The United States has urged Turkmenistan to take more active steps to improve human rights protection and review jail sentences handed down under the nation’s previous leader.
Turkmenistan has been emerging slowly from self-imposed isolation since last year’s death of President Saparmurat Niyazov, who ruled the Central Asian state with an iron fist for 21 years.
Niyazov’s successor, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has promoted closer ties with the West and vowed to push ahead with fundamental reforms. But international human rights groups say many Niyazov-era laws are still limiting civil freedoms.
"I think we need to continue moving forward," Deputy U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Erica Barks-Ruggles told reporters in the capital Ashgabat over the weekend after meeting Turkmen officials and rights activists.
She urged the government to review prison sentences handed down by closed courts under Niyazov, who jailed many of his opponents and brooked little dissent.
"If people are going to be charged, they are to be tried and charged by an open court and if they are not, they need to be released," Barks-Ruggles said.
The State Department is concerned with state restrictions on foreign travel by Turkmen citizens, she said, also urging the government to cede control over media and make it easier to register activist organisations.
"We believe freedom of movement to be a fundamental right. It is important for international relations, business and education," she said.
"It is very important. We believe any step to limit access to information would be a step backward," Barks-Ruggles said.
The Turkmen leader has ordered the removal of satellite dishes from people’s homes in Ashgabat, saying they made the capital look ugly. Satellite TV is a key source of information for many citizens of the desert nation of 6 million.
Reuters December 10, 2007