The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated the news agenda across the globe since the start of this year, but in one secretive Central Asian country you won’t even hear the word ‘coronavirus’ mentioned -- and its putting its citizens in danger, according to a new report.
In Turkmenistan, which was ranked at the bottom of the World Press Freedom Index in 2019 -- one place lower than North Korea -- the word ‘coronavirus’ has been removed from the national vocabulary, according to the independent NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
The government, led by President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, who is known in Turkmenistan as the “Father Protector” of the nation, was one of the fastest moving countries in combatting the pandemic by closing its borders in early February.
To date, no cases of COVID-19 have been reported by the authorities, and the media, controlled by the Turkmen government, has removed the world “coronavirus” from every source of public information, from health pamphlets to schools and hospitals, according to RSF.
Despite the banishment of the word, leader of neighboring Uzbekistan spoke to the Turkmen President last week, the Uzbek readout of the call made clear that the two discussed a number of measures related to the spread of coronavirus.
“Current aspects of bilateral cooperation were discussed, including the priority measures taken in both countries to prevent the spread of coronavirus infection,” according to the readout. “The work of the relevant departments and organizations in providing mutual practical assistance and monitoring the development of the epidemiological situation, especially in the border areas, was noted with satisfaction.”
Meanwhile there was no mention of coronavirus on the Turkmenistan government’s published readout of the call.
“The Turkmen authorities have lived up to their reputation by adopting this extreme method for eradicating all information about the coronavirus,” the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, Jeanne Cavelier, 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 Berdymukhammedov. We urge the international community to react and to take him to task for his systematic human rights violations.”