Since the death of President Niyazov in December 2006 and the election of President Berdimuhamedov in February 2007, there has been some positive progress on human rights. There has been a greater willingness by Turkmenistan to engage on human rights issues with international organisations, including the EU, UN and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Louise Arbour, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, visited Turkmenistan in April 2007 and there is an outstanding invitation to the UN Rapporteur on Religious Freedom to visit. The EU Special Representative for Central Asia, Pierre Morel, and Javier Solana, High Representative for EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, discussed human rights with president Berdimuhamedov on several occasions in 2007, including during Berdimuhamedov's visit to Brussels in November 2007. The first EU-Turkmenistan ad hoc dialogue on human rights took place in Brussels in September 2007. The Minister for Energy, my hon. Friend Malcolm Wicks raised human rights concerns during his visit to Turkmenistan in September 2007.
In August 2007, President Berdimuhamedov pardoned and released from prison a number of individuals who had been detained following the coup attempt on President Niyazov in 2002. These included Nasrullah Ibn Ibadullah, the former Chief Mufti. The UK has regularly lobbied for Ibadullah's release, bilaterally and jointly with EU partners, most recently the week before he was pardoned. Internal freedom of movement has improved. Checkpoints and roadblocks have been removed and it is easier for Turkmen citizens to travel to border areas. In contrast to previous practice, the new president has asked the international community to provide scholarships for young citizens of Turkmenistan to study abroad and has publicly encouraged young people to take up these opportunities.
However, there remains a long way to go. The education system will need time to recover from years of neglect under President Niyazov. There is still no press freedom and no freedom of expression. President Berdimuhamedov has recently made statements criticising the quality of the media, but it is too early to say if this means any relaxation of controls on the media. There is only one political party, and religion and civil society are tightly controlled. Non-governmental organisations registration remains a lengthy and complex process and the Government has not yet addressed this issue.
The UK will continue to urge Turkmenistan to address human rights issues and will support genuine efforts to do so, both bilaterally and with international partners. We will continue to work through the EU-Turkmenistan ad hoc Dialogue on Human Rights and through the EU's Central Asia Strategy, which has as one of its main themes the support for good governance, rule of law and human rights.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office's 2008 Annual Human Rights Report win contain further analysis of the human rights situation in Turkmenistan.