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Human Rights Watch calls on the Commission on Human Rights to adopt a strong resolution condemning human rights violations by the government of Turkmenistan, one of the most repressive in the world. The resolution should call for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Turkmenistan and call on the Turkmen government to issue invitations to U.N. thematic mechanisms.  

A few small steps taken in 2004 in the direction of improving previously appalling practices do not in any significant way meet the requirements set out in last year's Commission resolution on Turkmenistan. Saparmurat Niazov is president for life. Turkmenistan has a one-party system. The government tolerates no opposition and crushes critical thinking. Government policy isolates the citizenry from the outside world. The perverse cult of personality around President Niazov dominates public life and the education system.  
Since its independence from the Soviet Union, there has not been a single nationwide election that could be considered free or fair. The government of Turkmenistan refused to invite the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor its 2004 parliamentary elections. Other observers also stayed away because they were certain the election would be an empty exercise.  
Turkmen opposition figures were either driven into exile in the early 1990s or imprisoned. Most of those jailed were later released, but do not dare speak out again. The open expression of alternative points of view is practically impossible and can even result in imprisonment or forced institutionalization in a psychiatric hospital. No independent human rights organizations can operate in Turkmenistan. There is no free media: the government subjects all newspaper outlets to prepublication censorship, has banned most Russian-language media, and has introduced measures to limit access to the Internet.  
In the name of building the Turkmen nation, the government has also banned opera, ballet, circus, the philharmonic orchestra, and non-Turkmen cultural associations. It has closed the Academy of Sciences. Despite the 2004 registration of four minority religious groups, religious persecution persists. Followers of faiths other than Sunni Islam and Russian orthodoxy have faced criminal prosecution, police beatings, deportation, and in some cases demolition of their houses of worship.  
Despite an official removal of the exit-visa regime, the government continues to prevent some people from leaving the country.  
Continuing Consequences of the 2002 Assassination Attempt. On November 25, 2002, unknown gunmen opened fire on President Niazov's motorcade, injuring several people. The president was unharmed. Government officials claim that sixty-seven people were arrested, though many believe the figure to be much higher. Many are relatives of figures in the exiled political opposition. Reliable sources report that some suffered torture and ill-treatment in custody. Relatives at liberty continue to be threatened with arrest and subjected to relentless harassment and surveillance.  
Former foreign minister Boris Shikhmuradov and other former politicians were arrested on December 26, 2002 in relation to the assassination attempt. Shikhmuradov was among the fifty-eight people confirmed to have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from five years to life imprisonment. There is reason to fear that they and their relatives were subjected to torture and ill treatment as well as intimidation in order to compel confessions and testimony. Turkmen authorities have tortured dissidents and sentenced them to long prison terms in the past. In fact, throughout the past decade the rule of law has been thoroughly degraded in Turkmenistan. The judiciary, like all other government agencies, is entirely dependent on the president. The Council of Ministers retains the exclusive right to issue arrest warrants.  
The fate of those convicted for the 2002 attack on Niazov remains unknown. Visits by relatives are forbidden, making it impossible to confirm or deny reports that some of these prisoners may be dead or seriously ill. International observers have not been granted access to these prisoners.  
Failure to Cooperate with the United Nations. To date, the Turkmen government has not cooperated fully with the U.N. human rights system, although it has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and other major human rights treaties. It has not filed a single report to U.N. treaty bodies.  
The Commission should adopt a resolution that:  

  • Establishes a mandate of a Special Rapporteur on Turkmenistan who should report to the General Assembly and to the Commission at its 62nd session.  
  • Censures the abuses perpetrated by the Turkmen government.

The resolution should also call for the Turkmen government to:  

  • Ensure fair and open trials for all those charged in relation to the November 25 assassination attempt, and the guarantee of due process to all those detained; retry those already convicted in full compliance with international standards and release them prior to trial.  
  • Allow international monitoring of all trials in order to promote transparency.  
  • Grant international monitors access to prisoners, including those charged in relation to the November 25 events.  
  • Grant all prisoners access to visits by family members, specifically with a view to allowing relatives to ascertain that those convicted remain alive and in good health.  
  • Cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur on Turkmenistan and with all thematic procedures of the Commission.

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