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Azatlyk Housing Report Reaches Top Turkmen Authorities

A residential building in Abadan, Turkmenistan. A 26-year-old mother has recently faced government pressure after talking to Radio Azatlyk about her poorly-built government housing.
Living in Turkmenistan should be like living in an “era of supreme happiness.” At least that is how the state-run media in Turkmenistan has welcomed President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s re-election.

But that sentiment has not yet reached 26-year-old Arzuw, who is one of the five million Turkmen citizens living under the repressive rule of Berdymukhammedov's autocratic government, widely considered to be among the world's most restrictive.

Two weeks ago, Arzuw called a Moscow correspondent of RFE/RL’s Radio Azatlyk, troubled by the repercussions of her complaints to Turkmen authorities concerning the flooding of her government-owned apartment.

The story quickly reached the top echelons of power.

Arzuw explained to RFE/RL how, when her eight-month-old baby needed urgent help, emergency services were unable to reach her apartment in the Niyazov district in Ashgabat, telling her they couldn't find the right address in the midst of what she refers to as “illegal” construction.

After unsuccessfully petitioning district authorities, Arzuw then sought a meeting with President Berdymukhammedov’s sister, who happens to work as a local government official. She was not granted the meeting, but as the emotionally distraught Arzuw tells Radio Azatlyk, “this is when the trouble started.” Arzuw was instead taken to another room by the local authorities and verbally abused.

After Radio Azatlyk, the only source for independent news inside Turkmenistan, aired a report on the ordeal, she received a call from the district chief of the local administration. The district official had one question for Arzuw: How had she been able to get her report to the top authorities?

With public attention now on Arzuw's dilemma, the district chief offered to meet with Arzuw to address her concerns. After she declined to meet with him, he offered to meet with her in the presence of officials from the Turkmen Labour and Social Welfare ministry.

Arzuw tells Azatlyk that after the interview, the administration cleaned up the area around the construction site, but has yet to make repairs inside the building. She then filed a formal complaint for the administration chief to be removed and met with the administration -- only to be verbally attacked once again.

On March 1, Arzuw sent an SMS to Radio Azatlyk’s correspondent in Moscow saying that she and her closest family members were being followed and that her phone lines have been disconnected.

Journalists for Radio Azatlyk are regularly subjected to threats and harassment by Turkmen authorities. The latest Freedom House Press Index placed Turkmenistan in the ten “worst of the worst” countries for press freedom, among countries such as Iran, Uzbekistan and North Korea.

-- Deana Kjuka