The Turkmen authorities have vowed to reform their law enforcement agencies, but NBCentralAsia observers say the police could become an even more repressive arm of the state unless its role is properly reviewed.
On May 8, the Turkmen interior ministry announced plans to build a police academy in Ashgabat, equipped with modern computers and with the capacity to educate 800 cadets.
Turkish investors are expected to stump up 45 million US dollars to set up the academy, which will train a new generation of police who are familiar with the latest technology.
President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov has been highly critical of the interior ministry since assuming office in February, urging it move away from obsolete stereotypes and improve police work. In April, Berdymuhammedov sacked Akmamed Rahmanov as interior minister for failing to tackle corruption and for the poor profession standards among its staff, and gave the ministry three months to reform itself.
Immediately after his inauguration, the president set up a special commission to look into law enforcement, and in late March he redistributed several functions among the different agencies. The interior ministry’s powers were extended, so that it is now in charge of guarding state installations, the traffic police and the fire service.
NBCentralAsia sources based in Ashgabat say the authorities may well be serious about modernising the police. Numerous commissions have been working for several months checking up on the police, and an audit of employee skills was launched in all interior ministry divisions on May 10.
“If a complaint about an officer has been received prior to that day [May 10], the chances are slim that they will keep their job. They are taking a rigorous approach,” said a policeman in the Kopetdag district.
However, other observers say what the Turkmen leadership cares most about is its own security, so it is probably only giving the police the equipment, training and modern technology so that it can exert more control over “unreliable” citizens.
“If they are to change the way [the police force] works, the authorities should publicly acknowledge that until now its job was to harm people. They are not doing that, because they are frightened of possible turmoil and unrest should they changes course abruptly,” said Tajigul Begmedova, who heads the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, an émigré group based in Bulgaria.
NBCentralAsia expert Oleg Gant fears the Turkmen police will become more effective, but only at “dispersing protesters, carrying out night-time arrests and torturing people”.
He added, “First and foremost, the police should be taught how to be the protectors of the public, not their executioners… The police currently only serves the dictatorship.”
Aside from the new police academy, reforms are needed in other security services, including the National Security Ministry and the prosecutor’s office, said said Vyacheslav Mamedov, leader of another émigré group, the Civil Democratic Union, adding that “unless this happens, all efforts to reform the police will be to little effect”.
News Briefing Central Asia http://www.iwpr.net/apc_state=hRUbbtm335640&l=en&s=b&p=btm&o=335640