|Turkmenistan continued to be the most repressive post-Soviet republic
in Central Asia. The government retained total control over the media and
absolute intolerance for opposing viewpoints.
Authoritarian President Saparmurad Niyazov, who has dubbed himself "the father
of all Turkmen people," has built a cult of personality; his image adorns
everything from ubiquitous posters and statuary to the country's currency.
Niyazov's dictatorial regime has suffocated any dissident impulses in
Turkmenistan and kept a lid on freedom of expression, earning him a place
among CPJ's 10 worst Enemies of the Press in 1998. All media
are state-run, and provide little information about the country's political
and social issues; instead, they are in the service of the state, churning
out devotional propaganda for Niyazov and his regime. Security personnel
routinely confiscate foreign newspapers, tap foreign reporters' telephones,
and harass those visiting reporters who stray from their official itinerary,
which usually revolves around oil rather than politics.
Apart from the official media and sporadic Russian broadcasts, the only
alternative source of information in the Turkmen language has been Radio
Liberty, an international radio service, funded by the U.S. government, which
broadcasts in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. According to
Radio Liberty, Turkmen authorities continued to harass local journalists
who worked for the service; some have been beaten, and even forced into exile.
Mesmerized by Turkmenistan's vast oil and gas reserves, Western business
interests have largely closed their eyes to these egregious press freedom
abuses. In April, Niyazov traveled to the United States. In addition to closing
several deals with U.S. companies, he met with President Bill Clinton to
discuss the development of a trans-Caucasian pipeline. CPJ and other
international organizations wrote to President Clinton at the time, urging
him to raise the issue of human rights and media conditions in Turkmenistan
during his meeting with Niyazov.