The isolated nation of Turkmenistan is suppressing news of the coronavirus, and claims there are only cases in other countries


Turkmenistan, an isolated and oppressive central Asian country, has claimed that it does not have any cases of the coronavirus, while being accused of suppressing information about the pandemic.

According to the Turkmen government, nobody there has been infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.Advertisement

The secretive central Asian republic is ruled over by Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, a flamboyant strongman. He has ruled the country since 2006 and has been widely denounced for his country's grim human-rights record.

According to a report for Radio Azatlyk, the Turkmen language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, plainclothes police are arresting people for discussing the pandemic in public or wearing protective masks.

The government has also been erasing any mention of coronavirus from public health information literature for the population of 5.7 million, distributed at hospitals and schools, Radio Liberty said.

Jeanne Cavelier, the head of Reporters Without Borders' Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, said in a statement: "This denial of information not only endangers the Turkmen citizens most at risk, but also reinforces the authoritarianism imposed by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov."

The phrase "coronavirus" has not completely disappeared from the lexicon of government communications, however.Advertisement

A press release issued by the state news agency Turkmenistan Today, on March 25, was headlined: "Turkmenistan brings its citizens back home because of pandemic coronavirus."

Indeed, the government has organized an airlift for those living and working in China. None had been infected, according to government data.

If this is true, it would make Turkmenistan unique in the region. Numerous cases have been reported in nearby countries, including Afghanistan and Kazakhstan. To the south, Iran is suffering one of the world's worst outbreaks.Advertisement

In March, President Berdymukhamedov, whilst not mentioning coronavirus by name, ordered the government officials to fumigate the country with an aromatic herb, which can have psychedelic effects when ingested.

He said the smoke would destroy viruses that are "invisible to the naked eye," according to The Times of London.

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