Turkmenistan, a former Soviet republic in central Asia, has been ruled by a succession of strongmen. The first one, Turkmenbashi, had a huge statue of himself built over the capital of Ashgabat (see the photo). When we were there in 2008, shortly after Turkmenbashi had died, there were signs that the country was starting to relax and open up; this monument was taken down and put away somewhere a few months after our visit.
But now, it seems that nothing has changed after all; the authorities are so unwilling to admit that haven’t got a handle on COVID-19 that they’ve banned the use of “coronavirus,” and anyone seen wearing a face mask can be sent to jail.
Citing reports from Chronicles of Turkmenistan, which RSF [Reports Without Borders] describes as a rare independent media outlet in this notoriously secretive and restrictive country, the press freedom organization says Berdymukhamedov's government has forbidden state-controlled media from writing or uttering the word and has ordered its removal from health brochures distributed at hospitals, schools and workplaces.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondents in Ashgabat report that plainclothes police officers are also arresting people who wear face masks or discuss the pandemic in public.
This is all the work of Turkmenistan’s current autocrat:
Berdymukhamedov doesn't want to look weak, he says, because he “portrays himself very much as a superman of all trades, the one in charge, the one to be revered and listened to.”
Before banning talk of the pandemic, Berdymukhamedov had reportedly offered remedies to battle the virus from a book he authored on medicinal plants.
Trump is probably envious.