171 out of 173 in the latest worldwide index
Area: 488,100 sq. km.
Head of state: Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, since February 2007
A free press does not exist in Turkmenistan, the state exerting total control over the media. Hopes raises by the election of Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in February 2007 have been frustrated. Despite numerous public statements vaunting free expression and democratisation, the internal situation has barely altered. Journalists working for foreign-based independent media are forced to do so in secret.
An announced liberalisation of Internet access has also come to nothing. Indeed, individual Web access was formally permitted in 2008 and a handful of cybercafés sprung up but use is very strictly monitored. It is not possible to go online without producing a passport and registering personal identity information. Surveillance also extends to pages visited and only a limited version of the network is on offer. Finally, the price of connection (about 30,000 Manats, 2.5 dollars, an hour when average monthly income is less than 100 dollars) and its slowness are two obstacles that consolidate the isolation of the Turkmen people, to the extent that less than 1% have Web access.
After several months of status quo, independent journalists found themselves exposed to a new campaign of intimidation. Correspondents and contributors to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty were the chief targets, particularly in the run-up to legislative elections in December 2008 when the scope of the crackdown left them with no way of getting round it.
A contributor to any unofficial media is at risk, along with their family, to the harshest reprisals if identified. Three journalists who helped a French colleague make a documentary about Turkmenistan in 2006 were sentenced to seven and six years in prison. Only two of them are still alive today, prisoners in a jail not far from Turkmenbashi in a desert region where prison conditions are particularly atrocious. More recently, the correspondents for RFE/RL have been subjected to renewed harassment. They were placed under house arrest in December 2008 and completely cut off from the outside world. In June the same year, one of them, Sazak Durdymuradov, was forcibly shut up in a psychiatric hospital and tortured to force him to give up his journalistic work. This happened at a time when the Achgabad government was opening dialogue on human rights with the European Union.
Families of these journalists also suffer reprisals including getting sacked from their jobs, their children expelled from school or university, being tailed in the street, phones tapped and getting police summonses.
Despite repeated appeals from several non-governmental organisations, no journalist has yet benefited from regular prisoner amnesties. To date, there has been no investigation into the death of journalist and human rights activist, Ogulsapar Muradova, as a result of maltreatment in prison. Turkmenistan remains sealed off from the world.