Committee to Protect Journalists
Country Report: Turkmenistan
As of December 31, 1998

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Turkmenistan continued to be the most repressive post-Soviet republic in Central Asia. The government retained total control over the media and absolute intolerance for opposing viewpoints.

Authoritarian President Saparmurad Niyazov, who has dubbed himself "the father of all Turkmen people," has built a cult of personality; his image adorns everything from ubiquitous posters and statuary to the country's currency.

Niyazov's dictatorial regime has suffocated any dissident impulses in Turkmenistan and kept a lid on freedom of expression, earning him a place among CPJ's 10 worst Enemies of the Press in 1998. All media are state-run, and provide little information about the country's political and social issues; instead, they are in the service of the state, churning out devotional propaganda for Niyazov and his regime. Security personnel routinely confiscate foreign newspapers, tap foreign reporters' telephones, and harass those visiting reporters who stray from their official itinerary, which usually revolves around oil rather than politics.

Apart from the official media and sporadic Russian broadcasts, the only alternative source of information in the Turkmen language has been Radio Liberty, an international radio service, funded by the U.S. government, which broadcasts in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. According to Radio Liberty, Turkmen authorities continued to harass local journalists who worked for the service; some have been beaten, and even forced into exile. Mesmerized by Turkmenistan's vast oil and gas reserves, Western business interests have largely closed their eyes to these egregious press freedom abuses. In April, Niyazov traveled to the United States. In addition to closing several deals with U.S. companies, he met with President Bill Clinton to discuss the development of a trans-Caucasian pipeline. CPJ and other international organizations wrote to President Clinton at the time, urging him to raise the issue of human rights and media conditions in Turkmenistan during his meeting with Niyazov.

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