March 31, 2003 - US State Department: Turkmenistan security officer closely questioned Peace Corps local staffer about the activities of their organization's volunteers

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By Admin1 (admin) on Wednesday, April 09, 2003 - 7:16 pm: Edit Post

Turkmenistan security officer closely questioned Peace Corps local staffer about the activities of their organization's volunteers

Read and comment on this report from the US Department of State on Human Rights in Turkmenistan which highlighted issues regarding Peace Corps Volunteers and Staff:
"In September a local security officer closely questioned a Peace Corps local staffer about the activities of their organization's volunteers. In the wake of the November 25 attack, authorities closely questioned host families about the activities of Peace Corps volunteers and stopped and searched a vehicle in which a Peace Corps volunteer was traveling."
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Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2002
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 31, 2003

Turkmenistan is a one-party state dominated by its president, who continued to exercise power in a Soviet-era authoritarian style despite Constitutional provisions nominally establishing a democratic system. President Saparmurat Niyazov, head of the Turkmen Communist Party since 1985 (renamed the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan in 1992) and President of the country since its independence in 1991, legally may remain in office until his death, although he publicly announced his intention to hold elections between 2008 and 2010. Niyazov retained his monopoly on political power and on the Democratic Party, which remained the sole political party in the country. Emphasizing stability and gradual reform, official nation-building efforts continued to focus on fostering Turkmen nationalism and the glorification of President Niyazov. The 50-member unicameral Parliament (Mejlis) has no genuinely independent authority, and in practice the President controlled the judicial system.

The Ministry of National Security (MNB), formerly the Committee on National Security (KNB), had the responsibilities formerly held by the Soviet Committee for State Security (KGB); primarily to ensure that the regime remains in power through the tight control of society and the suppression of dissent. In 2001 the President gave the Chairman of the KNB additional responsibilities to supervise both the military and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and on September 10, the President elevated the agency to a Cabinet-level Ministry. The MNB reportedly exercised wide discretion over issues such as exit visas and Internet access and worked to limit personal freedoms. The Ministry of Internal Affairs directed the criminal police, which worked closely with the MNB on matters of national security. Both forces committed human rights abuses.

The country's economy remained dependent on central planning mechanisms and state control, although the Government has taken a number of small steps to make the transition to a market economy. The Government estimated the total population to be 5.7 million. Most of the workforce was engaged in agriculture, which accounted for nearly half of total employment.

The Government's human rights record remained extremely poor, and it continued to commit serious abuses. The human rights situation deteriorated markedly after an armed attack against President Niyazov on November 25, which the regime characterized as an attempt to assassinate the President and effect a coup d'etat. The Government moved quickly against perceived sources of opposition at home and abroad, requesting that several foreign governments extradite alleged conspirators in the plot to topple the regime. There were widespread, credible reports of human rights abuses committed by government officials in the course of investigating the attack, including credible reports of torture. There were numerous violations of due process under the law. The Government denied all charges of abuse, but did not provide regular access to foreign citizens accused of participating in the plot. Government authorities detained hundreds of relatives of those implicated in the plot, some of whom were physically abused and denied access to medical treatment. Relatives of those implicated in the attack also lost their jobs, were dismissed from university, and were evicted from their homes without compensation. At year's end, many remained under house arrest and were not allowed to leave the country or travel internally.

Authorities severely restricted political and civil liberties. Citizens did not have the ability to change their government peacefully. The Government registered no parties during the year and continued to repress all opposition political activities. Security forces continued to beat and otherwise mistreat suspects and prisoners. Arbitrary arrest and detention were problems. Both the criminal police and the MNB operated with relative impunity and abused the rights of individuals as well as enforced the Government's policy of repressing the political opposition. Prison conditions remained poor and unsafe. The judiciary was not independent. Prolonged pretrial detention and unfair trials remained problems. Interference with citizens' privacy remained a problem. The Government held at least one political prisoner. The Government continued to demolish large numbers of private homes; many displaced homeowners received little or no compensation for their loss. The Government sought to limit marriages between citizens and foreigners, purportedly to protect spouses and children.

The Government severely restricted freedom of speech and did not permit freedom of the press. The Government completely controlled the media, censored all newspapers and the Internet, and never permitted independent criticism of government policy. Academic freedom declined. The Government restricted freedom of assembly and association. The Government continued to place limitations on the activities of nongovernmental groups, including minority religious groups, most of which were unable to register with the Government. The Government exercised control over religious expression. Adherents of unregistered religions were subject to various forms of harassment including arrests and abuse. The Government restricted freedom of movement. In January it abolished the exit visa requirement; however, President Niyazov proposed reintroducing an exit permission regime for citizens at the Halk Maslahaty (Council of Elders) meeting on December 30 in response to the November 25 attack. There were no domestic human rights groups because of restrictions on speech and association. Foreign diplomats observed one trial proceeding. Domestic violence and societal discrimination against women was a problem. The Government generally gave favored treatment to ethnic Turkmen over minorities. The Government severely restricted labor rights.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of assembly; however, the Government restricted this right in practice. Permits are required for public meetings and demonstrations; however, they rarely were granted and applications were screened carefully. Unregistered organizations, particularly those perceived to have political agendas, were not allowed to hold demonstrations. However, in May approximately 100 persons spontaneously demonstrated outside a Turkmenbashi courthouse protesting the guilty verdict of Khalmamed Durdiev (see Section 1.d.).

In August and September, students at Turkmen State University (TSU) distributed leaflets criticizing the Government at markets and schools. There were unconfirmed reports that the MNB arrested six TSU Students in September for distributing the leaflets; the students remained in detention at year's end.

The Constitution provides for freedom of association; however, the Government restricted this right in practice. No political groups critical of government policy were able to meet the requirements for registration. The Government used laws on the registration of political parties to prevent the emergence of potential opposition groups. The only registered political party was the Democratic Party, the former Turkmen Communist Party. It was extremely difficult for new nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to register with the Government (see Section 2.a.). NGOs that could not register successfully with the Government often were forced to join an already registered NGO as a subgroup in order to gain the legal benefits of registered NGOs.

The Government does not forbid membership in a political organization; however, in practice those who claimed membership in political organizations other than the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan were harassed and, in the past, tortured.

Beginning in September 2001, social and cultural organizations without political purposes came under increased pressure by the Government. During the year, one NGO was legally registered. Authorities increased monitoring of NGOs and civil society groups around the country after the November 25 attack. Authorities refused to allow a scheduled conference on NGO registration to take place at a local hotel, which was instead held at a foreign embassy. In September a local security officer closely questioned a Peace Corps local staffer about the activities of their organization's volunteers. In the wake of the November 25 attack, authorities closely questioned host families about the activities of Peace Corps volunteers and stopped and searched a vehicle in which a Peace Corps volunteer was traveling.

Under the law citizens have the freedom to associate with whomever they please; however, authorities have fired or threatened to fire supporters of opposition movements from their jobs, removed them from professional societies, and even threatened them with the loss of their homes (see Section 1.f.). In addition, some citizens with links to foreigners were subject to official intimidation. Some representatives of NGOs and civil society activists were questioned by government officials after attending a reception in honor of International Human Rights Day at the residence of a foreign ambassador. On several separate occasions, security officials stopped vehicles and questioned Turkmen citizens as to why they were traveling with foreign citizens.

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Turkmenistan; Human Rights; Safety and Security of Volunteers



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