Friday, May 20, 2005

Public Libraries closed in Turkmenistan

IFLA protests closure of libraries and violations of human rights in Turkmenistan

Media release Friday, 29 April 2005

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) strongly protests the closure of libraries in Turkmenistan and its impact on freedom of access to information and freedom of expression in the country.
While the World Summit on the Information Society debates how best to safeguard access to information and freedom of expression in the information and knowledge society, the Turkmen government takes steps to keep the Turkmen population in isolation and ignorance by exercising one of the most profound onslaughts on intellectual freedom rights we have witnessed in many years, said IFLA President Kay Raseroka.
Closure of libraries
The President of Turkmenistan, Mr Saparmurat Niyazov, has ordered the closure of libraries on the grounds that "nobody reads books or go to libraries". Central and student libraries will remain open but the remainder will be closed. The President has stated that additional libraries are unnecessary as most books that Turkmen need should already be in homes, workplaces and schools. IFLA/FAIFE is monitoring this situation with alarm.
It has proved difficult to get an exact status of closure of libraries. While the National Library appears to have escaped closure, the Open Society Institute has confirmed the closure of the libraries in the Dashoguz province. Other analysts report that libraries have been out of favour with the president for a long time. The supplies of books of university libraries have not been updated for ten years and many works on history, literature and biology have been removed and destroyed.
Censorship and blocked Internet access
The closure of libraries is a recent example of violations of intellectual freedom in the country. The government makes access to the Internet as difficult as possible and blocks access to online information resources. The educational system is deeply affected, the curriculum concentrating on the study of the president's Rukhnama ideology, which denies any influence by civilisation, science or culture on the development of the Turkmen people. Human rights organisations report on widespread censorship of information and media that do not support the Rukhnama ideology. Import of foreign literature, newspapers and magazines are prohibited, while state bookshops only sell books that support the ideology. The remaining bookstores and libraries are already emptied of books - which makes closure of libraries even easier. Book burning, banning of libraries, banning of cultural institutions and ballet, opera, circus and concerts and foreign cultural associations, along with harassment and imprisonment of intellectuals and other opponents of the government, are all examples of the severe oppression experienced by the people of Turkmenistan.
Violations of human rights
The elimination of freedom of access to information and freedom of expression will deeply affect the development of the country and its people. Access to information, knowledge and lifelong learning is central to democratic development and active participation and influence in society. It is a fundamental human right as specified in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
State control over Turkmen lives keeps citizens in a state of ignorance and prevents communications with the outside world. Human rights organisations report the abuses to include violations of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. Those opposing government policy are imprisoned and subjects of torture and summary trials and their families harassed. What is happening in Turkmenistan is an abuse of unheard proportions of the rights of its people.
International protest
The International League for Human Rights, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the Memorial Human Rights Center are appealing to the UN Commission on Human Rights to address the continuing human rights violations in Turkmenistan.
IFLA declares its support for this appeal and urges the Turkmen Government to reopen libraries, restock them and provide free Internet access and support their staff in order to provide unrestricted access to information in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
American Library Association
Amnesty International
Eurasianet, Turkmenistan project
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Index on Censorship
Institute of War and Peace:
International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX)
The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights
International League of Human Rights
International Relations and Security Network (ISN)
Open Source Initiative (OSI)
Pravda Rumania
Prima News
Reporters without Borders (RSF)
Soros Foundation

Above from:

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press, 2004

The [Turkmenistan] Constitution provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, in practice, the Government restricted freedom of speech and did not permit freedom of the press. Persons expressing views critical of or different from those of the Government were arrested on false charges of committing common crimes. Criticism of the Government could also lead to personal depravation and abuse, including loss of opportunities for advancement and employment, and harassment.
In February, retired citizen Gurbandurdy Durdykuliev was forcibly detained in a psychiatric hospital after requesting permission from authorities to conduct a peaceful demonstration against President Niyazov's policies (See Section 1.c.). Durdykuliev remained incarcerated at year's end.
In the spring, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media criticized the country's "absolute lack of any freedom of expression." The President, in response, was critical of the OSCE and its interference and supposed misrepresentation of the situation in the country. In July, the Government expelled the OSCE Ambassador by not renewing her mandate, although the OSCE maintained its mission in the country.
The Government funded almost all print media. The Government censored newspapers; approval from the Office of the President's Press Secretary was required for prepublication galleys. There were 22 newspapers published in Turkmen and only 1 official newspaper in Russian; the only major daily newspaper was printed in Turkmen and Russian. The major stories were identical in both papers while advertising and some content varied. Foreign newspapers, including Russian-language publications, from abroad were banned. To regulate domestic printing and copying activities, the Government required all publishing houses and printing and copying establishments to obtain registration licenses for their equipment. The Government required the registration of all photocopiers and mandated that a single individual be responsible for all photocopying activity.
All publishing companies were government-owned, and works by authors of fiction who wrote on topics that were out of favor with the Government were not published. The government controlled Union of Writers expelled members who criticized government policy, and libraries removed their works.
On August 19, the President dismantled the Ministry of Culture and Information to create a new Ministry of Culture and Television to promote the Government's cultural agenda, and a Radio Broadcasting and National State Press service, to supervise print media bodies. Observers feared the changes would allow more intense Government control of the media.
In February, two men were arrested for allegedly smuggling books into the country. They were sentenced to 5 years' probation.
The Government completely controlled radio and local television. There were four Turkmen TV stations, but satellite channels were prevalent. Owners of satellite dishes had access to foreign television programming, and use of satellite dishes was widespread.
In July, the Government shut down the only Russian language news and radio service available and the country's main source of credible international information, Radio Mayak (Russian-owned), citing technical difficulties. A Turkmen language station quickly replaced Radio Mayak.
The Government required all foreign correspondents to apply for accreditation.
During the year, journalists were subject to arrest, harassment, intimidation, and violence, reportedly by government agents.
In January, members of the MNB forcibly abducted and beat an associate of a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) correspondent. The assailants repeatedly beat the man, threatened to kill him and demanded he cease contact with foreigners.
Journalists associated with RFE/RL were arrested. On February 28, 78-year-old Rakhim Esenov was arrested and charged with instigating social, ethnic, and religious hatred. On March 1, Ashyrguly Bayryev was arrested for smuggling novels into the country. He had previously been warned by authorities to end his relationship with RFE/RL. Former film director Khalmurad Gylychdurdyev was also detained and questioned about his work with the Radio. RFE/RL correspondents have been subject to arbitrary arrest and abuse in the past, including the 2003 abduction and torture of Saparmurat Ovezberdyev. In July, Ovezberdyev was released; he requested asylum overseas and was permitted to leave.
On April 30, Moscow-based Memorial Human Rights Center reported Radio Liberty correspondent Mukhametgeldy Berdyyew was brutally beaten by the MNB after he filed a lawsuit against President Niyazov, charging that the President had plagiarized large segments of the Rukhnama. His apartment was ransacked, as was that of his son. The incidents took place in Moscow.
In June, the MNB detained a local correspondent for 3 days and demanded he sign a confession stating that he was passing government secrets to foreign powers.
The Government prohibited the media from reporting the views of opposition political leaders and critics, and it did not allow criticism of the President. Domestic journalists and correspondents for foreign news services engaged in self censorship due to fear of government reprisal.
The government-dictated focus of the media on the achievements of President Niyazov and his love of his people continued during the year and amplified his cult of personality. Criticism of officials was only permitted if directed at those who had fallen out of favor with the President, and public criticism of officials was done almost exclusively by the President.
On numerous occasions early in the year, the Government warned its critics and foreign diplomats against speaking with visiting journalists or other foreigners wishing to discuss human rights problems.
Intellectuals and artists reported that security officials instructed them to praise the President in their work and warned them not to participate in receptions hosted by foreign diplomatic missions. The Ministry of Culture's approval was required before plays opened to the public, ensuring against antigovernment or antipresidential content. Though classical music was still taught and performed throughout the country there was little or no government support for non Turkmen music.
While Internet access was available, government-owned Turkmen Telecom was the sole Internet provider. Internet access was prohibitively expensive for most citizens and service was poor. The Government worked with NATO's Silk Highway Project to introduce Internet services to a limited number of universities and allowed the Internet Access and Training Program (IATP) to operate throughout the country. In June, the Turkmen Telecom began blocking customers' access to RFE/RL's Turkmen Service website (; access was not restored by year's end.
During the year, the Government increased its already significant restrictions on academic freedom. It did not tolerate criticism of government policy or the President in academic circles, and it discouraged research into areas it considered politically sensitive, such as comparative law, history, or ethnic relations. No master's degrees or doctorates have been granted in the country since 1998. Government permission is required to study abroad and receive acceptance of foreign degrees earned. Since 2000, universities have reduced the period of classroom instruction from 4 years to 2 years in accordance with President Niyazov's declaration that higher education should consist of 2 years of classroom education and 2 years of vocational training. Governmental restrictions on instruction in non-Turkmen languages, limited availability of Turkmen language textbooks, and ongoing downsizing of secondary schools contributed to the declining quality of education.
In February, the President criticized correspondence courses and foreign diplomas, called for cleanliness and ethics in education, and announced plans to release a book of ethics for curricula in higher education.
Since September 2002, each child was required to bring to school a personal copy of the Rukhnama. Teachers were discouraged from bringing alternative viewpoints into the classroom. The works of several writers, poets, and historians were placed on a blacklist and withdrawn from public schools and libraries because their portrayal of Turkmen history differed from that of the Government. In September, a Rukhnama Volume II was published and teachers reported having to set aside more time examining the Rukhnama rather than traditional academic subjects.

Above from : Turkmenistan
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and LaborFebruary 28, 2005
On the website


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