The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Turkmenistan is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Turkmenistan is also a party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
There is no regional human rights treaty for Central Asia to which Turkmenistan could adhere.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Under Article 29 of the 1992 Constitution of Turkmenistan (as amended through 2008), citizens "are guaranteed freedom of assembly, rallies and demonstrations in the manner prescribed by law".
The 2015 Act on the Organization and Conduct of Assemblies, Rallies, Demonstrations and Other Mass Events is the primary legislation governing assemblies in Turkmenistan.
Under the 2015 law, the organiser of an assembly must notify the authorities in writing no earlier than 15 days and no later than 10 days in advance.Art. 7, 2015 Act on the Organization and Conduct of Assemblies, Rallies, Demonstrations and Other Mass Events.The Act foresees pre-designated venues for assemblies. According to the law, only one-person pickets can be held without informing local authorities, and no other spontaneous assemblies are foreseen. It is also prohibited to hold assemblies with foreign financial, material or other support. Article 63 of the Code on Administrative Offences provides for administrative detention of up to 15 days for carrying out “unlawful assemblies” and “other mass events in an emergency situation”.
CIVICUS reports that the law bans gatherings from taking place in certain locations and that local officials have wide discretion to refuse assemblies on the grounds that the proposed venue is unsuitable.
In its national report for the 2018 Universal Periodic Review, Turkmenistan stated that:
The legislation on the organization and conduct of mass events does not include any prohibitions concerning the organization and conduct of unplanned events, provided that they take place in conditions that do not pose a risk to public safety or to the life, health or well-being of citizens, or to the spiritual and moral values of society.
It further stated that:
As part of its constant efforts to improve national legislation, the parliament of Turkmenistan is exploring the possibility of simplifying the rules for the registration of voluntary associations, broadening the range of places where peaceful assemblies may be held and confirming the regulations concerning spontaneous mass events.
The Legal Framework on Use of Force During Assemblies
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
There is not believed to be national legislation in place governing police use of force.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
There is not believed to be national legislation in place governing police use of firearms.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2017 Concluding Observations on Turkmenistan, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern at reports that
assemblies are rare owing to a fear of reprisals for expressing any dissenting views and that insufficient venues are designated for holding authorized assemblies. It is also concerned about reports of forcible mass mobilization of the population for participation in various mass events organized by the authorities....
It called on Turkmenistan to
revise its laws, regulations and practices, including the 2015 Organization and Conduct of Gatherings, Meetings, Demonstrations and Other Mass Events Act, with a view to guaranteeing the full enjoyment of the right to freedom of assembly both in law and in practice and to ensuring that any restrictions on the freedom of assembly comply with the strict requirements of article 21 of the Covenant. It should also ensure that participation in mass events is voluntary and refrain from any reprisals for non-participation.
Views of Civil Society
According to Freedom House's 2019 report on Turkmenistan:
The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, and the 2015 Law on Assemblies defines the right of individuals and groups to hold peaceful gatherings with prior authorization. However, the law grants officials broad discretion to block assemblies, and in practice the authorities do not allow antigovernment demonstrations.