A new report by Amnesty International (AI) has strongly criticised the government of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov for failing to adequately address the ongoing issue of human rights.
"The report documents that the human rights situation in Turkmenistan remains appalling," Anna Sunder-Plassman, a researcher for the watchdog group, told IRIN on Tuesday from London.
An alleged assassination attempt on Niyazov in November 2002, known as Turkmenbashi or father of the Turkmen people, triggered one of the worst waves of repression. The report says that the clampdown has continued unabated since then, explained Sunder-Plassman.
AI is concerned about a range of human rights violations in the reclusive Central Asian state. These cover civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights violations.
The report focuses on the clampdown on religious freedom, highlighting patterns of violations and documenting cases of civil activists, political dissidents and members of religious minority groups and their families, illustrating government policy to stifle any form of dissent.
Erika Dailey, director of the Open Society Institute's Turkmenistan Project in Budapest, welcomed the report, telling IRIN that its assessment painted important details in the well-known picture of human rights violations in the country.
According to Dailey, some repressive countries, like neighbouring Uzbekistan, are notorious for their long lists of thousands of political prisoners but in Turkmenistan, the nature of the repression is qualitatively different. Government reprisals for the slightest form of dissent or even perceived dissent are so severe that the dissent is almost always pre-empted before it could even be expressed, Dailey explained.
"As a result, Amnesty's identifying only a handful of cases in Turkmenistan is every bit as sinister as its long lists in other repressive countries," she said.
Turkmenistan also used particularly appalling methods of punishment.
"For example, it remains one of the few countries in the world today to incarcerate dissidents in psychiatric hospitals and force them into internal exile, appalling practices that all of the other newly independent states have rejected as part of the Soviet past," she explained.
Meanwhile, others placed the blame for the country's abysmal human rights record clearly at the feet of Niyazov himself, who has single-handedly ruled the reclusive energy-rich state with an iron fist since it first gained independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
"Turkmenistan is, in the terminology popularised by Natan Sharanski, a quintessential ‘fear society’" Dr Aaron Rhodes, Executive Director of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), told IRIN from Vienna.
"It is a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by someone who evidently sees his own authority displacing even that of Allah," he said, adding that the isolated, increasingly impoverished population is being philosophically poisoned by a mental diet restricted to Turkmenbashi's thought-terminating clichés that make even Leninist propaganda look intelligent. Asked what needed to be done, he said he believes the regime should be publicly denounced and shunned.
"The conciliatory approach, that is, the effort to ‘keep the door for dialogue open’ etc. clearly has not led anywhere but to further suffering by the people, since it reinforces the president's authority at their expense," Rhodes stated.
According to AI, Turkmenistan's appalling human rights record stands in stark contrast with its commitment to uphold key human rights principles that it made when ratifying a series of important UN human rights treaties. It is bound to uphold these as a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
"It is now particularly crucial that the international community press for implementation of its previous resolutions and recommendations in a consistent and principled way," a statement from the group said.
[Complete copy of the Amnesty report