enjoys genuine independence from the executive. The 1994 and 1999 parliamentary elections were neither free nor fair.
Freedom of speech and the press is severely restricted by the government, which controls all radio and television broadcasts and print media. Reports of dissenting political views are banned, as are even mild forms of criticism of the president. Subscriptions to foreign newspapers, other than Russian ones, are severely restricted. Foreign journalists have limited opportunities to visit Turkmenistan and are often restricted to certain locations. Radio Liberty's Turkmen-language service has been called the only source of nongovernmental information for most Turkmen citizens. The government revoked the licenses of all Internet service providers in May 2000, leaving only the state-owned Turkmentelekom to provide Internet access. In August, Niyazov launched a new television station, the "Epoch of Turkmenbashi," devoted to covering his supposed accomplishments and initiatives.
The government restricts freedom of religion through means including strict registration requirements. Only Sunni Muslims and Russian Orthodox Christians have been able to meet the criterion of having at least 500 members. Members of religious groups that are not legally registered by the government, including Baptists, Pentecostals, and Baha'is, are frequently harassed by security forces. A Seventh-Day Adventist Church was demolished by authorities in November 1999, with ten people reportedly in the building when destruction began. Since independence, Turkmenistan, which is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, has enjoyed a modest revival of Islam.
While the constitution guarantees peaceful assembly and association, these rights are restricted in practice. Only one political party, the Niyazov-led DPT, has been officially registered. Opposition parties have been banned, and virtually all of their leading members have either fled abroad or face harassment and detention in Turkmenistan. Social and cultural organizations are allowed to function, but often face difficulty registering. The government-controlled Colleagues Union is the only legal central trade union permitted. There are no legal guarantees for workers to form or join unions or to bargain collectively. The judicial system is subservient to the president, who appoints and removes judges without legislative review. The authorities frequently deny rights of due process, including public trials and access to defense attorneys. There are no independent lawyers, with the exception of a few retired legal officials, to represent defendants in trials. Police abuse of suspects and prisoners, often to obtain confessions, is reportedly widespread, and prisons are overcrowded and unsanitary. In May 2000, parliament adopted a law prohibiting searches of private homes by the security services without the prior approval of a special commission composed of senior government, law enforcement, and public organization officials.
In February 2000, Nurberdy Nurmamedov, one of the founders of the unregistered opposition movement Agzybirlik, was convicted on charges of hooliganism and attempted murder and sentenced to eight years in prison. His arrest a month earlier followed his criticism of the 1999 parliamentary elections and the decision to extend indefinitely Niyazov's term as president. Unlike most opponents of the regime, Nurmamedov was one of the few who had chosen to remain in Turkmenistan, despite years of persecution by the authorities for his political activities. In late December, Nurmamedov was released from prison under a general presidential amnesty, although he had to repent on national television and swear an oath of loyalty to Niyazov.
Citizens are required to carry internal passports for identification. Although residence permits are not required, place of residence is registered in passports. Obtaining passports and exit visas for foreign travel is difficult for most nonofficial travelers and allegedly often requires payment of bribes to government officials. The security services regularly monitor the activities of those critical of the government. A continuing Soviet-style command economy and widespread corruption diminish equality of opportunity.
Traditional social-religious norms mostly limit occupations for women to those of homemaker and mother, and anecdotal reports suggest that domestic violence is common. (Freedom House)