Although the constitution declares the country to be a secular democracy and presidential republic, it is an authoritarian state of approximately five million that was dominated by President-for-life Saparmyrat Niyazov until his death in December 2006. The Halk Maslahaty (People's Council) selected six candidates for the February 2007 presidential election, all from the Democratic Party, the country's only political party. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov won in elections that did not meet international standards. In 2007 the government initiated a broad effort to revise a variety of national laws to bring them into conformity with relevant international conventions. The government also began to engage selectively with the international community and indicated an increased responsiveness to international opinion. However, despite modest improvements in some areas, the government continues to commit serious abuses, and its human rights record remains poor. Authorities severely restricted political and civil liberties. Continuing human rights problems include citizens' inability to change their government; torture and mistreatment of detainees; incommunicado and prolonged detention; arbitrary arrest and detention; house arrest; denial of due process and a fair trial; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association; restrictions on religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement for some citizens; violence against women; and restrictions on the free association of workers.
Following President Niyazov's death in 2006, the United States began to reengage with the country. The U.S. government proposed multisector cooperation, which led to productive engagement in some areas, especially regarding legislative reforms.
The U.S. government's democracy and human rights efforts focus on persuading the government to honor its international human rights commitments and strengthening the rule of law. The United States seeks to assist the government in establishing a more transparent system of administration and to identify areas in which there is a need for new or revised legislation. The United States also emphasizes the critical importance of internal and external freedom of movement and respect for freedoms of the press, assembly, speech, and religion. The U.S. government seeks to open a dialogue directed toward identifying potential areas for bilateral cooperation, including providing training to build capacity, strengthening civil society and access to information, and promoting transparency and accountability in the law enforcement community and judicial system. The United States regularly advocates on behalf of individual human rights cases and coordinates its activities closely with NGOs, other diplomatic missions, and international organizations.
The United States stresses the importance of freedom of information, media, and speech through public statements, Internet development projects, visiting speakers, and exchange programs. In 2007 the U.S. government sponsored five speaking events, including presentations by a veteran of the American civil rights movement and former U.S. officials on topics such as federalism and modern American communications and the media. In 2007 the embassy sent 160 local professionals, government officials, and students to the United States for short- and long-term study or training through five different educational exchange programs, exposing the students to an open, democratic society; American institutions; and a free-market economy. Participants studied subjects including the U.S. judicial system, U.S. criminal justice norms, legislative campaigns and elections, civics, grassroots democracy, and the English language. Upon returning from a community activism program, one attendee opened a U.S.-funded center that works to promote awareness of information and communication technologies among persons with disabilities and families through educational activities. The center also organizes discussions and roundtables to attract public attention to issues related to persons with disabilities in society.
The U.S. government continues to support greater access to information to create a network of technology-savvy citizens with access to local, regional, and international resources. A U.S.-funded information resource center provides citizens with access to the Internet and computer training. In March 2007 the United States launched a Russian-language satellite, which broadcasts throughout Central Asia. An estimated 750,000 families have access to the programming.
The United States provides technical assistance to strengthen community participation in local governance. An estimated 8,000 citizens from 50 communities, including farmers, youth, women, and local governments, receive this assistance. The U.S. government empowers community leaders and citizen groups through training, advocacy support, increased access to information, community action grants, community networking, strategic planning, and access to legal analysis and support. Some widely used innovative approaches include a CD-ROM community library, rotating savings and credit associations, youth vocational and apprenticeship programs, and service improvement action plans (SIAPs). The United States continues to promote good governance on the local level and in 2008 will launch 15 pilot SIAPs aimed at improving local government services by fostering a dialogue between citizens and officials. In 2007 U.S. implementing partners conducted a roundtable on the procedure to file a complaint against the actions of governmental officials.
The U.S. government continues to support strongly civil society. With this support, implementing partners provide consultations to NGOs in-person, via e-mail, or by telephone on issues including establishment of a legal entity, registration procedures, opening of bank accounts, taxes, internal audits, management, and legal options for operating without registration.
In addition, the United States offered to assist the government in meeting a wide range of international human rights commitments, including revising its law on religion and reforming its criminal code. The embassy advocates on behalf of individuals and groups, pressing for the release of prisoners of concern, encouraging the legal registration of NGOs and minority religious groups, and instituting accreditation for independent journalists. The United States continues to promote religious freedom in the country and encourage the government to ease pressure and harassment of minority religious groups.
The United States promotes the rule of law by increasing legal awareness and providing access to legal information through the development of a national and international legislation database. The United States supports a network of lawyers who offer advice on issues including NGO formation and registration, tax issues, labor law, land use, and water rights. U.S. programming reached more than 1,800 persons through hot lines, a referral network, a mobile legal clinic, and professional skills training. In 2007 the United States sponsored an anticorruption conference. To support women's rights, an ongoing U.S.-funded program provides legal support to women, particularly victims of domestic violence.