The Central Asian country of Turkmenistan claims it has no coronavirus cases. But if you happen to utter the word “coronavirus” while waiting, say, for the bus in the white-marbled capital Ashgabat, there’s a good chance you’ll be arrested. That’s because the Turkmen government, run since 2006 by the flamboyant dentist-rapper strongman Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, has reportedly banned the word, according to Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
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. Turkmenistan’s neighbor to the south, Iran, is one of the countries worst hit by the coronavirus. The government likely anticipates a big post-pandemic economic collapse in a country highly reliant on the sale of natural gas to China.