Press freedom does not exist in Turkmenistan. According to present legislation, the President for life is the officer-in-chief of all newspapers, television channels (ORT) and the two nation-wide radio stations. All the media contribute to the personality cult of the man who has himself called the Turkmenbashi (the father of the Turkmens). Institutional news comes from a single source, i.e. the President’s personal press office. The law punishes all intrusions into private life, especially that of the head of state. Libel or insult of President Niyazov is punishable by a minimum prison sentence of 5 years. Given the obstacles raised against the circulation of information, it is still very hard to obtain detailed information about the gravity of attempts to muzzle the right to inform. All private Internet sites have been banned since 2000.
A journalist jailed
On 17 October 2001 journalist Nikolay Nikolayevich Gherasimov was sentenced to five years in prison for "fraud". Correspondent for the Azerbaijan press agency, Azerpress, and collaborator for the Turkmen newspapers, Akhal Durmushi (The Life of Akhal) and Neitralny Terkmenistan (Neutral Turkmenistan) and the recently-closed union newspaper, Khalk Sesi (The Voice of the People), Nikolay Gherasimov was originally arrested for "spying for Azerbaijan". The investigation was conducted by an officer of the National Security Committee, specially named in cases considered sensitive. The journalist is being held in a special prison in the village of Akdash near the town of Krasnovodsk, where he is not allowed to talk freely with his lawyer.
No document relating to his case is available.
Pressure and obstruction
In April 2001 the first issue of the Serdar Yeli (The Voice of the Chief) was confiscated by the authorities. The publication had received a grant from the UN so it could be offered as a supplement to the newspaper, Neitralny Turkmenistan. Neitralny Turkmenistan’s editor-in-chief, G. Nuraliyeva, was used to having contacts with foreign elements in Turkmenistan in order to do articles on other countries. The authorities were said to feel that his articles lauded the merits of foreign countries, thus diminishing Turkmenistan’s prestige.
President Saparmurat Niyazov has been denounced as a predator of press freedom by Reporters Without Borders