This week the EU will hold its annual human rights-focused dialogue with Turkmenistan’s government in Ashgabat. The meeting comes at a time when the EU is seeking to establish closer ties with the five Central Asian countries in the changing geopolitical reality that has evolved due to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Ahead of the meeting, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) have provided briefing information to the EU on key human rights issues that we urge the EU to raise with Turkmenistan’s government. These include:
- The failure of President Serdar Berdymukhamedov to break with his father’s repressive legacy and take any meaningful steps to improve the human rights situation in the country after taking office in March 2022.
- Deteriorating internet censorship, with ever more web resources being arbitrarily blocked in the country and intimidation and harassment of those who install and use internet censorship circumvention tools to access otherwise unavailable resources. The government has also announced plans to create ‘’an autonomous national digital network’’, sparking concerns that it will further tighten its grip on internet use in the country.
- The continued imprisonment of doctor Khursanai Ismatullaeva, journalist Nurgeldy Khalykov, activist Murat Dushemov and lawyer Pygambergeldy Allaberdyev on charges considered to be retaliation for their peaceful and legitimate civic and journalistic engagement. Seventy-three-year-old Agajuma Bayramov has continued to be subjected to pressure following his release earlier this year after spending six years in prison on charges believed to have been politically motivated.
- The continued risk of detention and possible forcible return to Turkmenistan facing government-critical activists living in Turkey, whose authorities have been responsive to requests to target individuals who are inconvenient to those in power in Turkmenistan, even if no activist is known to have been sent back to date.
- Other forms of harassment of people who speak out about the situation in the country, stand up for their rights, and engage with like-minded people both in- and outside the country. This includes intimidation of their relatives and other contacts.
- The continued use of enforced disappearances, with the fate of dozens of people subjected to this practice in the past 20 years still being unknown. The systematic use of enforced disappearances as a tactic against people convicted in politically motivated and unfair trials began after the reported assassination attempt on ex-President Saparmurat Niyazov in 2002, the details of which remain murky to date.
- Harsh responses by authorities to spontaneous expressions of discontent and new cases of forcible mass mobilization of residents for state-organised celebrations at the threat of repercussions. These kinds of events also endanger the health and well-being of participants.
- A reinforced campaign to promote so-called traditional values regarding women’s role in the country and to enforce far-ranging restrictions on women’s appearance and conduct. As part of this campaign, there have been reports of state-organised propaganda events at public institutions and schools, police raids, and detentions and fines targeting those accused of violating restrictive requirements.
More information can be found in the IPHR-TIHR briefing paper.