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Turkmenistan11 October 2007

Government urged to pursue liberalisation after opening website to comments

Reporters Without Borders voiced “surprise and hope” today on learning that it became possible yesterday for the public to post comments on the government website, www.turkmenistan.gov.tm, which has sections in English and Russian as well as Turkmen.

“This might seem like a trivial development in democratic countries, but it is a significant step towards greater freedom of expression in what is one of world’s most isolated regimes,” the press freedom organisation said. “We must avoid raising our hopes too much, as a U-turn is always possible, but we hail this decision and we hope it will soon be followed by similar measures.”

Reporters Without Borders added that it also hoped the government would quickly comply with its request in a letter to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov a few weeks ago for an investigation into the death of Radio Free Europe correspondent Ogulsapar Muradova on 12 September 2006, while she was in prison, and for information about the state of health of Annakurban Amanklychev and Sapardurdy Khajiyev, who were convicted and imprisoned at the same time as Muradova for helping to make a French TV documentary about Turkmenistan.

The opening up of the government site to comments came during a visit by Javier Solana, the European Union high representative for foreign and security policy, accompanied by Pierre Morel, the EU special representative for Central Asia.

Turkmenistan was ruled with an iron hand by Saparmurad Niyazov until his death last December. Calling himself “Turkmenbashi” (Father of All the Turkmen), Niyazov established a personality cult and cracked down severely on opponents.

Although Turkmenistan is still one of the bottom three countries in the Reporters Without Borders worldwide press freedom index, a presidential election (won by Berdymukhammedov) in February with more than one candidate fueled hopes of liberalisation. The opening of two Internet cafés in the capital at the start of the year giving the public controlled access to the Internet was one of the first signs of change.




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