Turkmenistan. At the beginning of the year, President Gurbanguli Berdimuchammedov gave the impression of wanting to liberalize the closed political system. He called on Parliament to finalize the work on a bill that would open to multi-party systems. In July, he declared that political dissidents in exile should return and stand in the 2012 presidential election, but the opposition noted that most opposition leaders were sentenced to prison in their absence.
At the same time, the Turkmenist regime censored all news of the uprising in North Africa. All traditional media were controlled by the state, but in order to take even stronger control over the information flow, the regime broke the contract with a Russian operator that had over 80% of the mobile and Internet users in Turkmenistan.
According to Countryaah official site, the undemocratic face also became clearer when the so-called 600 Council of Elders decided that Berdimuchammedov, as well as his predecessor Saparmurat Nijazov, would receive the title of Turkmenistan’s hero. During the year, a renovated arch of neutrality was also opened with a gold statue of Nijazov as well as a monument to his book “Ruhnama” (‘The Book of the Soul’), which was compulsory reading in the school.
The European Parliament has tentatively agreed to ratify the Partnership Agreement with Turkmenistan, which was signed in 1998, but which has not entered into force due to human rights concerns. The EU was keen to bring the gas-rich country closer to Europe in order to make the continent less dependent on Russian energy. But critics said there was a risk that the Turkmenist oppression regime was legitimized.
According to human rights groups, disappearances are common, and prisons are notorious for being overflowing with horrific diseases and high mortality. Opposition activists have been sentenced to harsh prison sentences, and their relatives may lose jobs and livelihoods and be suspended from school education.
In May, Sweden rejected an asylum seeker, Keymir Berdiev, to Turkmenistan despite the fact that his father and brother had been active in opposition groups and he himself had worked for Radio Free Europe’s Turkmen broadcasts. After Berdiev’s return, it was unclear what had happened to him. According to the human rights organization Human Rights Watch, people fail to tell about abuses that they or their relatives suffered from fear of revenge from the regime. Two of Radio Free Europe’s reporters were reported to have been placed in a psychiatric institution as punishment for their work.
Foreign and local HIV experts raised alarm during the year that the country’s authorities are manipulating statistics on HIV infection. As a result, doctors fear an impending epidemic. Officially, the regime has confirmed only two cases of HIV infection since independence in 1991, both of these patients have died, and the number of infected is said to be zero. However, according to health care professionals, new cases are being found in all regions, and almost all are linked to drug abuse. HIV infection is reported to increase throughout Central Asia, especially along the heroin route from Afghanistan to the Russian Federation.
In June, the UN Committee Against Torture came up with a report describing a “climate of impunity” and urging the regime to address systematic abuse immediately.
In July, the city of Abadan, to the west of the capital Ashgabat, was shaken by extensive explosions in an armory. People were evacuated to the capital, but nothing was mentioned in the news, and the Internet and mobile networks were reported to have been turned off. A group of so-called citizen journalists went to the area to take photos and film but were stopped by soldiers who confiscated their equipment. According to official data, 13 soldiers and eight civilians were killed, but the Opposition Internet site Turkmenistan’s chronicle, chrono-tm.org, reported, citing eyewitnesses, that hundreds of people, perhaps over 1,300, had lost their lives. 127 residential buildings and dozens of public buildings had been destroyed. At one BB, 30 people, including newborns, died and in one school 30 children were killed.
In October, a report by Crude Accountability, an American organization for transparency in the energy sector, found that President Berdimuchammedov uses his country’s huge energy reserves as his personal ATM more than his representative. According to analysts, the report should be a warning signal for the EU and the US that want to establish stronger ties with the energy-rich regime. The president’s arbitrary leadership also increases the risk of instability in Turkmenistan going forward, according to the report, which predicted similar developments in Turkmenistan as in North Africa.