Turkmen FlagCivic Freedom Monitor: Turkmenistan

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated May 28 2017

Update: On February 4, 2017 Amendments to the Law on Public Associations (PA) were adopted by the Mejilis (Parliament) of Turkmenistan and include the following key changes:

1. Only citizens of Turkmenistan can be founders of PAs (Article 1 of PA Law).

2. Foreigners and stateless persons can no longer be founders or members of PAs (Article 4 of PA Law).

3. PAs are excluded from a range of political activities (Articles 5, 6, 14, and 26 of PA Law).

4. The activities of foreign and international organizations interested in conducting activities in Turkmenistan are now more limited.

5. "Foreign budget organizations" are excluded from the list of possible funders of PAs (Article 29 of PA Law).

6. PAs can only cooperate with international and foreign organizations according to the procedure established by the law (previously, PAs could conduct such cooperation at will, and only were required to adhere to specific legal requirements when entering into formal agreements) (Article 26 of the PA Law).

The Amendments introduced a few positive changes:

1. The geographic area within which activities of local PAs are permitted has been slightly expanded: instead of limiting activities within 2-3 administrative–territorial units (districts or “районы”), PAs can now conduct activities within several velayats (regions) and cities with the rights of velayats.

2. The procedure for the establishment of Turkmenistani international organizations has been slightly clarified: it is now required that PAs provide a document confirming the establishment of its branch in a foreign state in accordance with its by-laws.


Introduction

Civil society in Turkmenistan is developing with a foundation rooted in centuries-old common democratic traditions and distinctive Turkmen characteristics. One characteristic is that the people often do not create formal public associations as a legal form, but they collectively solve various socio-economic issues.

The first "Law on Public Associations (Law on PAs) of Turkmenistan” was adopted on November 12, 1991, only 17 days after Turkmenistan declared independence on October 27, 1991. Liberal norms of interpreting the law allowed for the activities of unregistered public associations while regulating the activity of political parties and trade unions.

On October 21, 2003, a new edition of the law was passed, which toughened the legal regulation of public associations, prohibited activities of unregistered associations, expanded the ability of government agencies to cease activities of registered organizations with an administrative court order, and established territorial restrictions on the activities of public entities.

A new political leadership of the country since 2007 has actively conducted legal reform with the aim to implement national legislation and take advantage of international experience, including in the sphere of regulation of civil society’s activities. However, despite signing the Law on PAs in 2014, difficulties remain regarding support for civic space. In January 2013, for example, the Resolution on State Registration of Foreign Projects and Gratuitous Technical and Financial Assistance, Humanitarian Aid and Grants was adopted by Decree of the President. The Resolution sets forth an elaborate process for requiring registration of all types of foreign aid provided by foreign organizations to government agencies and CSOs, including aid provided in-kind and in the form of services.

A new Code on Administrative Violations was also adopted on August 29, 2013 and went into effect on January 1, 2014. This Code, however, has some positive aspects. For example, it limits the power of the Ministry of Justice to suspend the activities of a PA and instead makes this action the exclusive prerogative of the courts. Unfortunately, the Code also contains restrictive provisions, including newly instituted penalties for anyone involved with an unregistered public association, including founders, funders and members.

There are some other recent laws in Turkmenistan that have positive aspects, including:

  • The Law on Volunteering, which came into effect on January 20, 2016, and establishes a legal framework for volunteerism;
  • the Law on Combating Human Trafficking, which was adopted on October 15, 2016, and includes norms for governing public associations’ activities, including cooperation with the state bodies and administration; and the
The Law on Ombudsman, which entered into force from January 1, 2017, regulates the functioning of the new State Institute of the Authorized Human Rights Representative (Ombudsman).


Generally, however, the legal environment in Turkmenistan remains restrictive. It is telling that many of the registered associations in Turkmenistan are, in fact, government-organized NGOs (GONGOs), which were established as traditional Communist-era groups, including the Women's Union, the Youth Union, and the Center of Trade Unions. It also seems increasingly unlikely that the 2014 Law on PAs will herald a new era of openness for civil society in Turkmenistan. Amendments to the Law on PAs adopted by the Mejilis (Parliament) on February 4, 2017 were generally restrictive. To date, therefore, the Law on PAs has not resulted in any improvements in the legal environment for civil society.

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At a Glance

Organizational Forms Public Association (PA) (PAs may include not less than five individuals) (Law on PAs, Article 18)
Registration Body Ministry of Adalat (Justice)
Approximate Number Slightly over 100
Barriers to Entry

Activities by unregistered groups are prohibited. Penalties are applied on anyone involved with an unregistered public association, including founders, funders and members.
Associations operating nationally must have at least 400 members in order to be registered as a legal entity.
The registration fees for associations may be prohibitive.
In practice, few organizations have been registered.

Barriers to Activities

PAs are obliged to include information about their activities among the data submitted to the Unified State Register of Legal Entities, the tax authorities and the bodies of the Pension Fund of Turkmenistan (Articles 27 and 32, Law on PAs).

The Ministry can send its representatives to attend association events and meetings. (Law on PAs, Article 32)

PAs are obliged to submit information about their activities as part of the data to the Unified State Register of Legal Entities, the tax authorities and the bodies of the Pension Fund of Turkmenistan. (Law on PAs, Article 27 and 32) 

Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy None
Barriers to International Contact Associations may engage in international cooperation and communication, with the involvement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The meaning of ‘involvement’ is uncertain, but this has hindered some associations in the exercise of these activities.
Barriers to Resources Programs supported by foreign funding must be registered with the Ministry of Justice. Penalties are applied for multiple actions relating to obtaining funding by CSOs, including providing financing to unregistered public associations; storing, transferring and using foreign aid for financing of political parties; conducting mass events and conducting propaganda amongst the population; and violation of the procedure of receiving and providing foreign technical, financial, humanitarian assistance.
Barriers to Assembly Notification of holding a mass event must be done by the organizer of the event in writing no earlier than 15 days and no later than 10 days prior to the date of a mass event (Law on PAs, Part 1, Article 7).

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Key Indicators

Population 5,113,040 (July 2013 est.)
Capital Ashgabat
Type of Government Republic; authoritarian presidential rule, with little power outside the executive branch
Life Expectancy at Birth 69.16 years
Literacy Rate 99.6%
Religious Groups Muslim 89%, Eastern Orthodox 9%, unknown 2%
Ethnic Groups Turkmen 85%, Uzbek 5%, Russian 4%, other 6% (2003)
GDP per capita $8,600 (2012 est.)

Source: The World Factbook 2009. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2009.

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International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale 
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 103 (2015) 1 – 182
World Bank Rule of Law Index 7.2 (2014) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 0 (2014) 100 – 0
Transparency International 154 (2015) 1 – 180
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Not free
Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 7 (2017)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
76 (2016) 178 – 1

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Legal Snapshot

International and Regional Human Rights Agreements

Key International Agreements Ratification* Year
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Yes 1997
Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1) Yes 1997
International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Yes 1997
Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention Yes 1997
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Yes 1994
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Yes 1997
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women No  --
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Yes 1993
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW) No  --
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Yes 2008
Regional Treaties    
None known

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

The Constitution of Turkmenistan was first adopted on 18 May 1992 as the supreme law of Turkmenistan (Article 5). The 1992 constitution was then amended on 26 September 2008, abolishing the 2,500-member People’s Council (Halk Maslahaty) and expanding the elected Assembly (Mejlis) from 65 to 125 members, among other amendments. Most recently, in accordance with the Constitutional Law of 14 September 2016, a newly refined Constitution of Turkmenistan was adopted. Article 17 stipulates that Turkmenistan recognizes political pluralism and a multiparty system, and the government provides all necessary conditions for the development of civil society. Article 44 also states that citizens have a right to establish political parties and other public associations.

National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector

Relevant national-level laws and regulations affecting civil society include:

  1. The Constitution of Turkmenistan of September 14, 2016;
  2. The Civil Code of Turkmenistan (July 17, 1998, effectuated from March 1, 1999, with the amendments and additions of October 21, 2003, March 30, 2007, September 25, 2010, May 4, 2012, and December 22, 2012);
  3. The Tax Code of Turkmenistan (with the amendments and additions of December 27, 2005, August 17, 2006, February 23, 2007, March 17, 2007, June 12, 2007, October 1, 2007, January 27, 2008, March 17, 2008, September 11, 2008, April 27, 2009, July 2, 2009, September 25, 2010, May 31, 2012, August 4, 2012, May 4, 2013, August 16, 2014, March 1, 2014, August 16, 2014, November 8, 2014, November 21, 2015, March 26, 2016, September 21, 2016, October 15, 2016, and November 23, 2016));
  4. The Code of Administrative Offences of Turkmenistan (adopted in August 29, 2013, in effect as of January 1, 2014 with changes and additions proposed in 2014-2016);
  5. The Volunteering Law, January 12, 2016;
  6. The Law on the Bodiesof Adalat(Justice) of Turkmenistan”, June 18, 2016;
  7. The Law on combating Human Trafficking”, October 15, 2016
  8. The Law on Ombudsman", November 23, 2016.
  9. The Law of Turkmenistan “On Public Associations” (May 3, 2014)
  10. The Resolution of the President of Turkmenistan 6547 “On Registrtation of Public Associations” of January 4, 2004;
  11. The Resolution of the President of Turkmenistan 7197 “On the Establishment of the Commission for Registration of Religious Organizations and Public Associations under the Ministry of Adalat of Turkmenistan” of April 22, 2005;
  12. The Resolution of the President of Turkmenistan #12792 About State Registration of Foreign Projects and Gratuitous Technical and Financial Assistance, Humanitarian Aid and Grants of January 18, 2013;
  13. The Law of Turkmenistan 28-II on Enterprises of June 15, 2000;
  14. Law on the Legal Regime Governing Emergencies, August 23, 1990;
  15. The Law of Turkmenistan on Political Parties of January 13, 2012;
  16. The Law of Turkmenistan #283-IV “About National Security Authorities of Turkmenistan” of March 31, 2012 (the Law “About National Security Authorities of Turkmenistan” of April 12, 1993 was repealed);
  17. The Law of Turkmenistan on Media adopted on December 22, 2012;
  18. The Turkmenistan Election Code came into force as of July 1, 2013;
  19. The Law of Turkmenistan on Labor Unions, Their Rights and Guarantees to Their Activities, adopted on November 9, 2013;
  20. The Law of Turkmenistan On the State Policy on Youth adopted on August 29, 2013;
  21. The Law on Public Associations, May 3, 2014;
  22. The Law on Tenders for Supply of Goods, Performance of Works and Provision of Services for State Needs of December 20, 2014;
  23. The Law on Organization and Conducting of Assemblies, Public Rallies, Demonstrations and Other Mass Events of February 28, 2015; and
  24. The Law on Volunteering of January 12, 2016.

Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives

On January 15, 2016 President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov at a regular meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers signed Resolution No. I 4570, which approves the National Plan of Action in the field of human rights for the years 2016-2020. The second part of the National Plan of Action provides an analysis of the main legislative provisions for ensuring Turkmenistan’s compliance with international obligations in the field of human rights and international humanitarian law. In accordance with the given Plan of Action, the Mejlis of Turkmenistan, the Ministry of Adalat of Turkmenistan, and the National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights of Turkmenistan under the President of Turkmenistan were requested to establish favorable conditions for the registration, operation and development of public associations, as well as to conduct analysis of the existing normative legal acts related to public associations and their further improvement.

Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of pending initiatives, write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

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Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

According to Article 51 of the Civil Code, there is one primary legal form available for non-entrepreneurial legal entity: the "public association".

  • A public association is established where several individuals pursue a common aim.  At least five (5) members are required to form a public organization operating locally, fifty (50) for those operating internationally, and 400 for those operating nationally. The 2014 Law on Public Associations (PAs) added a new kind of a PA, a “territorial PA” which is required to have representative offices, branches or affiliations in several administrative territorial units of Turkmenistan (Article 9).
  • Article 51 of the Civil Code states that “a legal entity shall be the foundation when to achieve a common socially useful purpose one or more founders transfers special property in ownership to an independent entity, which has no members.” The Civil Code specifically addresses foundations in Articles 71-74, but the civil code provision on foundations is not being implemented.

The Law on PAs (Article 12) establishes four (4) categories of public association:

1. A public organization is established on the initiative of citizens, associated on the basis of community of interests for the realization of common purposes that are reflected in its charter of public association;
2. A public movement is a non-membership PA, which is made up of participants and pursues social, political and other publicly useful purposes supported by those who participate in the public movement; [1]
3. A public foundation is one of the forms of non-commercial foundation and is a non-membership PA whose purpose is to form assets based on voluntary contributions, other receipts not prohibited by law, and to use these assets for publicly useful purposes;
4. A social initiative group is a non-membership PA whose purpose is to jointly tackle various social problems that arise for citizens at their place of residence, work or study, that tries to satisfy the needs of any group of people with interests related to attaining the social initiative group’s purposes as stated.

PAs, regardless of their organizational legal form, are entitled to establish unions (associations) of PAs on the basis of founding agreements and (or) charters adopted by the unions (the associations), forming new PAs (Articles 12-17 of the Law).
Since PAs in the forms of "public movement", "public foundation" and "social initiative group" are not registered in practice, it can be concluded that the "public organization" form is the only available legal form for registration at this time.

[1] In practice, the only difference between a membership-based PA and a non-membership-based PA (with "participants") such as a "public movement" is that individual participation in a "public movement" does not have to be perpetually recorded. This means that one day it might claim it has 10,000 participants and another day only 10 participants. It is a very imprecise organizational form and does not exist in practice; rather it exists simply by name and is virtually identical to a "public organization."

Public Benefit Status

Public associations – the only active legal form of CSO in Turkmenistan – are permitted to pursue both public benefit and mutual benefit purposes.  The law refers to “common aims” or “common interests” that members can pursue collectively.  
Current Turkmen legislation does not, however, define a “public benefit” or “charitable” status for CSOs. That said, public organizations that provide assistance to disabled persons and conduct educational activities are exempt from income tax and value-added tax.    

Barriers to Entry

Turkmen law simultaneously prohibits the activities of unregistered organizations and deters registration as a legal entity in several ways.

First, Article 7 of the Law on PAs prohibits the activities of unregistered PAs.  Restrictions against unregistered associations are also imposed in Article 65 of the Code of Administrative Offences of Turkmenistan.

Second, the registration process is encumbered by restrictions:

  • The founders and members of a PA may include individuals who are at least eighteen years old and legal entities (Article 15). This would seemingly exclude minors from founding or participating in associational life in Turkmenistan. In addition, Amendments to the PA Law of February 4, 2017 also state that only citizens of Turkmenistan can be founders of PAs (Article 1 of the PA Law) and that foreigners and stateless persons can no longer be founders or members of PAs (Article 4 of PA Law
  • The law also sets high membership thresholds. Notably, associations operating nationally must have at least 400 members. International PAs must be established with no fewer than 50 members. [A PA shall be recognized as international if one of its departments – an organization, branch (affiliated organization), or representative office – is formed and conducts activity in foreign states. (Article 9)]
  • Currently, the registration fee charged for local public associations amounts to approximately 86 USD (Decree No. 6547 of January 14, 2004 and Order of May 11, 2010 РР-5594). National Pas must pay a fee of about 143 USD, and international PAs are charged a fee of about 571 USD.

Difficulties in registration are not solely a problem of legal barriers. In some respects, the law spells out a registration process that is reasonably clear and enabling, at least on paper. Required application documentation is generally consistent with good regulatory practice; the Ministry of Adalat (Justice) must review and decide upon the application within 25 days of the date of submission of the application package (Article 20) and in case of denial, the Ministry must provide notification in writing. 

Instead, the main problem lies in implementation.. Indeed, only a small number of organizations have successfully been registered in recent years. Similarly, foreign non-profit organizations have also been unable to establish branch offices in Turkmenistan. 

Barriers to Operational Activity

The Law on PAs includes barriers to the operational activities of PAs in the form of excessive supervisory authority and overbroad governmental discretion.  

First, the designated regulatory bodies – the Ministry of Justice and regional ministerial branches – have the right to send ministry representatives to attend PA internal meetings and events, which contradicts international norms relating to freedom of association and privacy (Law on PAs, Article 32).  

Second, carrying out activities which are not directly prescribed in an association’s by-laws is an administrative offence (Article 65 of the Code on Administrative Offences).

Notably, however, the new Code on Administrative Offences limits the power of the Ministry of Justice to suspend the activities of a PA and instead make this action the exclusive prerogative of the courts. 

Barriers to Speech / Advocacy

While Turkmen PAs are legally permitted to take part in election campaigns, in practice, no PA has ever exercised this right. Moreover, PAs do not criticize the government.  

While it is rare for PAs to engage in advocacy activities, a small number of PAs have put forward proposals to the Mejlis (Parliament) relating to amendments to the Constitution and a number of laws.  For example, the PA “Economists’ Union” worked with UNDP to draft the Law “On the State Support of Small and Medium Businesses”. This law was adopted in 2009 and benefited from the input of the Economists’ Union.  
Amendments to the PA Law, which were adopted on February 4, 2017, exclude PAs from a range of political activities (Articles 5, 6, 14, and 26 of PA Law).

Specifically, the government cannot delegate any functions to PAs and nor can PAs interfere in activities of government bodies (previously, an exception was permitted if envisioned by the law, but this exception was eliminated) (Article 5). In addition, “political rights” are no longer on the list of purposes for establishing a PA (only a general statement of “implementation and protection of rights and freedoms” remains in the text) (Article 5), and a public movement, as a legal form of a PA, can no longer be established for political purposes (Article 14). The right of a PA to participate in elections was also eliminated from Article 26 of the PA Law.

Barriers to International Contact

Amendments to the PA Law, which were adopted on February 4, 2017, have limited the activities of foreign and international organizations interested in conducting activities in Turkmenistan. The Amendments do not define an “international organization” and do not distinguish between various types of international organizations. Nonetheless, under the Amendments, PAs can now only cooperate with international and foreign organizations according to the procedure established by the PA Law. Previously, PAs could conduct such cooperation at will, and were only required to adhere to specific legal requirements when entering into formal agreements (Article 26 of PA Law).

In addition, international organizations, before establishing offices in Turkmenistan, are also now required to adopt by-laws according to Article 19 of the PA Law. In other words, they can no longer act based on by-laws located in their headquarters, even if they are in compliance with the PA Law.

Barriers to Resources

Foreign Funding

On January 18, 2013, a new Resolution on State Registration of Foreign Projects and Gratuitous Technical and Financial Assistance, Humanitarian Aid and Grants (hereinafter, “Resolution”) was adopted.  The Resolution requires a complicated two-step registration process for all types of foreign aid, including cash, in-kind, services, and technical assistance that is provided to government agencies and CSOs. A foreign organization proposing to provide foreign aid must send a request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).  The MFA in turn distributes this proposal to relevant government agencies that in its judgment would be interested in the proposal and asks them to decide whether the proposed foreign aid is necessary.  If the answer is positive, then the recipient (not the donor or sponsor) of the proposed aid is responsible for preparing a formal application that will be considered by a newly-established State Commission.  This Commission consists of top-ranking officials at the Deputy Minister level from many ministries and agencies, including the MFA and the Ministries of National Security, Adalat (Justice), Economy and Development (who serves as Chairman of the Commission), the Deputy Prosecutor General, the Deputy Chairman of the Central Bank, and others (at least 15 members in all).  This Commission meets monthly to consider applications. 
PAs must register projects and programs supported by foreign technical and other assistance with the Ministry of Adalat (Justice) (Article 27 of the PA Law).

The process of obtaining registration with the Ministry is quite difficult. The registration process can be easily protracted and subject to government discretion. PAs are heavily dependent on international donor support and thus difficulties in having grants registered and in receiving foreign assistance can significantly impede the operation of public associations in Turkmenistan.

According to Amendments to the PA Law of February 4, 2017, “foreign budget organizations” are excluded from the list of possible funders for PAs (Article 29 of PA Law). Even though this provision is not entirely clear, some local experts believe that these changes mean that PAs cannot be funded by foreign state organizations.

Domestic Funding

According to the Civil Code and other legal acts, PAs may conduct economic activity specified in their governing statutes (Article 26).  PAs may also establish enterprises and acquire assets that are intended for carrying out entrepreneurial activity (Article 30).

Barriers to Assembly

The Law on Organization and Conducting of Assemblies, Public Rallies, Demonstrations and other Mass Events entered into force in July 2015. In accordance with the new law, notification of holding a mass event should be provided by the event organizer in writing not earlier than 15 days and not later than 10 days prior to the date of the mass event (Part 1, Article 7 of the Law on PA). The Code of Turkmenistan on Administrative Offences (Article 63) provides a penalty or an administrative detention of up to 15 days for violating the “established order” or carrying out “unlawful assemblies” and “other mass events in an emergency situation.” Other penalties include a prison term of 3-8 years for “participation in mass riots” and a 5-15 year prison term for organization of “mass riots” (Article 276 of Criminal Code of Turkmenistan).

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Reports

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports

National Report

Compilation of UN Information

Summary of Stakeholders' Information

Report of the Working Group

Decision on the Outcome

Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs Not available
USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes

Not available

U.S. State Department

 

2016 Human Rights Report: Turkmenistan

Fragile States Index Reports

Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index

IMF Country Reports 2010 Article IV Consultation with Turkmenistan
Asia Pacific Philanthropy Forum Reports Not available
NGO Regulation Network Reports Not available
CIVICUS Civil Society Index (CSI) Country Reports Not available
International Commission of Jurists Not available
Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights Report Not available
International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library Turkmenistan

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News and Additional Resources

While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change.  If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at ngomonitor@icnl.org.

General News 

UNDP Promotes Civil Society in Turkmenistan (October 2016)
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) held a four-day workshop on enhancing skills on project development and management the representatives of the public organizations of Turkmenistan. The training is held under the work plan signed between the National Institute of Democracy and Human Rights under the President of Turkmenistan and UNDP project "Assistance in implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan of Turkmenistan 2016-2020" funded by the Embassy of Federal Republic of Germany in Ashgabat. The seminar aimed to develop the skills that would ensure sustainable development of the public organizations. Among those are project development, financial sustainability and fundraising. Participants also addressed how public organizations can contribute to the implementation of SDGs adopted in Turkmenistan.

News Archive

US Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Discusses Importance of Turkmen Civil Society (March 2013)

Law on mass media comes into force in Turkmenistan (January 2013)

Turkmenistan adopts multi-party system (August 2012)

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The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL Civic Freedom Monitor partner organization in Turkmenistan.