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Turkmenistan

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of new politically motivated disappearances during the year. A nongovernmental organization (NGO)-led advocacy campaign called “Prove They Are Alive!” maintained a list of disappeared prisoners. The number of disappeared prisoners on the list increased from 112 to 121 as of September, although opposition media reported two of the prisoners died during the year. The list included political dissident Gulgeldy Annaniyazov, former minister of foreign affairs Boris Shikhmuradov, former director of the Turkmenbashy oil refinery Guychmyrad Esenov, and many others accused of participation in an alleged 2002 assassination attempt on former president Saparmurat Niyazov.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Although the constitution and law prohibit mistreatment, in January the UN Committee against Torture noted its concern at “consistent allegations of widespread torture and ill-treatment, including severe beatings, of persons deprived of their liberty, especially at the moment of apprehension and during pretrial detention, mainly in order to extract confessions.”

In its 2017-18 annual report, Amnesty International (AI) reported, “torture and other ill-treatment was committed in pretrail detention and prisons, sometimes resulting in death.”

The law requires the government to protect the health and lives of members of the armed forces. Observers reported in October that hazing of first-year conscripts continued and involved violations of human dignity, including brutality. During the year there were no reports of hazing deaths among conscripts.

In October the opposition website Chronicles of Turkmenistan reported food was in short supply in some army units and cheaper, less nutritious ingredients were being used. According to the report, not all units faced the same shortage, with the food supply differing across branches and military units.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions reportedly remained unsanitary, overcrowded, harsh, and in some cases life threatening.

Physical Conditions: Official data on the average sentence or numbers of prisoners, including incarcerated juveniles, were not available. Persons in pretrial detention facilities were predominantly those sentenced but not transferred to penal colonies. The six pretrial detention facilities reportedly were designed for 1,120 persons but reportedly held many times that number.

Independent news site Alternative News of Turkmenistan (ANT) reported in October 2017 that the deputy head of the prison in Ovadan Depe targeted prisoners from minority groups such as Balochis, Persians, and Afghans for mistreatment in his prison by giving collective punishment to all prisoners from a group for an alleged infraction by one. Punishments included making prisoners stand in the sun for five to six hours at a time.

In October ANT reported that the head of Tejen Prison extracted bribes totaling 20,000 manat ($5,700) a month from prisoners. Prisoners unable to pay the bribes were punished by solitary confinement or by being made to stand outside without food or water for up to two days. ANT reported that Ministry of Internal Affairs investigators found that food supplies were insufficient for the population.

According to the Independent Lawyers Association and the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, there were 22 prisons and 30,452 prisoners in the country as of September 2017. Their December 2017 report stated 40 percent of the inmates had tuberculosis (TB). The same report claimed that approximately 20 detainees died every month, mostly from TB.

During the year there were no reports that officials held inmates diagnosed with TB and skin diseases with healthy detainees due to overcrowding. Previously, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that inmates with TB were held separately from healthy inmates at the Dashoguz women’s prison; however, there continued to be concern the government did not adequately test and treat prisoners with TB before they returned to the general population, despite government claims to the contrary.

Mansur Mingelov, an activist for the rights of Baloch minorities, remained in Seydi prison since his arrest in 2012. He was serving a 22-year sentence for alleged drug and child pornography offenses. ANT and AI reported in June he suffered from fever, high blood pressure, and heart pain, but prison doctors refused to admit him to the medical unit without a bribe. His relatives brought him the necessary medication.

Administration: Authorities reported investigations of mistreatment were conducted; however, the government did not provide written reports of its investigations to the diplomatic community. The government did not confirm whether it established a prison ombudsman.

According to relatives, prison authorities sometimes denied family members’ access to prisoners; denied family members permission to give food, medical, and other supplies to some prisoners; and did not make religious facilities available to all prisoners.

Independent Monitoring: In November government officials allowed members of the diplomatic corps to visit Tejen (AH-K/6) prison in Ahal Province.

Improvements: In November the facilities in Tejen prison (AH-K/6) were refurbished in preparation for a diplomatic corps visit.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but both remained serious problems. Persons arrested or detained are not entitled to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention while detained.

ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS

The Ministry of Internal Affairs directs the criminal police, which works closely with the Ministry of National Security on matters of national safety and security. The security ministry plays a role in personnel changes in other ministries, often dictating assignments, and enforces presidential decrees. There were continued reports both the security ministry and criminal police operated with impunity in the prosecution of criminal cases and in the harassment of unregistered religious groups and persons perceived to be critical of the regime. No information was available on whether the presidential commission created in 2007 to review citizen complaints of abuse had conducted any inquiries that resulted in accountability of any members of the security forces for abuses. There was no national strategy to reform the police or security apparatus.

ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES

A warrant is not required for arrest when officials catch a suspect in the act of committing an offense. The prosecutor general must issue an authorization for arrest within 72 hours of detention. If investigating authorities do not find evidence of guilt and issue a formal indictment within 10 days of detention, they must release the detainee; however, authorities did not always comply with this requirement. If they find evidence, an investigation may last as long as two months. A provincial- or national-level prosecutor may extend the investigation period to six months. The national prosecutor general or deputy prosecutor general may extend the investigation period to a maximum of one year. Following the investigation, the prosecutor prepares a bill of indictment and transfers the case to the court. Courts generally followed these procedures, and the prosecutor promptly informs detainees of the charges against them.

The criminal procedure code provides for a bail system and surety; however, authorities did not implement these provisions. The law entitles detainees to immediate access to an attorney of their choice after a formal accusation. For a number of reasons, however, detainees may not have had prompt or regular access to legal counsel–they may have been unaware of the law; security forces may have ignored the entitlement to counsel; or the practice of seeking formal legal counsel was not a cultural norm. Authorities denied some detainees family visitation during the year. Families sometimes did not know the whereabouts of detained relatives. Incommunicado detention was a problem. The extent to which authorities failed to protect due process in the criminal justice system was unclear.

Arbitrary Arrest: The law characterizes any opposition to the government as treason. Persons convicted of treason faced life imprisonment and were ineligible for pardoning. In the past the government arrested and filed charges on economic or criminal grounds against those expressing critical or differing views instead of charging its critics with treason.

There were reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions. Authorities frequently singled out human rights activists, journalists, members of religious groups, ethnic minorities, and dissidents, as well as members of NGOs who interacted with foreigners.

According to the NGO Forum 18, Jehovah’s Witness member Bahram Hemdemov had been imprisoned since March 2015 and was serving a four-year sentence in Seydi prison for allegedly inciting religious hatred during a peaceful Jehovah’s Witness meeting.

In September, Forum 18 reported 10 Jehovah’s Witness conscientious objectors were jailed and were serving a two-year sentence in a labor camp for refusing to do their mandatory military service. The government was concerned that an alternative service system would be abused by young persons to avoid military service.

Pretrial Detention: In most cases the law permits detention of no more than two months, but in exceptional cases it may be extended to one year with approval of the prosecutor general. For minor crimes a much shorter investigation period applies. Authorities rarely exceeded legal limits for pretrial detention. In the past chronic corruption and cumbersome bureaucratic processes contributed to lengthy trial delays; however, the government’s anticorruption efforts and the establishment of the Academy of State Service to Improve State Employees’ Qualifications generally eliminated such delays. Forced confessions also played a part in the reduction of time in pretrial detention. Accused persons are entitled to challenge the court but were unlikely to do so due to fear of retribution.

Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained are not entitled to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention while detained or obtain prompt release if unlawfully detained. There were no reports of prompt release or compensation of unlawfully detained persons. Persons arrested or detained unlawfully may seek reimbursement for damages following release. Law enforcement authorities found guilty of unlawful detention or arrest may be punished by demotion or suspension for five years, correctional labor service for up to two years, or imprisonment for up to eight years.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the executive controls it, and it is subordinate to the executive. There was no legislative review of the president’s judicial appointments and dismissals. The president had sole authority to dismiss any judge. The judiciary was widely reputed to be corrupt and inefficient.

TRIAL PROCEDURES

The law provides for due process for defendants, including a public trial; the right to attend the trial; access to accusatory material; the right to call witnesses; the right to a defense attorney, including a court-appointed lawyer if the defendant cannot afford one; and the right to represent oneself in court. Authorities, however, often denied these rights. Defendants frequently did not enjoy a presumption of innocence. The government permits the public to attend most trials, but it closed some, especially those considered politically sensitive. There were few independent lawyers available to represent defendants. The criminal procedure code provides that defendants be present at their trials and consult with their attorneys in a timely manner. The law sets no restrictions on a defendant’s access to an attorney. The court at times did not allow defendants to confront or question a witness against them and denied defendants and their attorneys access to government evidence. In some cases courts refused to accept exculpatory evidence provided by defense attorneys, even if that evidence might have changed the outcome of the trial. Courts did not offer interpreters to defendants who did not speak Turkmen.

Even when the courts observed due process, the authority of the government prosecutor far exceeded that of the defense attorney, making it difficult for the defendant to receive a fair trial. Court transcripts frequently were flawed or incomplete, especially when there was a need to translate defendants’ testimony from Russian to Turkmen. Defendants could appeal a lower court’s decision and petition the president for clemency. There were credible reports that judges and prosecutors often predetermined the outcome of the trial and sentence.

POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES

Opposition groups and some international organizations stated the government held political prisoners and detainees. The precise number of these persons, which included those charged with involvement in the 2002 alleged attack on then president Niyazov, remained unknown. According to one international representative, however, the government asserted in 2014 it imprisoned 104 persons in the wake of the coup attempt and released 32. Those convicted of treason faced life imprisonment and were ineligible for amnesty, although they could receive reductions of sentence from the president. The government continued to assert that none of these persons was a political prisoner. Humanitarian and human rights organizations were not permitted to visit these prisoners.

In March, Chronicles reported Begmurat Otuzov died in February in Ovadan Depe prison. Relatives claimed Otuzov’s body weighed 99 pounds (45 kilograms) and could only be identified by a birthmark. According to the “Prove They Are Alive!” campaign, Otuzov was sentenced to a 25-year term in 2002 on unknown charges. At the time of his arrest in 2002, Otuzov was first deputy governor of Lebap Province, chairperson of the council for coordinating activities of law enforcement and military bodies of the province. He also served as deputy general prosecutor, head of the investigation department in the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Also in March, ANT reported on the death of Allamurat Allakulyev. Allakulyev was held in Ovadan Depe prison before transferring to Akdash prison in Balkan Province. No cause of death was reported. Allakulyev was a department chief in the Ministry of National Security. He was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to 18 years in prison for “grave crimes.”

CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES

The civil judiciary system was neither independent nor impartial, as the president appointed all judges. According to the law, evidence gathered during a criminal investigation can serve as the basis for a civil action in a process called “civil lawsuit in criminal justice.” In the past there were reports of bribes in the civil court system to ensure a particular outcome. In cases in which the state had interests regarding an individual citizen, it used the judiciary to impose court orders. Persons and organizations may appeal adverse decisions to regional human rights bodies, but local courts were unlikely to reverse decisions in light of successful appeals.

PROPERTY RESTITUTION

The government failed to enforce the law consistently with respect to restitution or compensation for confiscation of private property. The government continued to demolish private homes as part of an urban renewal program without adequately compensating owners. Housing offered as compensation to displaced homeowners was often smaller than housing lost because gardens and outbuildings surrounding a house were not considered “useful living space.” There were credible reports some residents received no compensation. If housing offered as compensation had more living space than the demolished home, the displaced homeowner could be forced to pay up to 4,200 manat ($1,200) per square meter (10.7 square feet) for the additional space. Although a process existed for displaced homeowners to file complaints and appeals, it was not possible to determine how the process worked in practice.

In May, Chronicles reported an 82-year-old resident of Ashgabat City lost his home in 2008 and had not received compensation. He wrote appeals to various government agencies, including the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Supreme Court, the National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights, and the president. The President’s Office forwarded his letter to the human rights Ombudsman’s Office. The Ombudsman’s Office reportedly replied, “Yes, your rights were violated, but since we do not have enough staff, we cannot provide any assistance.”

f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary or unlawful inference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, but authorities frequently did not respect these prohibitions. Authorities reportedly searched private homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization.

The law does not regulate surveillance by the state security apparatus, which regularly monitored the activities of officials, citizens, opponents, and critics of the government, and foreigners. Security officials used physical surveillance, telephone tapping, electronic eavesdropping, and informers. Authorities frequently queried the parents of students studying overseas and sometimes threatened state employees they would lose their jobs if they maintained friendships with foreigners.

The government reportedly intercepted surface mail before delivery, and letters and parcels taken to the post office had to remain unsealed for government inspection.

Persons harassed, detained, or arrested by authorities, as well as their family members, reported the government caused family members to be fired from their jobs or expelled from school. Authorities sometimes also detained and interrogated family members.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. During the year authorities neither granted the required permits for public meetings and demonstrations nor allowed unregistered organizations to hold demonstrations. According to Forum 18, in some instances police raided homes where members of religious groups were meeting and detained participants.

Unregistered religious groups were not allowed to meet, according to the country’s religion law adopted in 2016.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government restricted this right. The law requires all NGOs to register with the Ministry of Justice and all foreign assistance to be coordinated through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Unregistered NGO activity is punishable by a fine, short-term detention, and confiscation of property. The law requires all religious groups to register with the Ministry of Justice and sets out a schedule of fines for religious activity conducted by unregistered groups.

Of the estimated 120 registered NGOs, international organizations recognized only a few as independent. NGOs reported the government presented a number of administrative obstacles to NGOs that attempted to register. Authorities reportedly rejected some applications repeatedly on technical grounds. Some organizations awaiting registration found alternate ways to carry out activities, such as registering as businesses or subsidiaries of other registered groups, but others temporarily suspended or limited their activities. Although the law states there is a process for registering foreign assistance, NGOs had difficulty registering bilateral foreign assistance in practice due to the 2013 decree requiring such registration.

Sources noted a number of barriers to the formation and functioning of civil society. These included regulations that permitted the Ministry of Justice to send representatives to association events and meetings and requirements that associations notify the government about their planned activities.

In February 2017 the official government newspaper Neytral’nyy Turkmenistan published the changes and new amendments to the Law on Public Associations. Specifically, the law does not exempt religious organizations, nonprofit associations, and political parties; founders of public associations have to be Turkmen citizens; the law denies public associations the right to represent and protect the rights of other citizens, including the right to participate in elections; and public associations can be sponsored only by legal entities, including foreign nonprofit organizations.

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and penalties range from three to 10 years in prison. Rape of a victim younger than age 14 is punishable by 10 to 25 years in prison. A cultural bias against reporting or acknowledging rape made it difficult to determine the extent of the problem.

The law prohibits domestic violence, including spousal abuse, through provisions in the criminal code that address intentional infliction of injury. Penalties range from fines to 15 years in prison, based on the extent of the injury, although enforcement of the law varied. Anecdotal reports indicated domestic violence against women was common; most victims of domestic violence kept silent because they were unaware of their rights or afraid of increased violence from husbands and relatives.

Sexual Harassment: No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment, and reports suggested sexual harassment existed in the workplace.

Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.

Discrimination: By law women have full legal equality with men, including equal pay, access to loans, the ability to start and own a business, and access to government jobs. Nevertheless, women continued to experience discrimination due to cultural biases, and the law was not consistently enforced. The government restricted women from working in some dangerous and environmentally unsafe jobs. The government did not acknowledge, address, or report on discrimination against women.

Children

Birth Registration: By law a child derives citizenship from his or her parents. A child born to stateless persons possessing permanent resident status in the country is also a citizen.

Education: Education was free, compulsory, and universal through grades 10 or 11, depending on what year a child started school. There were reports that, in some rural communities, parents removed girls from school as young as age nine to work at home.

Child Abuse: In 2015 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called on the government to improve its collection of data on children’s rights, remove restrictions on civil society organizations working on children’s rights, provide for children’s access to internet and international media, create a mechanism to which children deprived of liberty in all areas can address complaints, consider creation of a centralized system for registration of adoptions, and ratify the Optional Protocol of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2017 report, 6 percent of women ages 20-24 years old were first married before they were 18.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age of consent is 16. The law forbids the production of pornographic materials or objects for distribution, as well as the advertisement or trade in text, movies or videos, graphics, or other objects of a pornographic nature, including those involving children.

International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.

Anti-Semitism

There is no organized Jewish community in the country. In 2016 it was estimated that 200 to 250 Jews resided in Ashgabat. There were no reports of anti-Semitic activity.

Trafficking in Persons

See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of state services in other areas. Despite the law, persons with disabilities encountered discrimination and denial of work, education, and access to health care and other state services because of strong cultural biases.

The government provided subsidies and pensions for persons with disabilities, but the assistance was inadequate to meet basic needs. The government considered persons with disabilities who received subsidies as being employed and therefore ineligible to compete for jobs in the government, the country’s largest employer.

According to Chronicles state doctors were unofficially instructed not to extend disability status of individuals. Reportedly, the main reason was to decrease government expenditures on social welfare benefits. Chronicles reported that those with disabilities were asked to wait until 2018 for their disability status to be extended. Individuals with disabilities had to pass through a special commission on an annual basis for their disability status to be extended, unless they were born with the disability or had passed the commission review for 10 consecutive years.

Some students with disabilities were unable to obtain education because there were no qualified teachers or accessible facilities.

Although the law requires new construction projects to include facilities that allow access by persons with disabilities, compliance was inconsistent and older buildings remained inaccessible.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law provides for equal rights and freedoms for all citizens.

The law designates Turkmen as the official language, although it also provides for the rights of speakers of minority languages. Russian remained prevalent in commerce and everyday life in the capital, even as the government continued its campaign to conduct official business solely in Turkmen. In 2017 the government required ministry employees to pass tests demonstrating knowledge of professional subjects in Turkmen, and the government dismissed employees who failed the examination. The government dedicated resources to provide Turkmen instruction for non-Turkmen speakers only in primary and secondary schools.

Non-Turkmen speakers in government noted that some avenues for promotion and job advancement were not available to them, and only a handful of non-Turkmen occupied high-level jobs in government. In some cases applicants for government jobs had to provide information about their ethnicity going back three generations.

Minority groups tried to register as NGOs to have legal status to conduct cultural events, but no minority group succeeded in registering during the year.

Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

By law sexual contact between men is illegal under Article 135 of the criminal code, with punishment of up to two years in prison and the possible imposition of an additional two- to five-year term in a labor camp. The law also stipulates sentences of up to 20 years for repeated acts of pederasty, same-sex acts with juveniles, or the spread of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections through same-sex contact. The law does not mention same-sex sexual contact between women. Enforcement of the law was selective. Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Society did not accept transgender individuals, and the government provided no legal protection or recognition of their gender identity.

There were reports of detention, threats, and other abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Social stigma prevented reporting of incidents affecting members of the LGBTI community.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

There were reports of discrimination and violence against some religious minority groups, many of which the government officially referred to as “sects,” including Jehovah’s Witnesses. The government generally perpetrated or condoned these actions.

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