New Delhi: In the Central Asian country Turkmenistan, one can get arrested for discussing the global coronavirus pandemic as the country’s government is reportedly “avoiding the use” of the word ‘coronavirus’ altogether.
According to a report by Paris-based organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Turkmen authorities are not using the term coronavirus or any other related terms to prevent spread of information about the pandemic among its citizens.
“The state media are saying nothing about the effects of coronavirus in Turkmenistan and the word has even been removed from health information brochures distributed in schools, hospitals and workplaces,” the report notes.
These measures are reportedly being employed to back the Turkmen government’s claims that Covid-19 has not yet entered the country. Turkmenistan is one of the few countries that does not have a single patient of the virus that has claimed more than 47,000 lives worldwide. However, according to Turkmenistan Chronicles, an independent media outlet whose site is banned in the country, the government’s claims are untrue.
Turkmenistan shares its borders with Iran, which has been devastated by the virus with over 3,000 deaths and more than 47,000 confirmed cases.
‘Putting lives at risk’
According to journalists based in the country, even discussing the pandemic can lead to arrest.
“People wearing face masks or talking about the coronavirus on the street, at bus stops or in lines outside shops are liable to be arrested by plainclothes police,” said a journalist working for Radio Azatlyk, a radio station that circumvents the press restrictions in the country to broadcast reports on Turkmenistan.
Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk said, “The Turkmen authorities have lived up to their reputation by adopting this extreme method for limiting all information about the coronavirus”.
“This denial of information not only endangers the Turkmen citizens most at risk but also reinforces the authoritarianism imposed by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov. We urge the international community to react and to take him to task for his systematic human rights violations,” Cavelier added.
Turkmenistan is known as a country with an information blackhole.
RSF’s report refers to it as “one of the world’s most closed countries”. Its government, led by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, known as the “Father Protector” of the nation, reportedly controls domestic media and prosecutes those who report for exiled media outlets. Internet access is also limited to a few people, and that too is highly censored and requires one to present identification.
Turkmenistan ranked last in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index out of 180 countries, just below North Korea.