OSCE, Turkmens discuss press freedom

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan, Nov. 17 (UPI) -- The press freedom chief of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe says she's encouraged after holding talks with Turkmenistan leaders.

Dunja Mijatovic, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Tuesday wrapped up a roundtable event with Turkmen government and legislative officials in Ashgabat saying she was "encouraged by the discussions" about the need for the country's oppressive media laws to be reformed.


"We all agreed that the roundtable event was an important and timely contribution to the ongoing discussion on media legislation reform, and decided to continue our joint work in this area," she said.

But, Mijatovic added, she also wanted to see real reform in a Turkmen media environment that continues to be blasted by critics as one of the worst in the world.

"I trust that the recommendations of the OSCE experts discussed at the event will be taken into consideration in the new law which is to be adopted soon," she said. "It is crucial that the new legislation is implemented allowing the media to function without restrictions."

The Turkmenistan Parliament, or Mejlis, is debating new laws covering the media -- part of an effort to review and rewrite legislation imposed under the late dictator Saparmurat Niyazov with the stated goal of meeting international standards.

But press freedom and human rights groups contend access to information after five years under his successor, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has not much improved.

Berdymukhamedov declared last year he was seeking to establish privately owned media, but the country's five television stations, 25 newspapers and 15 magazines remain under absolute government control while foreign broadcasts are censored and Internet access is filtered by the state-run provider, Reporters Without Borders said in May.

The OSCE-sponsored forum this week concentrated on the need for freedom in new communications media such as the Internet and mobile phones, the regional security body said.

"The rapid development of new technologies requires advanced national legislation which would provide guarantees for media freedom and pluralism," Ambassador Sergei Belyaev, head of the OSCE Center in Ashgabat told participants.

"The OSCE is ready to further contribute to the country's efforts in upgrading its media legislation and bringing it into compliance with international standards and OSCE commitments Turkmenistan has undertaken," he added.

A handful of Internet cafes have opened in Turkmenistan but they only give access to a highly censored version of the Web while private broadband access costs $7,000, the reporters group said.

Another press watchdog group, Freedom House, reported the government cut off mobile telephone service without warning in December 2010 during a dispute with a Russian provider, shutting down mobile Internet access for users.

The offices of sole domestic mobile phone provider, Altyn Asyr, was reportedly the scene of a riot by angry users.

During her visit to Ashgabat, Mijatovic met with Turkmen Foreign Minister Hamrokhon Zarifi, Interior Minister Abdurahim Kahorov and key members of the Mejlis, including Olim Salimzoda and Akramsho Felaliev, as well as with governmental media officials, non-governmental organizations and journalists.

The visit came after Turkmenistan last month granted amnesty to an imprisoned local correspondent for the U.S. government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Dovletmurad Yazguliev was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison on charges of inciting a relative's suicide -- a charge that was denounced by international groups as bogus.

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