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IFLA/FAIFE alarmed over closure of libraries

(IFLA/FAIFE/IFEX) - The following is an IFLA/FAIFE media release:

IFLA protests closure of libraries and violations of human rights in Turkmenistan

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) strongly protests the closure of libraries in Turkmenistan and its impact on freedom of access to information and freedom of expression in the country.

While the World Summit on the Information Society debates how best to safeguard access to information and freedom of expression in the information and knowledge society, the Turkmen government takes steps to keep the Turkmen population in isolation and ignorance by exercising one of the most profound onslaughts on intellectual freedom rights we have witnessed in many years, said IFLA President Kay Raseroka.

Closure of libraries

The President of Turkmenistan, Mr Saparmurat Niyazov, has ordered the closure of libraries on the grounds that "nobody reads books or goes to libraries". Central and student libraries will remain open, but the remainder will be closed. The President has stated that additional libraries are unnecessary as most books that Turkmen need should already be in homes, workplaces and schools. IFLA/FAIFE is monitoring this situation with alarm.

It has proven difficult to get an exact status of the closure of libraries. While the National Library appears to have escaped closure, the Open Society Institute has confirmed the closure of the libraries in the Dashoguz province. Other analysts report that libraries have been out of favour with the president for a long time. The supplies of books of university libraries have not been updated for ten years and many works on history, literature and biology have been removed and destroyed.

Censorship and blocked Internet access

The closure of libraries is a recent example of violations of intellectual freedom in the country. The government makes access to the Internet as difficult as possible and blocks access to online information resources. The educational system is deeply affected, the curriculum concentrating on the study of the president's Rukhnama ideology, which denies any influence by civilisation, science or culture on the development of the Turkmen people. Human rights organisations report on widespread censorship of information and media that do not support the Rukhnama ideology. Import of foreign literature, newspapers and magazines is prohibited, while state bookshops only sell books that support the ideology. The remaining bookstores and libraries are already emptied of books - which makes closure of libraries even easier. Book burning, banning of libraries, banning of cultural institutions and ballet, opera, circus and concerts and foreign cultural associations, along with harassment and imprisonment of intellectuals and other opponents of the government, are all examples of the severe oppression experienced by the people of Turkmenistan.

Violations of human rights

The elimination of freedom of access to information and freedom of expression will deeply affect the development of the country and its people. Access to information, knowledge and lifelong learning is central to democratic development and active participation and influence in society. It is a fundamental human right as specified in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

State control over Turkmen lives keeps citizens in a state of ignorance and prevents communications with the outside world. Human rights organisations report the abuses to include violations of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights. Those opposing government policy are imprisoned and subjects of torture and summary trials and their families harassed. What is happening in Turkmenistan is an abuse of unheard proportions of the rights of its people.

International protests

The International League for Human Rights, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the Memorial Human Rights Center are appealing to the UN Commission on Human Rights to address the continuing human rights violations in Turkmenistan.

IFLA declares its support for this appeal and urges the Turkmen Government to reopen libraries, restock them and provide free Internet access and support their staff in order to provide unrestricted access to information in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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