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Turkmenistan Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Turkmenistan

2024 World Press Freedom Index – journalism under political pressure

2024 World Press Freedom Index – journalism under political pressure

Press freedom around the world is being threatened by the very people who should be its guarantors – political authorities. This is clear from the latest annual World Press Freedom Index produced by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). This finding is based on the fact that, of the five indicators used to compile the ranking, it is the political indicator that has fallen most, registering a global average fall of 7.6 points.

News in Turkmenistan, one of the world’s most closed countries, amounts only to praise for the regime.

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Media landscape

The government maintains tight control of newspapers, radio, television and the internet. Citizens have no access to worldwide information sources on the web and risk a fine if they try to use a VPN. The major media, including TDH, and the Turkmenistan and Neytralny Turkmenistan newspapers, as well as the Altyn Asyr network, simply funnel government propaganda. Independent or opposition media, including Turkmen.news, Chronicles of Turkmenistan, Turkmen Yurt TV and Gundogar.org, operate from abroad.

Political context

After the March 2022 election of President Serdar Berdymuhkamedov, son of the previous leader, censorship and surveillance of journalists has intensified. All media are required to disseminate the government line and to present a “positive image of Turkmenistan”. Criticism of the president and of other officials is prohibited. Journalists who have dared to defy the rules have been prosecuted, imprisoned, tortured and even killed.

Legal framework

Despite a 2013 law prohibiting censorship, all publications are controlled by the government and receive special authorization before going to press. There is no public registry of “prohibited sites”, but new media are regularly blocked. When journalists publish information that authorities don’t like, officials don’t hesitate to frame them on criminal charges.

Economic context

All media, most of them created by Saparmurat Niyazov, president until his death in 2006, belong to and are financed by the government. Independent Turkmen media are based abroad and depend on foreign financing.

Sociocultural context

Cults of personality were created for former presidents Niyazov and Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. All media are required to present them in a good light, and to cover the social and cultural agenda that the government promotes. The government suppresses all criticism of its policies, leaving citizens fearful and distrustful of the press.

Safety

The few journalists remaining in the country, as well as sources for exiled journalists, work undercover, risking prosecution, prison and torture. Authorities subject their families to heavy pressure.

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