NBCentralAsia observers have voiced concern that the security service is monitoring the few remaining non-government organisations, NGOs, even more closely than before. They fear this may herald tighter government control over civil society activists.
The Turkmenistan Initiative for Human Rights, an émigré group, reported on May 2 that the Ministry for National Security, MNB, had closed several information and resource centres in the central Ahal region.
The resource centres were operating under a civil society support programme run by Counterpart Turkmenistan, an NGO that provides internet access, computers and other equipment to local activists and members of the public, as well as offering advice to other non-government groups.
During the presidential election in February, many resource centres were closed under the pretext of “maintaining calm”, but they have never reopened due to heightened scrutiny by the MNB.
NBCentralAsia sources based in Turkmenistan say civil activists in Dashoguz in the north of the country and the western port of Turkmenbashi are also finding life difficult, as they have been called in repeatedly by the security services and given a talking- to to “prevent the disturbance of public order” – a phrase that can be taken to mean any civil activity.
An NBCentralAsia expert in Ashgabat said the arrival of Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov as Turkmen president had been expected to bring a relaxation of controls over the NGO sector, but that has not happened.
Instead, the number of NGOs continues to fall. The justice ministry has not issued operating licences to new associations since 2004, and the ones that are still functioning have to work in tough conditions.
“It is ridiculous to suggest [NGOs] can operate unimpeded activity, since all public organisations are overseen [by the MNB],” he said.
Vyacheslav Mamedov, leader of the Civil Democratic Union of Turkmenistan, based abroad, believes the authorities will continue to be tough on NGOs because they see them as a threat to the regime.
“The process of shutting down [resource centres and NGOs] will continue,” said Mamedov. “Or alternatively, unbearable working conditions will be created for them.”
Other commentators argue that the security service will continue watching NGOs like a hawk, but that the controls may be relaxed in some cases if the project is deemed suitable.
According to Tajigul Begmedova, head of the Turkmen Helsinki Fund, an émigré group based in Bulgaria, the authorities will support groups working with women and veterans, which are not concerned with human rights, election monitoring, the media or environmental matters. But they will still watch these groups to ensure they are reliable.
“Sometimes the authorities prefer to restrict the work of NGOs within certain limits to control it and sniff out potentially dangerous and disloyal citizens,” she said.
(News Briefing Central Asia draws comment and analysis from a broad range of political observers across the region.) http://www.iwpr.net/?apc_state=hrubbtm335471&l=en&s=b&p=btm&o=335472