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HRW Urges German Tech Firm To Disclose Dealings With Turkmenistan

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov reportedly met with a senior executive of Rohde and Schwarz in February. (file photo)
Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov reportedly met with a senior executive of Rohde and Schwarz in February. (file photo)

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on a German technology company to publicly disclose whether it is considering sales to Turkmenistan, and how it is addressing the possibility that its technology will be used by the Turkmen government to block websites and carry out surveillance in violation of human rights.

"The Turkmen government controls all media, arbitrarily blocks access to information, and carries out surveillance on communications to identify and persecute critics," Wenzel Michalski, Germany director at the New York-based watchdog said in a statement on June 25.

Turkmen media reported in February that a senior vice president at the German tech company Rohde and Schwarz had met with Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov.

HRW quoted a person knowledgeable about the matter that the Turkmen government was seeking technology for monitoring and blocking mobile and satellite communications, which would also enable the government to block Internet access.

In a March letter to Rohde and Schwarz, HRW asked whether it was considering or had already carried out such sales to Turkmenistan.

Rohde and Schwarz replied, saying in a letter that it "does not disclose information on its business and customers in security-relevant areas," HRW said.

The company also said that it has an "internal compliance process" that "covers all compliance-relevant areas of our business."

However, Rohde and Schwarz did not provide details about this process and how it ensured that its sales did not further human rights violations, HRW said.

HRW also called on the Berlin government to "ensure that no German companies play any part in the Turkmen government's use of surveillance to prevent and punish criticism of the authorities or use of technologies to unlawfully restrict access to information."

Berdymukhammedov has ruled the gas-rich former Soviet republic since his autocratic predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, died in December 2006.

Government critics and human rights groups say he has suppressed dissent and made few changes in the restrictive country since he came to power.

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