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Turkmen Government Campaign Targets RFE/RL

It's not the first time the Turkmen authorities have attempted to rid the country of satellite dishes, but this time the efforts seem more serious.

"The government of Turkmenistan has taken a decision to liquidate all privately owned TV and radio satellite dishes in the country" and "the main target of this campaign is Radio Azatlyk, the Turkmen-language service of Radio Liberty/Free Europe."

That's according to the Civic Solidarity Platform, an umbrella organization bringing together nearly 60 nongovernmental organizations from the United States and Eurasia.

Azatlyk knows about the campaign to demolish satellite dishes. It's not the first time the Turkmen authorities have attempted to rid the country of satellite dishes, but this time the efforts seem more serious.

The Turkmen government has always preferred to have a monopoly on the dissemination of information inside Turkmenistan. Access to satellite dishes, which in some cases cost only some $100, has broken the grip Turkmen authorities have tried to keep on information, allowing citizens to watch or listen to programming from many sources, including Azatlyk.

But according to Civic Solidarity, this most recent decision by the authorities to rid the country of satellite dishes "is aimed at fully blocking access of the population of Turkmenistan to hundreds of independent international media outlets which are currently accessible in the country only though satellite dishes."

In naming Azatlyk as the main target of the campaign, Civic Solidarity called the RFE/RL service "the only independent source of information about Turkmenistan and the world in the Turkmen language and is widely listened to in the country."

Azatlyk has regularly reported on a wide variety of subjects affecting Turkmenistan today, from housing problems and long lines to purchase train tickets, to the problems of people being detained and imprisoned for demanding their basic rights be respected, or the deteriorating security situation along the country's southern border with Afghanistan.

What these topics all have in common is that Turkmen state media will not report on them and the authorities would prefer these matters not be publicized.

Civic Solidarity noted Azatlyk's broadcasts are "currently accessible to the Turkmen public through satellite dishes while other channels of information about Turkmenistan, including websites of human rights and dissident organizations as well as the website of Radio Azatlyk are blocked in Turkmenistan."

Azatlyk is aware of the campaign and has learned the Turkmen government is offering options to satellite-dish owners.

The government will compensate the loss of satellite dishes with "cable TV packages" that would provide "entertainment channels produced by Russia, Turkey, and India," none of which include news programs. The authorities have already said they reserve the right to cut off broadcasting at any time.

Another option for those losing their satellite dishes is to agree to have government-installed satellite dishes on their buildings, but that would leave subscribers with only state-approved channels.

It appears in some cases Azatlyk would still be accessible on some antennas but on others Azatlyk programing would not be available.

As has been true during previous campaigns to rid the country of satellite dishes, the official reason given is that the dishes are ugly blemishes on the grand architecture of Turkmenistan's cities.

-- Bruce Pannier

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change.​

The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.


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