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Turkmenistan’s dictator fights the pandemic by banning masks in public and the word ‘coronavirus’

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Turkmenistan’s dictator fights the pandemic by banning masks in public and the word ‘coronavirus’

Saad Ali Rana
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By banishing the word “coronavirus” from the Turkmen vocabulary in a radical move to suppress all information about the pandemic, Turkmenistan’s government is putting its citizens in danger, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says.

The state-controlled media are no longer allowed to use the word and it has even been removed from health information brochures distributed in schools, hospitals and workplaces, according to Turkmenistan Chronicle, one of the few sources of independent news, whose site is blocked within the country. In this information black hole neighbouring Iran, 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, according to journalists based in the capital, Ashgabat, who report for Radio Azatlyk, the Turkmen language service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

A complete information blackout

Turkmen citizens only have access to very one-sided information about the coronavirus epidemic while, according to the authorities, no case has so far been detected in Turkmenistan. The president, also known as “Father Protector,” gave orders on 13 March for public spaces to be fumigated with a traditional plant called “harmala” as a protective measure.

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