Although the 2016 constitution declares Turkmenistan to be a secular democracy, the country has an authoritarian government controlled by the president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, and his inner circle. Berdimuhamedov has been president since 2006 and remained president following a February 2017 presidential election. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights determined that the election involved limited choice between competing political alternatives. In May the country conducted interim parliamentary elections that were not subject to international observation, to replace two parliamentary members. The 2016 constitution extended the presidential term in office from five to seven years, cancelled a maximum age limit of 70 years, and failed to reintroduce earlier term limits.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
There most significant human rights issues included torture; arbitrary arrest and detention; involuntary confinement; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, political prisoners; arbitrary interference with privacy, home, and correspondence; restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, assembly, religion, and movement; restrictions on access to the internet; and citizens’ inability to choose their government through free and fair elections that include real political alternatives; and endemic corruption. There was also trafficking in persons, including use of government-compelled forced labor during the annual cotton harvest; restrictions on the free association of workers; and forced destruction of domiciles of Ashgabat residents. Same-sex sexual conduct between men remained illegal.
Officials in the security services and elsewhere in the government acted with impunity. There were no reported prosecutions of government officials for human rights abuses.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year, nor were there reports of killings by narcotics traffickers or similar criminal groups.
There were no reports of new politically motivated disappearances during the year. A nongovernmental organization (NGO)-led advocacy campaign called “Prove They Are Alive!” maintained a list of disappeared prisoners; there were 112 on the list as of November, although opposition media reported two of the prisoners died during the year. The list includes political dissident Gulgeldy Annaniyazov, former minister of foreign affairs Boris Shikhmuradov, and many others accused of participation in an alleged 2002 assassination attempt on former president Saparmurat Niyazov. According to the NGO Forum 18, dozens of Muslims from Turkmenabat have been imprisoned since 2013 for participating in a study group about Islam. Relatives of most of the men have not been able to establish whether they are still alive. Forum 18 reported that the body of one of these men, Aziz Gafurov, was returned to his family in June, covered in bruises.
According to the opposition website Gundogar.org, Akmurad Rejepov died in prison on August 10. Akmurad Rejepov served as the head of presidential security from 1985 until 2007 for former president Niyazov. Rejepov was imprisoned for 17 years, and his son Nurmurat was imprisoned for 13 years. Rejepov was charged with corruption and abuse of his official position.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the constitution and law prohibit mistreatment, Amnesty International (AI)’s 2016-2017 annual report indicated security officials tortured or mistreated criminal suspects and prisoners. Prison officers reportedly beat prisoners and forced them to stand outside for long periods of time in high temperatures. AI also reported that prison officers practiced extortion.
The law requires the government to protect the health and lives of members of the armed forces. Members of the military reported, however, that hazing of conscripts continued and involved violations of human dignity, including brutality. During the year there were no reports of hazing deaths among conscripts. Members of the military reported officers responded to cases of abuse, inspected conscripts for signs of mistreatment, and punished abusers in some cases. Hazing of conscripts reportedly was more prevalent outside of Ashgabat.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were reportedly unsanitary, overcrowded, harsh, and in some cases life threatening; however, facilities visited by representatives of the diplomatic corps in Bayram Ali juvenile detention center and Dashoguz women’s prison, appeared more satisfactory. Some facilities, such as minimum security camp LBK-12 in Lebap Province, were in areas where inmates reportedly experienced extremely harsh climate conditions, with excessive heat in summer and frigid temperatures in winter. There were reports of physical abuse of prisoners by prison officials and other prisoners.
Physical Conditions: Official data on the average sentence or numbers of prisoners, including incarcerated juveniles, were not available. Persons in pretrial detention facilities were predominantly those sentenced but not transferred to penal colonies. The six pretrial detention facilities reportedly were designed for 1,120 persons, but likely held many times that number.
According to Turkmenistan’s Independent Lawyers Association and the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, there were 22 prisons and 30,452 prisoners in Turkmenistan as of September. The BLD-4 pretrial detention facility in Balkan Province, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, reportedly held adults and juveniles together and included persons in pretrial detention, on remand, and those already convicted but not transferred to penal colonies.
Diseases, particularly tuberculosis (TB), were reportedly widespread in prisons. There were reports that due to overcrowding, officials held inmates diagnosed with TB and skin diseases with healthy detainees, contributing to the spread of disease. Nonetheless, a representative of an international organization reported that at least in and around Ashgabat, authorities held inmates with TB separately from healthy detainees. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported in the past that inmates with TB were held separately from healthy inmates at the Dashoguz women’s prison. There continued to be concerns the government did not adequately test and treat prisoners with TB before they returned to the general population, despite government claims to the contrary. The opposition website, Alternative News of Turkmenistan (ANT) reported prison authorities were ordered to report a 65 percent decrease in TB infection and declared infected prisoners healthy. In the past, the government reported it transferred male prisoners diagnosed with TB to a special Ministry of Internal Affairs hospital in Mary Province for treatment and arranged for continuing treatment for released prisoners at their residences. There were also reports of high rates of cardiovascular disease.
In April ANT reported that the warden of Ovadan Depe prison, Sary Komekov, banned all types of medications in parcels, alleging their relatives were sending opioid drugs. Komekov argued that the medical unit of the prison could provide medications to prisoners; however, ANT reported that the medical unit provided only basic medication such as pain relievers. ANT alleged that political dissidents and those convicted of religious crimes were not allowed to receive parcels. According to ANT, one prisoner died in 2016 in Ovadan Depe prison as a result of prison officials denying access to necessary medical treatment. ANT also claimed that for 100 manat ($28) a prisoner could buy a 10-day supply of vitamins. ANT reported that a prisoner could pay a bribe of 1,750 manat ($500) in order to get a referral to a better prisoner hospital in Mary.
ANT reported that TB and breast and uterine cancers were common in Dashoguz women’s prison. Former inmates of the prison reported one to two women died each month from breast or uterine cancer.
In July Chronicles reported the nutritional value of prison food was generally poor, and some prisoners suffered from malnutrition. Prisoners depended on relatives to supplement inadequate prison food. Some family members and inmates stated prison officials occasionally confiscated food parcels. It was not possible to determine whether potable water was available.
In 2016 the government reported to the UN Committee against Torture that many prisoners worked in factories that produce clothing, wooden items, bedding, badges, uniforms, bricks, and toilet paper.
Administration: According to relatives, prison authorities denied food, medical, and other supplies brought by family members to some prisoners; sometimes denied family members’ access to prisoners; and did not make religious facilities available to all prisoners. The government allowed foreign diplomats to access nationals of their countries in detention facing criminal charges. The government did not provide information on whether prisoners were permitted religious observance, or on systematic monitoring of prison and detention center conditions. The government did not confirm whether it established a prison ombudsman.
Independent Monitoring: During the year government officials allowed members of the diplomatic corps to visit the Bayram Ali juvenile detention center in Mary Province. The government allowed members of the diplomatic corps to visit the women’s prison in Dashoguz in 2015. In both cases, it was not clear whether the conditions of the prison were authentic. Outside of individual consular visits, there were no other prison visits by the diplomatic community. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported minimal prison access in 2012-2013, but stated the access granted did not meet its basic visit access standards. In 2016 the diplomatic community requested, but was not granted access to the adult prison near Ovadan Depe.
Improvements: In June ANT reported that the government enlarged several prison facilities including MR-K/16 in Bairamali and other prisons in Seydi, Tejen, and Turkmenabat. According to prisoners’ relatives who visited Bairamali prison in March-April, prisoners were used in the construction of new buildings, especially during the final stages of construction. Relatives stated that the new facilities could accommodate up to 1,000 prisoners at each facility.
There were reports that treatment of prisoners and food quality improved in correctional facilities in Ahal, Lebap, and Mary provinces.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but both remained serious problems. Persons arrested or detained are not entitled to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention while detained or obtain prompt release if unlawfully detained.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The Ministry of Internal Affairs directs the criminal police, which works closely with the Ministry of National Security on matters of national safety and security. The security ministry plays a role in personnel changes in other ministries, often dictating assignments, and enforces presidential decrees. There were continued reports both the security ministry and criminal police operated with impunity in the prosecution of criminal cases and in the harassment of unregistered religious groups and persons perceived to be critical of the regime. No information was available on whether the presidential commission created in 2007 to review citizen complaints of abuse had conducted any inquiries that resulted in accountability of any members of the security forces for abuses. There was no national strategy to reform the police or security apparatus.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
A warrant is not required for arrest when officials catch a suspect in the act of committing an offense. The prosecutor general must issue an authorization for arrest within 72 hours of detention. If investigating authorities do not find evidence of guilt and issue a formal indictment within 10 days of detention, they must release the detainee; however, authorities did not always comply with this requirement. If they find evidence, an investigation may last as long as two months. A provincial- or national-level prosecutor may extend the investigation period to six months. The national prosecutor general or deputy prosecutor general may extend the investigation period to a maximum of one year. Following the investigation, the prosecutor prepares a bill of indictment and transfers the case to the court. Courts generally followed these procedures, and the prosecutor promptly informs detainees of the charges against them.
The criminal procedure code provides for a bail system and surety; however, authorities did not implement these provisions. The law entitles detainees to immediate access to an attorney of their choice after a formal accusation. For a number of reasons, however, detainees may not have had prompt or regular access to legal counsel–they may have been unaware of the law; security forces may have ignored the entitlement to counsel; or the practice of seeking formal legal counsel was not a cultural norm. Authorities denied some detainees visits by family members during the year. Families sometimes did not know the whereabouts of detained relatives. Incommunicado detention was a problem. The extent to which authorities failed to protect due process in the criminal justice system was unclear.
Arbitrary Arrest: The law characterizes any opposition to the government as treason. Persons convicted of treason faced life imprisonment and were ineligible for pardoning. In the past, the government arrested and filed charges on economic or criminal grounds against those expressing critical or differing views instead of charging its critics with treason.
There were reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions. Authorities frequently singled out human rights activists, journalists, members of religious groups, ethnic minorities, and dissidents, as well as members of NGOs who interacted with foreigners.
In October Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported the arrest of an education official in Dashoguz Province. The government charged the official with organizing a rebellion against the government over an increase in kindergarten fees. Prior to his arrest, an unidentified group of women approached the official with their complaints about the kindergarten fee increase. The official directed the women to complain to the provincial governor’s office. Following his arrest, the individual’s wife, who worked in a local kindergarten, was dismissed from her job.
According to Forum 18, Jehovah’s Witness member Bahram Hemdemov has been imprisoned since March 2015 and was serving a four-year sentence in Seydi prison for allegedly inciting religious hatred during a peaceful Jehovah’s Witness meeting. Another Jehovah’s Witness, Mansur Masharipov, was freed as part of a general amnesty in May. Masharipov had been serving a one-year sentence for allegedly assaulting a police officer following his 2014 detention after police raided his home and confiscated religious material.
Mansur Mingelov, an activist for the rights of Baloch minorities, has remained in prison since his arrest in 2012. According to AI reports, he conducted a hunger strike in 2014 in an attempt to have his case reviewed. The authorities reportedly reviewed his case during the year, but did not release him. No updated information was available.
Pretrial Detention: In most cases, the law permits detention of no more than two months, but in exceptional cases, it may be extended to one year with approval of the prosecutor general. For minor crimes, a much shorter investigation period applies. Consistent with recent trends, authorities rarely exceeded legal limits for pretrial detention. In the past chronic corruption and cumbersome bureaucratic processes contributed to lengthy trial delays; however, the government’s anticorruption efforts and the establishment of the Academy of State Service to Improve State Employees’ Qualifications generally eliminated such delays. Forced confessions also played a part in the reduction of time in pretrial detention. Accused persons are entitled to challenge the court, but were unlikely to do so for fear of retribution.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Persons arrested or detained are not entitled to challenge the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention while detained or obtain prompt release if unlawfully detained. There were no reports of prompt release or compensation of unlawfully detained persons. According to Turkmenistan’s Criminal Code, law enforcement authorities may detain a person for 72 hours without charge. Persons arrested or detained unlawfully, however, may seek reimbursement for damages following release. Law enforcement authorities found guilty of unlawful detention or arrest may be punished by demotion or suspension for five years, correctional labor service for up to two years, or imprisonment for up to eight years.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the law provides for an independent judiciary, the judiciary was controlled by and subordinate to the executive. There was no legislative review of the president’s judicial appointments and dismissals. The president had sole authority to dismiss any judge. The judiciary was widely reputed to be corrupt and inefficient.
The law provides for due process for defendants, including a public trial; the right to attend the trial; access to accusatory material; the right to call witnesses; the right to a defense attorney, including a court-appointed lawyer if the defendant cannot afford one; and the right to represent oneself in court. Authorities, however, often denied these rights. Defendants frequently did not enjoy a presumption of innocence. The government permits the public to attend most trials, but it closed some, especially those considered politically sensitive. There were few independent lawyers available to represent defendants. The criminal procedure code provides that defendants be present at their trials and consult with their attorneys in a timely manner. The law sets no restrictions on a defendant’s access to an attorney. The court at times did not allow defendants to confront or question a witness against them and denied defendants and their attorneys access to government evidence. In some cases courts refused to accept exculpatory evidence provided by defense attorneys, even if that evidence might have changed the outcome of the trial. Courts did not offer interpreters to defendants who did not speak Turkmen.
Even when the courts observed due process, the authority of the government prosecutor far exceeded that of the defense attorney, making it difficult for the defendant to receive a fair trial. Court transcripts frequently were flawed or incomplete, especially when there was a need to translate defendants’ testimony from Russian to Turkmen. Defendants could appeal a lower court’s decision and petition the president for clemency. There were credible reports that judges and prosecutors often predetermined the outcome of the trial and sentence.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
Opposition groups and some international organizations stated the government held political prisoners and detainees. The precise number of these persons, which included those charged with involvement in the 2002 alleged attack on then-president Niyazov, remained unknown. According to one international representative, however, the government asserted in 2014 it imprisoned 104 persons in the wake of the coup attempt and released 32. In 2016 external news outlets reported two of these prisoners died. No updated information was available. Those convicted of treason faced life imprisonment and were ineligible for amnesty, although they could receive reductions of sentence from the president. The government continued to assert that none of these persons were political prisoners.
In January ANT reported that former deputy chief of Turkmenistan’s Committee for National Security, Tirkish Tyrmyev, died in prison. Tyrmyev was arrested in April 2002 for abuse of power. He was imprisoned for 10 years and in 2012, 10 days prior to the end of his sentence, he was charged with “a fight with a guard” and was sentenced to an additional seven years and 11 months.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The civil judiciary system was neither independent nor impartial, as the president appointed all judges. According to the law, evidence gathered during a criminal investigation can serve as the basis for a civil action in a process called “civil lawsuit in criminal justice.” In the past, there were reports of bribes in the civil court system to ensure a particular outcome. In cases in which the state had interests regarding an individual citizen, it used the judiciary to impose court orders. In 2016 ANT reported that the most commonly enforced court orders were eviction notices. Persons and organizations may appeal adverse decisions to regional human rights bodies, but local courts were unlikely to reverse decisions in light of successful appeals.
The government failed to enforce the law consistently with respect to restitution or compensation for confiscation of private property. The government continued to demolish private homes as part of an urban renewal program without adequately compensating owners. Housing offered as compensation to displaced homeowners was often smaller than housing lost, because gardens and outbuildings surrounding a house were not considered “useful living space.” There were credible reports some residents received no compensation. If housing offered as compensation had more living space than the demolished home, the displaced homeowner could be forced to pay up to 4,200 manat ($1,200) per square meter (10.7 square feet) for the additional space. Although a process existed for displaced homeowners to file complaints and appeals, it was not possible to determine how the process worked in practice.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but authorities frequently did not respect these prohibitions. Authorities reportedly searched private homes without judicial or other appropriate authorization.
The law does not regulate surveillance by the state security apparatus, which regularly monitored the activities of officials, citizens, opponents and critics of the government, and foreigners. Security officials used physical surveillance, telephone tapping, electronic eavesdropping, and informers. Authorities frequently queried the parents of students studying overseas and sometimes threatened state employees they would lose their jobs if they maintained friendships with foreigners.
The government reportedly intercepted surface mail before delivery, and letters and parcels taken to the post office had to remain unsealed for government inspection.
Persons harassed, detained, or arrested by authorities, as well as their family members, reported the government caused family members to be fired from their jobs or expelled from school. Authorities sometimes also detained and interrogated family members.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, but the government did not respect these rights.
Freedom of Expression: The law requires political parties to allow representatives of the Central Election Committee and Ministry of Justice to monitor their meetings. The government also warned critics against speaking with visiting journalists or other foreigners about human rights problems.
During the year the government publicized new laws that stipulate civil servants must refrain from public statements on the activities of the government and its leaders if such statements are not part of their official duties. The laws also state that civil servants must refrain from making public statements regarding the value of goods, works, and services, including the government’s budget, borrowing, or debt.
In October 2016 state police services threatened to harm animal rights activist Galina Kucherenko for her online postings protesting a government campaign to destroy stray dogs and cats found on the city streets. Authorities continued their threats during the year, as Kucherenko continued to be harassed by state police services and was threatened with a 25-year prison sentence once the September 17-27 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games (AIMAG) concluded. Unidentified men visited Kucherenko November 15, and demanded she sign a police summons allegedly related to a complaint filed against her by a fellow activist. On December 7, unidentified men and police broke Kucherenko’s door, entered her apartment, and detained her and her daughter, Valeria. Valeria was fined and released on the same day; Galina was released after 15 days of arbitrary detention. Kucherenko’s home internet and mobile phone were blocked by authorities.
Press and Media Freedom: The government financed and controlled the publication of books and almost all other print media and online newspapers/journals. Quasi-independent weekly newspaper Rysgal continued to operate, although its stories were largely reprints from state media outlets or reflected the views of the state news agency. The government maintained restrictions on the importation of foreign newspapers except for the private, but government-sanctioned, Turkish newspaper Zaman Turkmenistan, which reflected the views of the official state newspapers, and Atavatan-Turkmenistan, a Turkish journal.
The government controlled radio and domestic television, but satellite dishes providing access to foreign television programming were widespread throughout the country. International organizations and news outlets highlighted the forced removal of some satellite dishes by the government and replacement with telecommunications packages, such as cable, that limited access to certain channels and kinds of information. Citizens also received international radio programs through satellite access.
The government continued its ban on subscriptions to foreign periodicals by nongovernmental entities, although copies of nonpolitical periodicals appeared occasionally in the bazaars. The government maintained a subscription service to Russian-language outlets for government workers, although these publications were not available for public use.
There was no independent oversight of media accreditation, no defined criteria for allocating press cards, no assured provision for receiving accreditation when space was available, and no protection against the withdrawal of accreditation for political reasons. The government required all foreign correspondents to apply for accreditation. It granted visas to journalists from outside the country only to cover specific events, such as international conferences and summit meetings, where it could monitor their activities. The government limited the issuance of visas to journalists covering the AIMAG. Journalists from the BBC and The Guardian scheduled to cover the AIMAG reported that their accreditations were issued and then revoked.
In August the government stated that 22 foreign journalists were accredited in the country. Six of them conducted reporting from foreign countries.
Violence and Harassment: The government subjected journalists critical of its official policy to surveillance and harassment. There were reports law enforcement officials harassed and monitored citizen journalists who worked for foreign media outlets, including by monitoring their telephone conversations and restricting their travel abroad. RFE/RL stringer Saparmamed Nepeskuliyev was arrested, charged, and convicted for possession of narcotics and sentenced to three years’ incarceration in August 2015. He remained imprisoned at year’s end. Human Rights Watch disputed the legal basis of the charge, stating it was politically motivated. Visiting foreign journalists reported harassment and denial of freedom of movement when they attempted to report from the country.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law prohibits censorship and provides for freedom to gather and disseminate information, but authorities did not implement the law. The government continued to censor newspapers and prohibit reporting of opposition political views or any criticism of the president. Domestic journalists and foreign news correspondents often engaged in self-censorship due to fear of government reprisal.
To regulate domestic printing and copying activities, the government required all publishing houses, printing, and photocopying establishments to register their equipment. The government did not allow the publication of works on topics that were out of favor with the government, including some works of fiction. The government must approve the importation, publishing, and dissemination of religious literature.
The government continued to monitor citizens’ email and internet activity. Reports indicated the Ministry of National Security controlled the main internet access gateway and that several servers belonging to internet protocol addresses registered to the Ministry of Communications operated software that allowed the government to record Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) conversations, turn on computer cameras and microphones, and log keystrokes. The authorities blocked access to websites they considered sensitive, including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as virtual private network connections, including those of diplomatic missions and international businesses, and severely restricted internet access to other websites. Skype, an encrypted VOIP service, was blocked throughout the year.
In 2016 the government reported that 12 percent of the population used the internet. The percentage of the population that accessed the internet via cell phones reportedly was much higher, although official estimates were not available. Much of the population received its news from Russian- and Turkish-language cable and satellite television feeds.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government did not tolerate criticism of government policy or the president in academic circles, and curtailed research in areas it considered politically sensitive, such as comparative law, history, ethnic relations, and theology. In 2015 a presidential decree established procedures for the government to certify foreign diplomas. To have foreign diplomas formally recognized, graduates must complete an application, submit information on their family history for three generations, and pass regular Turkmen university graduation exams related to their majors. Due to this extensive process, many graduates of foreign universities reported they were unable to certify their diplomas with authorities at the Ministry of Education, making them ineligible for employment at state agencies. Some graduates reported ministry officials demanded bribes to allow certification of their diplomas. The government strictly controlled the production of plays and performances in state theaters, and these were severely limited. Authorities also strictly controlled film screenings and limited viewings to approved films dubbed or subtitled in Turkmen and Russian, unless sponsored by a foreign embassy.
The Ministry of Culture censored and monitored all public exhibitions, including music, art, and cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government restricted this right. During the year authorities neither granted the required permits for public meetings and demonstrations nor allowed unregistered organizations to hold demonstrations. According to Forum 18, in some instances the police raided homes where members of religious groups were meeting and detained participants.
Unregistered religious groups were not allowed to meet, according to the country’s religion law adopted in April 2016. In October Forum 18 reported that Jehovah’s Witnesses and Protestant groups continued to face harassment, torture, raids, fines, seizure of literature, and house searches.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
Although the constitution and law provide for freedom of association, the government restricted this right. The law requires all NGOs to register with the Ministry of Justice and all foreign assistance to be coordinated through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Unregistered NGO activity is punishable by a fine, short-term detention, and confiscation of property. The law requires all religious groups to register with the Ministry of Justice and sets out a schedule of fines for religious activity conducted by unregistered groups.
Of the estimated 119 registered NGOs, international organizations recognized only a few as independent. NGOs reported the government presented a number of administrative obstacles to NGOs that attempted to register. Authorities reportedly rejected some applications repeatedly on technical grounds. Some organizations awaiting registration found alternate ways to carry out activities, such as registering as businesses or subsidiaries of other registered groups, but others temporarily suspended or limited their activities. Although the law states there is a process for registering foreign assistance, NGOs had difficulty registering bilateral foreign assistance in practice due to the 2013 decree requiring such registration.
Sources noted a number of barriers to the formation and functioning of civil society. These included regulations that permitted the Ministry of Justice to send representatives to association events and meetings, and requirements that associations notify the government about their planned activities.
In February the official government newspaper Neytral’nyy Turkmenistan published the changes and new amendments to the Law on Public Associations. Specifically, the law does not exempt religious organizations, nonprofit associations, and political parties; founders of public associations have to be Turkmen citizens; the law denies public associations the right to represent and protect the rights of other citizens, including the right to participate in elections; and public associations can only be sponsored by legal entities, including foreign nonprofit organizations.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and law do not provide for full freedom of movement.
In-Country Movement: The law requires internal passports and residency permits. Persons residing or working without residency permits face forcible removal to their place of registration. A requirement for a border permit remained in effect for all foreigners wishing to travel to border areas.
The law does not permit dual citizenship. In 2015 all dual citizens were obliged to renounce one of their citizenships if they wanted to travel outside the country. The process of renouncing Turkmen citizenship is not transparent and can take up to a year.
RFE/RL posted an article about additional restrictions taken by Ashgabat city authorities, which significantly reduced the number of cars in the capital. According to RFE/RL, all drivers without Ashgabat license plates approaching the city were required to bypass the city if they were traveling further or to park their cars and continue the journey to the city on taxi or public transport.
Foreign Travel: The government continued to bar certain citizens from departing under its Law on Migration. The law states that citizens of Turkmenistan may be denied exit from Turkmenistan “if their exit contravenes the interests of national security of Turkmenistan.” “Prove They Are Alive!” reported that any of the country’s law enforcement bodies can initiate a travel ban on a citizen and that travelers in various categories may be denied departure, including: young men obliged to military service; persons facing criminal and civil charges or under probationary sentence; relatives of persons reportedly convicted and imprisoned for the 2002 alleged assassination attempt; as well as journalists, civil society activists, and their family members. Although the government denied maintaining a “black list” of local persons not permitted to travel abroad, ANT reported that such a list existed and contained approximately 17,000 names. According to various sources, in most cases, travelers who were stopped were not given an explanation for denial of departure and were only informed of the ban upon attempting foreign travel from the airport. Some individuals were able to obtain documentation from the State Migration Service (SMS) later stating they were not allowed to depart the country, but without justification for the ban. In some cases, authorities initially denied travelers departure from the country, but after several days, or in some cases weeks, the travelers were allowed to depart without explanation for the delay.
The government routinely prevented citizens from travelling abroad for programs sponsored by foreign governments, unless the program was specifically approved in advance by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Migration officials often stopped “nonapproved” travelers at the airport and prevented them from leaving. In some cases, however, those traveling for approved programs were also not allowed to depart or were delayed.
The Law on Migration provides for restrictions on travel by citizens who had access to state secrets, presented falsified personal information, committed a serious crime, were under surveillance, might become victims of trafficking, previously violated the law of the destination country, or whose travel contradicts the interests of national security. In some cases, the law provides for time limits on the travel ban as well as fines for its infraction. Former public-sector employees who had access to state secrets were prevented from traveling abroad for five years after terminating their employment with the government. The law allows authorities to forbid recipients of presidential amnesties from traveling abroad for a period of up to two years. The law also allows the government to impose limitations on obtaining education in specific professions and specialties.
RFE/RL reported that in March, authorities questioned citizens returning from Turkey and Ukraine. Citizens returning from these countries were forced to sign a written statement abstaining from visiting “dangerous countries.” RFE/RL claimed that authorities considered Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, and Ukraine as dangerous countries. In March the SMS reduced the validity of passports from 10 years to five years. According to local observers, the move forced citizens abroad to “check-in” with the SMS every five years, and enabled the SMS to monitor and control the movement of citizens who stayed abroad.
In its 2016-2017 annual report, AI stated that arbitrary restrictions on the right to travel abroad remained in practice. According to AI, the government targeted, among others, relatives of those accused of involvement in the alleged attempt to assassinate President Niyazov in 2002, relatives of opposition figures residing abroad, civil society activists, students, journalists, and former migrant workers.
Exile: The law provides for internal exile, requiring persons to reside in a certain area for a fixed term of two to five years.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
While formally there is a system for granting refugee status, it was inactive. In 2009 the government assumed responsibility from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for making refugee status determinations but has not granted refugee status since. UNHCR had observer status at government-run refugee-status determination hearings. Persons determined by the government not to be refugees obtained mandate refugee status from UNHCR. Mandate refugees were required to renew UNHCR certificates with the government annually. In 2015 UNHCR reported that 27 UNHCR mandate refugees resided in the country, but it provided no updates for 2016 or 2017. The country did not grant citizenship to any UNHCR mandate refugees during the year.
In 2014 the government amended the Law on Migration to permit refugees to receive, at no charge, biometric identification and travel documents compliant with the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization.
In June the government published an updated law on refugees. The law includes the creation of temporary accommodation facilities located along the border of mass refugee inflow. The law also provides for the temporary protection of refugees arriving in an emergency. The previous law stated that the SMS review refugee status applications within three months. The new law states that the SMS can extend its review up to a year.
Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country has not granted asylum since 2005.
The country had a significant population of former Soviet Union citizens who became stateless due to the breakup of the Soviet Union. In 2015 UNHCR estimated there were 7,111 stateless persons or persons of underdetermined nationality in the country. The number of stateless persons who were also refugees was not available. Citizenship is derived primarily from one’s parents. The requirement that applicants for citizenship prove they are not citizens of another country impeded efforts to establish the nationality of undocumented persons. According to UNHCR, however, in the past 10 years, the government granted citizenship to an estimated 18,000 stateless persons. In 2016 the government granted citizenship to 1,381 stateless persons residing in the country. During the year the government did not grant any stateless person citizenship. The Law on Migration allows stateless persons to reside in the country legally and travel internationally with government-issued identification and travel documents.
Undocumented stateless persons did not have access to public benefits, education, or employment opportunities.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
Despite a constitutional provision giving citizens the ability to choose their government in periodic elections based on universal and equal suffrage, there have not been free and fair elections in the country. There was no bona fide political opposition to the president, and alternative candidates came from derivative party structures, such as the state-controlled Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, or are members of individual initiative groups. Elections were conducted by secret ballot. The constitution declares the country to be a secular democracy in the form of a presidential republic. It calls for separation of powers among the branches of government but vests a disproportionate share of power in the presidency. The president’s power over the state continued to be nearly absolute. According to the OSCE, the election law does not meet OSCE standards.
Elections and Political Participation
In September 2016 parliament ratified a new constitution that extended the presidential term in office from five to seven years, repealed a maximum age limit of 70 years, and failed to reinstitute term limits for the presidency.
Recent Elections: As a result of the February presidential election, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov won 97.69 percent of the vote.
The government invited an OSCE/ODIHR Election Assessment Mission (EAM) team, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Executive Committee, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to observe the election. According to the OSCE/ODIHR Election Assessment Mission, “The presidential election took place in a strictly controlled political environment. The predominant position of the incumbent and the lack of genuine opposition and meaningful pluralism limited voters’ choice. The lack of clear regulations for key aspects of the process had a negative impact on the administration of the election, especially at lower levels. Besides the events organized by Central Election Commission for Election and Referenda the campaign was absent and the rigidly restrained media gave the incumbent a clear advantage.”
During the year the government conducted elections to fill two parliamentary vacancies in conjunction with local government elections. The government did not invite observers, and all newly elected members of parliament represented progovernment parties. The government’s Central Election Committee reported the elections were conducted consistent with international standards.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The law makes it extremely difficult for genuinely independent political parties to organize, nominate candidates, and campaign, since it grants the Ministry of Justice broad powers over the registration process and the authority to monitor party meetings. The law prohibits political parties based on religion, region, or profession as well as parties that “offend moral norms.” The law does not explain how a party can appeal its closure by the government. The law permits public associations and organizations to put forth candidates for elected office. State media covered the activities of President Berdimuhamedov, the Democratic Party, the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, the Agrarian Party, and trade and professional unions.
There were neither organized opposition nor independent political groups operating in the country. The three registered political parties were the ruling Democratic Party (the former Communist Party), the Party of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, and the Agrarian Party. Each of these parties, which were progovernment in orientation, nominated a candidate for the February presidential election. Initiative groups put forward six additional candidates who were running in their individual capacities. The government did not officially prohibit membership in other political organizations, but there were no reports of persons who claimed membership in political organizations other than these three parties and a smattering of representatives of individual initiative groups. Authorities did not allow opposition movements based abroad–including the National Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan, the Republican Party of Turkmenistan, and the Fatherland (Watan) Party–to operate within the country.
Participation of Women and Minorities: Women served in prominent government positions, including as speaker of parliament. During the year only one woman served in the 12-member Cabinet of Ministers. The government gave preference for appointed government positions to ethnic Turkmen, but ethnic minorities occupied some senior government positions. Members of the president’s Ahal-Teke tribe, the largest in the country, held the most prominent roles in cultural and political life.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
While the law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials reportedly often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corruption existed in the security forces and in all social and economic sectors. Factors encouraging corruption included the existence of patronage networks, low government salaries that in the latter half of the year were paid as much as three months behind schedule, a lack of fiscal transparency and accountability, the absence of published macroeconomic data, and the fear of government retaliation against citizens who choose to highlight corrupt acts. According to Freedom House and the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators, the country had a severe corruption problem.
Corruption: One regional governor, one deputy minister, and two deputy chairpersons of the Cabinet of Ministers were dismissed from their positions during the year over allegations of corruption.
In May during a Security Council meeting, President Berdimuhamedov criticized Prosecutor General Amanmyrat Hallyyev for his failure to prevent bribery and corruption among his subordinates. Parliament dismissed the prosecutor general shortly thereafter. The official daily newspaper Neytral’nyy Turkmenistan published a list of 15 names of convicted prosecutors charged with bribery and corruption. It was also reported that several high-level employees of the TurkmenGas State Concern were imprisoned along with a former deputy minister of industry, heads of the Baharly Turkmen Cement plant, and the Bayramaly Cotton Seed plant.
Financial Disclosure: The law does not require elected or appointed officials to disclose their incomes or assets. Financial disclosure requirements are neither transparent nor consistent with international norms. Government enterprises are not required to publicize financial statements, even to foreign partners. Local auditors, not internationally recognized firms, often conducted financial audit
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
There were no domestic human rights NGOs due to the government’s refusal to register such organizations and restrictions that made activity by unregistered organizations illegal. The government continued to monitor the activities of nonpolitical social and cultural organizations.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: There were no international human rights NGOs with a permanent presence in the country, although the government permitted international organizations, such as the OSCE, to have a resident mission. The government permitted the OSCE to conduct workshops and study tours on prisoners’ rights, women’s rights, religious freedom, and media freedom. The government collaborated with the International Organization for Migration and UNHCR, which no longer had a resident mission, on migration and statelessness issues. Government restrictions on freedoms of speech, press, and association severely restricted international organizations’ ability to investigate, understand, and fully evaluate the government’s human rights policies and practices.
The government allowed unfettered access to the OSCE Center. There were no reports that the government discouraged citizens from contacting other international organizations.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The government-run National Institute for Democracy and Human Rights is not an independent body, and its ability to obtain redress for citizens was limited. The institute, established in 1996 with a mandate to support democratization and monitor the protection of human rights, played an unofficial ombudsman’s role in resolving some petitions citizens submitted through the institute’s complaints committee. The Interagency Commission on Enforcing Turkmenistan’s International Obligations on Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law meets biannually to coordinate the implementation of a limited number of recommendations from international human rights bodies. The parliamentary Committee on the Protection of Human Rights and Liberties oversees human rights-related legislation, and during the year it worked with the UN Development Program to draft the country’s National Action Plan for Human Rights.
The country’s new constitution, approved in September 2016, established a Human Rights Ombudsman position. Secondary legislation adopted in November 2016 stated the ombudsman must be nominated by the president and confirmed by parliament. The law empowers the ombudsman to receive and review human rights violations reported by citizens and confirm or deny the violation and advise the complainant regarding legal redress. The ombudsman is obliged to submit an annual human rights report to the president and parliament, which shall be published and distributed via local media. The ombudsman enjoys legal immunity and cannot be prosecuted, arrested, or detained for official acts while in office. On March 20, the parliament elected Yazdursun Gurbannazarova as the first Human Rights Ombudsman.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, and penalties range from three to 10 years in prison. Rape of a victim under 14 years of age is punishable by 10 to 25 years in prison. A cultural bias against reporting or acknowledging rape made it difficult to determine the extent of the problem.
The law prohibits domestic violence, including spousal abuse, through provisions in the criminal code that address intentional infliction of injury. Penalties range from fines to 15 years in prison, based on the extent of the injury, although enforcement of the law varied. Anecdotal reports indicated domestic violence against women was common; most victims of domestic violence kept silent because they were unaware of their rights or afraid of increased violence from husbands and relatives.
Sexual Harassment: No law specifically prohibits sexual harassment, and reports suggested sexual harassment existed in the workplace.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: .
Discrimination: By law, women have full legal equality with men, including equal pay, access to loans, the ability to start and own a business, and access to government jobs. Nevertheless, women continued to experience discrimination due to cultural biases, and some of these laws were not consistently enforced. The government restricted women from working in some dangerous and environmentally unsafe jobs. The government did not acknowledge, address, or report on discrimination against women.
Birth Registration: By law, a child derives citizenship from his/her parents. A child born to stateless persons possessing permanent resident status in the country is also a citizen.
According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2017 report, 100 percent of children had their births registered.
Education: Education was free, compulsory, and universal through grades 10 or 11, depending on what year a child started school. There were reports that, in some rural communities, parents removed girls from school as young as age nine to work at home.
Child Abuse: In 2015 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called on the government to improve its collection of data on children’s rights, remove restrictions on civil society organizations working on children’s rights, provide for children’s access to internet and international media, create a mechanism to which children deprived of liberty in all areas can address complaints, consider creation of a centralized system for registration of adoptions, and ratify the Optional Protocol of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age for marriage is 18. According to UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2017 report, 6 percent of women aged 20-24 years old were first married before they were 18.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The legal age of consent is 16. The law forbids the production of pornographic materials or objects for distribution, as well as the advertisement or trade in text, movies or videos, graphics, or other objects of a pornographic nature, including those involving children.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
There is no organized Jewish community in the country. It was estimated that 200 to 250 Jews resided in Ashgabat. There were no reports of anti-Semitic activity.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, and the provision of state services in other areas. Despite the law, persons with disabilities encountered discrimination and denial of work, education, and access to health care and other state services because of strong cultural biases.
The government provided subsidies and pensions for persons with disabilities, but the assistance was inadequate to meet basic needs. The government considered persons with disabilities who received subsidies as being employed and therefore ineligible to compete for jobs in the government, the country’s largest employer.
According to Chronicles, state doctors were unofficially instructed not to extend people’s disability status. Reportedly, the main reason was to decrease government expenditures on social welfare benefits. Chronicles reported that those with disabilities were asked to wait until 2018 for their disability status to be extended. The disabled had to pass through a special commission on an annual basis for their disability status to be extended, unless they were disabled from birth or had passed the commission review 10 years in a row.
Some students with disabilities were unable to obtain education because there were no qualified teachers, and facilities were not accessible for persons with disabilities.
Although the law requires new construction projects to include facilities that allow access by persons with disabilities, compliance was inconsistent and older buildings remained inaccessible. The law provides for the right to vote for all, including for persons with disabilities.
The law provides for equal rights and freedoms for all citizens.
The law designates Turkmen as the official language, although it also provides for the rights of speakers of minority languages. Russian remained prevalent in commerce and everyday life in the capital, even as the government continued its campaign to conduct official business solely in Turkmen. The government required ministry employees to pass tests demonstrating knowledge of professional subjects in Turkmen, and the government dismissed those employees who failed the examination. The government dedicated resources to provide Turkmen instruction for non-Turkmen speakers only in primary and secondary schools.
Non-Turkmen speakers in government noted that some avenues for promotion and job advancement were not available to them, and only a handful of non-Turkmen occupied high-level jobs in government. In some cases, applicants for government jobs had to provide information about their ethnicity going back three generations.
Minority groups tried to register as NGOs to have legal status to conduct cultural events, but no minority group succeeded in registering during the year.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Sexual contact between men is illegal under a section of the criminal code on pederasty, with punishment of up to two years in prison and the possible imposition of an additional two- to five-year term in a labor camp. The law also stipulates sentences of up to 20 years for repeated acts of pederasty, homosexual acts with juveniles, or the spread of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections through same-sex contact. The law does not mention same-sex sexual contact between women. Enforcement of the law was selective. Antidiscrimination laws do not apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Society does not accept transgender individuals, and the government provided no legal protection or recognition of their gender identity.
There were reports of detention, threats, and other abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Social stigma prevented reporting of incidents affecting members of the LGBTI community.
In May ANT posted a video allegedly made by Ashgabat police recording the interrogation of a transgender individual. The video purported to show a transgender individual dressed in female clothing enduring an abusive and humiliating interrogation for alleged involvement in prostitution.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
There were reports of discrimination and violence against some religious minority groups, many of which the government officially referred to as “sects,” including Jehovah’s Witnesses. The government generally perpetrated or condoned these actions.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively with their employers. The law prohibits workers from striking. The law does not prohibit antiunion discrimination against union members and organizers. There are no mechanisms for resolving complaints of discrimination, nor does the law provide for reinstatement of workers fired for antiunion activity.
The government did not respect freedom of association or collective bargaining and did not effectively enforce the law. No penalties exist to deter violations. All trade and professional unions were government controlled, and none had an independent voice in its activities. The government did not permit private citizens to form independent unions. There were no labor NGOs in the country.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. The law allows for compulsory labor as a punishment for criminal offenses, requiring that convicted persons work in the place and job specified by the administration of the penal institution, potentially including private enterprises. Compulsory labor may also be applied as a punishment for libel and for violation of the established procedure for the organization of assemblies, meetings, or demonstrations.
The law provides for the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of suspected forced labor and other trafficking offenses. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Penalties for violations, including fines of up to 2,000 manat ($570) or suspension of an employer’s operations for up to three months, were inconsistently enforced and insufficient to deter violations. The government reported it conducted investigations and convicted traffickers. Construction workers in the informal sector were vulnerable to forced labor, and there was widespread use of government-compelled forced labor in the cotton industry. To meet government-imposed quotas for the cotton harvest, local authorities required university students, private-sector institution employees, soldiers, and public-sector workers to pick cotton without compensation and under threat of penalty.
In August ANT reported that according to its sources state employees in Mary and Lebap Provinces were summoned for the cotton harvest beginning in August. ANT also reported that secondary school support staff (janitors and guards) were sent to the cotton fields. In general, cotton pickers received .40 tenge ($0.11) per kilogram of cotton collected.
In April the UN Human Rights Committee stated in its concluding observations on the country’s compliance with its International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights obligations that “the committee is concerned about the reported widespread use of forced labor of farmers, students, public and private sector workers during the cotton harvest under threat of penalties such as loss of land, expulsion from university, loss of wages or salary cuts, termination of employment, and other sanctions.”
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
During the year the government amended the labor code to increase the minimum age at which a person can enter into a labor agreement/contract from 16 years of age to 18. A 15-year-old, however, may work four to six hours per day, up to 24 hours per week, with parental and trade union permission. The law prohibits children between the ages of 16 and 18 from working more than six hours per day, or 36 hours per week. The law also prohibits children from working overtime or between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and protects children from exploitation in the workplace. A presidential decree bans child labor in all sectors and states specifically that children may not participate in the cotton harvest.
Resources, inspections, and remediation were reportedly adequate to enforce the prohibitions on child labor. Penalties for violations, including fines of up to 2,000 manat ($572) or suspension of an employer’s operations for up to three months, were enforced and sufficient to deter violations. The Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor General’s Office effectively enforced the 2005 presidential decree prohibiting child labor.
ANT reported that some children picked cotton to earn extra money, and there were limited reports of children working in other industries, but there were no confirmed reports of forced child labor in the cotton industry.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination based on nationality, race, gender, origin, language, religion, disability, HIV status or other communicable diseases, political beliefs, and social status. The government did not always effectively enforce the law, which does not specify penalties for discrimination on these grounds, with the exception of disability; discrimination against disabled persons is punishable by fines ranging from 203 manat to 2,000 manat ($58 to $572) and suspension for up to three months. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on age, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
Discrimination in employment and occupation based on gender, language, and disability (see section 6) was widespread across all sectors of the economy and government. Certain government positions required language exams and all government positions required a family background check going back three generations. Civil society members reported that the country retained a strong cultural bias against women in positions of power and leadership, making it difficult for some women to secure managerial positions based on their gender. Although the 2013 Code on the Social Protection of the Population defined social protection policies for persons with disabilities and established quotas and work places for persons with disabilities, it was not broadly enforced. Members of the disability rights community reported that persons with disabilities were generally unable to find satisfactory employment due to unofficial discrimination. There was no information on discrimination against internal migrant workers.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum monthly wage in all sectors was approximately 650 manat ($186). A presidential decree raised wages by 10 percent in January.
An official estimate of the poverty-level income was not available. The standard legal workweek is 40 hours with weekends off. The law states overtime or holiday pay should be double the regular wage. Maximum overtime in a year is 120 hours and may not exceed four hours in two consecutive days. The law prohibits pregnant women, women with children up to age three, women with disabled children under age 16, and single parents with two or more children from working overtime.
The law grants prenatal and postnatal maternity leave. A mother is entitled up to three years of unpaid maternity leave.
The government did not publish annual statistical or financial data. In 2016 Chronicles reported that the government estimated the unemployment rate to be 59 percent.
The law provides a minimum of 30 days of paid annual leave for state employees, 45 days for teachers at all types of educational institutions, and 55 days for professors. The law permits newlyweds and their parents 10 days of paid leave for the preparation of weddings. Workers also receive 10 days of paid leave to carry out funeral rites and commemoration ceremonies in the event of a death of a close relative. Upon reaching age 62, citizens are entitled to an additional three days of paid leave.
The government did not set comprehensive standards for occupational health and safety. In 2013 the government reformed the labor code to provide additional benefits, including bonus pay, reduced work hours, additional leave time, and eligibility for early retirement, for work deemed hazardous. There is no state labor inspectorate. State trade unions, however, employed 14 labor inspectors, who have the right to issue improvement notices to government industries. According to the law, trade union inspectors cannot levy fines, and there are no mechanisms for enforcement of improvement notices.
The government required its workers and many private-sector employees to work 10 hours a day or a sixth day without compensation. Reports indicated many public-sector employees worked at least a half-day on Saturdays. Laws governing overtime and holiday pay were not effectively enforced. There were no defined penalties for violation of wage and hour provisions, and no state agency was designated for enforcement.
Employers did not provide construction workers and industrial workers in older factories proper protective equipment and often made these workers labor in unsafe environments. Some agricultural workers faced environmental health hazards related to the application of defoliants in preparing cotton fields for mechanical harvesting. Workers did not have the right to remove themselves from work situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their continued employment, and authorities did not protect employees in this situation. Statistics regarding work-related injuries and fatalities were not available.