Regardless of what side of the Arab-Israeli conflict you're on, I hope we can all agree that Turkmenistan's Saparmurat Niyazov is a ruthless and evil dictator
"The watchful eye of the secret police is all too familiar to local reporters, and to anyone who has even the most innocent contact with the outside world. Phone calls, emails and internet access are all monitored carefully by the security service. Anyone who has travelled abroad is regarded with particular suspicion.
"One Ashgabat-based journalist who asked to remain anonymous said even putting together a brief article can be an ordeal.
"'There is simply no escape from surveillance. If you gather information by telephone, the conversation is suddenly cut off, and if you dial a second time the line goes dead at the most interesting point, and you realise that contact is impossible. To gather a single figure or fact, you have to travel to the other end of town,' he said.
"Even a trip abroad is enough to put you on the list of possible dissenters.
"Ashgabat has just hosted an international conference of English-language teachers from south and southeast Asia, but many schoolteachers from across Turkmenistan were quietly barred from attending...
"An employee of the Turkmen communications ministry said the government wanted to create an 'information vacuum'. He said the ministry had been required by the National Security Committee to set up a special office which trawls through the internet and decides which sites are acceptable and which are not.
"The list of undesirable sites includes opposition organisations in exile and uncensored information about Turkmenistan carried by Russian news sites, but it is always expanding. One young woman told how she was hoping to apply to a European university to do a master’s degree there, but found its site was blocked."