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Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan Ranked As Among World's 'Worst' Societies

A huge portrait of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov on the side of a building in Dashoguz
The human rights records of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, as well as the Russian republic of Chechnya, are ranked as among the eight "worst of the worst," according to a new report of the world's most repressive societies by Freedom House.

"The countries and territories in 'Worst of the Worst' are precisely the ones that the [UN] Human Rights Council should focus on," says Paula Schriefer, Freedom House's director of advocacy. "In these countries, regimes control the daily lives of citizens by denying them basic human rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of belief."

Other countries on the "worst-of-the-worst" list are Burma, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, and Sudan. Also included are two territories, Chechnya and Tibet, whose inhabitants, Freedom House says, "suffer intense repression."

In an interview with RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, Arch Puddington, research director for Freedom House, says Turkmenistan "has not really embraced democratic change" since the death of former President Saparmurat Niyazov.

He says Turkmenistan "does not have real political freedom, nor does it have real elections, and no real free press."

But Puddington acknowledges some improvements in Turkmen society, adding that "observers do see one change, which is the absence of the cult of personality" that existed under Niyazov.

The Freedom House report also includes nine additional countries near the bottom of Freedom House’s list of the most repressive: Belarus, Chad, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Laos, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Zimbabwe. The two territories of South Ossetia and Western Sahara are also included in this group.