Rights groups accuse Turkmenistan over freedoms

Turkmen leader Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has failed to deliver on pledges to free up the Central Asian nation.

Rights groups accuse Turkmenistan over freedoms
Turkmen leader Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has failed to deliver on pledges to free up the Central Asian nation since being sworn in as president two years ago, human rights groups and opponents said.

Many hoped for a major thaw in Central Asia's biggest gas producer when Berdymukhamedov came to power after the 2006 death of Saparmurat Niyazov, an autocratic ruler who ran the country with an iron fist for 21 years.

Berdymukhamedov, who was sworn in on Feb 14, 2007, has reversed some of Niyazov's more quixotic policies. But rights groups say the authorities have continued censorship, cracked down on dissent and kept limits on access to information.

"While President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov reversed some policies of his predecessor, he has still to live up to his promises of human rights reform," Amnesty international said in a statement released late on Thursday.

"The list of human rights violations is long," it said in the statement. It also released a report on Turkmenistan which detailed the cases of journalists, activists and religious believers it said had been targetted by the authorities.

A government representative declined to comment on the Amnesty report or the issues raised by it. Instead, the representative quoted Berdymukhamedov on constitutional reforms that were adopted last year.

"After the adoption of the new constitution the democratision of our society became irreversible, serving as a foundation for building a fair and humane state protecting people's interests," the representative quoted him as saying.

Turkmenistan, isolated under Niyazov, is the focus of competition for influence between Russia, the United States, the European Union and China, which are all keen to gain sway over its gas supplies.

Hopes of a thaw 

Berdymukhamedov has made some reforms such as restoring state pensions and reopening hospitals outside the capital Ashgabat.

He has also allowed the opening of several internet cafes and knocked down a notorious high-security prison where many of Niyazov's critics were held.

But opponents say there are still no independent media. Those reporting for foreign media, including contributors to U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, face harassment and sometimes prosecution, Amnesty International said.

The government is now cracking down on satellite dishes which allow Turkmens to watch foreign television, said Farid Tukhbatulin, the head of Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, who lives in exile.

He said people are being offered cable television with a carefully selected set of channels.

Opponents said last year's constitutional reform, touted by Ashgabat as a milestone in democratisation, has changed little despite giving the parliament some new powers and theoretically allowing opposition parties to be registered.

"Unfortunately, it all remains on paper and only serves to impress the international community," said Nurmuhammet Khanamov, a co-founder of the opposition Republican party operating in exile. "It is still impossible to register a party or a non-government organisation."

The parliament, elected under the new constitution late last year, is dominated by members of pro-government Democratic party, the only party registered in the country.

Reuters
Last Mod: 14 Şubat 2009, 17:49
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