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7/18/03 - REPRESSION IN TURKMENISTAN - 2003-07-21

The repression of civil liberties is being stepped up in Turkmenistan. One example is the Turkmenistan government’s recent decision to reinstate an exit visa regime.

Turkmenistan officials repealed the exit visa program last year. But then they decided this past March to reinstate it. This was a major step backward. The United States has repeatedly urged Turkmenistan to repeal the exit visa requirement. As U.S. officials said, the reimposition of the exit visa regime is an unwarranted and draconian measure.

In addition to requiring exit visas, the Turkmenistan government has acted to compel dual Russian-Turkmen citizens to choose citizenship of only one country. Dual citizens who did not choose by June 22nd have presumably lost their Russian citizenship and are no longer allowed to travel freely to Russia without exit visas. There are also credible reports that those who chose Russian citizenship have faced difficulty remaining in Turkmenistan.

Aaron Rhodes, director of the International Helsinki Federation, says the citizenship laws in Turkmenistan amount to discrimination against ethnic-Russians and others:

“It’s not just Russians that are being restricted and deprived of their positions in society. It’s also members of other ethnic groups. And the regime is gradually subjecting citizens to a kind of racial screening procedures so that only the ethnic Turkmens can hold different kinds of positions and enjoy different kinds of rights.”

Alexei Malashenko, a Central Asia expert with the Moscow Carnegie Center, says he is concerned about the sharp deterioration in the human rights situation in Turkmenistan:

“I cannot imagine the next development in this direction, because nowadays Turkmenistan is even much more totalitarian than it was under [the former] Soviet Union.”

Clearly, it is time for the government of President Saparmurad Nizayov to respect the human rights of all people in Turkmenistan.