Prove They Are Alive!
  For Democracy and Human Rights in Turkmenistan

You, who has lied once, who will believe you now?

Bayram Shikhmuradov

Berdimuhamedov is probably lying about the coronavirus. Simply because he always lies about anything for any reason.

For several months now the world has been living in a coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. In late December 2019, the first cases of previously unknown pneumonia were detected in China, and by early March, the disease had spread to all continents.

As of April 27, 2020, there are almost 3 million (!) infected cases registered in 185 countries and regions across the world.

One of the most effective ways to stop or at least limit the spread of the infection is quarantine.

Different countries approached the introduction of the quarantine regime in different ways: some governments only recommended that citizens limit the amount of time spent outdoors and suggested against mass gatherings, while others strictly, under the threat of criminal punishment, ordered everyone to be locked up.

Quarantine, self-isolation  call it what you will, certainly helps, but a panacea it is not. More than 200 thousand people, unfortunately, have already died both from the infection itself, which causes severe damage to the respiratory tract and other complications, and because of the chaos that has swept the health systems of the world, which turned out to be generally unprepared for a pandemic.

Many people could be saved if there were enough available spaces in hospitals, ventilators and other necessary things. In addition, medical staff across institutions, where patients began to enroll en masse, suffered greatly. If doctors and nurses had enough personal protective equipment to protect themselves and remain efficient, the consequences would have been much less disastrous than, for example, in Russia, where this problem was particularly acute.

If governments and the media had informed the population about the spread of the infection and effective measures objectively and at the right time, in order to prevent the disease, coping with it in the first place would have been easier.

Unfortunately, the world was too careless, and in the countries with the highest number of cases, including the USA, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, Great Britain, Iran, the pressure on the national health system very quickly reached a level that is beyond the capabilities of many.

In Spain and Italy, for example, it got to the point where doctors physically did not have time and chance to help each and every patient. It took several weeks to adapt to these new extreme conditions.

At the same time, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore, although also having faced the pandemic in full, were prepared for such a development in advance, due to the fact that in recent years all have been subject to more than one outbreak of various viral infections. As a result of the timely actions taken by their governments and the adequate response of the residents, many lives were saved in these countries.

In the first months since COVID-19 broke out in China at the end of 2019, there were many governments that were not as responsible. While Germany and Singapore immediately began to develop mass production test kits for detecting the coronavirus infection and informed the population about the imminent threat, then Russia and the United States for the longest time refused to recognize the spread of the infection as a serious problem, and those who tried to talk about danger were branded provocateurs.

Only now, when the coronavirus infection around the world counter has exceeded 3 million people, no one thinks to doubt the obvious. Well, almost no one.

Despite the fact that all countries that border Turkmenistan are faced with the problem, and Iran in particular being one of the global epicenters of the pandemic, in Turkmenistan itself, not a single case of coronavirus infection has been recorded. In fact, there is not even a single case of suspected infection, as President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov stated at a government meeting in late February.

Since then, the Presidents statements have not been commented on, let alone disputed or denied. Hence, we can conclude that the situation has not changed  Turkmenistan, end of April 2020, 0 infected, 0 suspected cases.

Whether the words of Berdimuhamedov and the official statements of the Government of Turkmenistan are believable or not, one must decide for oneself. There is no reliable data, it is impossible to verify the rumors, however

At a briefing held in Ashgabat on April 22, Turkmen Foreign minister Rashid Meredov told diplomats and journalists that Turkmenistan was not hiding anything:

If there had been at least one registered case of COVID-19 in Turkmenistan, we would have reported it to the World Health Organization first and foremost he claimed.

Can we trust his word? Perhaps we can, if we also believe that Turkmenistan is a country free of sexually transmitted infections. In the respective WHO statistic tables there are only dashes next to Turkmenistan.

Rashid Meredov, by the way, had recently quite distinguished himself. Turkmenistan MFA published data on the population of the country. For the first time in many years, an official government source has stated that as of 2020, more than 6.2 million people live in Turkmenistan.

According to the latest census of 2012, which the authorities had hid from the public and kept secret, there were 4.7 million people living in Turkmenistan. And even the complete absence of gonorrhea and genital herpes would not have allowed them to reproduce so rapidly.

They also say that the reason there is no COVID-19 in Turkmenistan, is because President Berdimuhamedov foresaw everything in advance and took action in time.

For instance, he began holding online government meetings long before others, like Russians Vladimir Putin and Mikhail Mishustin, started doing so. It is true, but this does not apply to the prevention of coronavirus, unless the leader of the nation had meant protecting himself alone and nobody else.

After all, public events in Turkmenistan have not been canceled, including those which require participation of members of the Cabinet of Ministers. But yes, they really do not get to see Berdimuhamedov that often.

At the same time, no one canceled the mass bike tour. Classes in schools and universities continue as per usual. The Turkmenistan Football League seemed to have been suspended, but without any explanation has since been already resumed. And the fact that there are no spectators in the stands is also not the result of preventive measures: they werent any before the pandemic either.

What else did Berdimuhamedov do? He closed the borders and canceled international transport links. Great job! But when he actually did it?

Border checkpoints with Iran were closed at the end of February. Around the same time, road and rail links with Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan had ceased.

Until March 5, Ashgabat International Airport accepted all regular international flights as usual, except for Asian destinations: Beijing, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur  those were canceled earlier in February.

Since March 6, all flights from abroad were diverted to Turkmenabat. Ashgabat airport started catering to solely local airlines.

Finally, the Turkmenbashi seaport was closed.

When all the above measures were completed, tens of thousands of people had been already sick in Iran. No official data was received from Russia, but the danger of having coronavirus carriers on every plane that arrived from Moscow was very high.

Measures to close the border were taken promptly, nothing to criticize Berdimuhamedov for here. However that is not the point. The point is that hoping that by that time the virus had not settled in Turkmenistan is rather naive.

Yes, Berdimuhamedov claims that there are no infected, but without the statistics of the tests number and results, these statements hold no weight whatsoever. Just no without any proof? How can people believe this?

The conclusion from all this is disappointing: Berdimuhamedov is probably lying about the coronavirus. Simply because he always lies about anything for any reason.

It is most likely that there really have been cases of COVID-19 infection in Turkmenistan. Not many, but it is there.

We can expect not many cases mostly due to the undeclared state of emergency, introduced in Turkmenistan not now, but many years ago.

Under the conditions of a pandemic many nations, including democracies, take inhuman measures such as bans on leaving homes without permission, surveillance of people using CCTV cameras, the use of AI-enabled face recognition systems, wiretapping, etc.

On the basis of a consensus between the governments and their people, it was decided to give priority to public security instead of privacy and personal freedoms. Society accepted the restriction of private freedom as a necessary compromise amid its confidence in the government.

In Turkmenistan, however, no one cares about public opinion on the matter and confidence is disregarded. Privacy and personal freedoms have long been sacrificed for the authoritarian kleptocracy of Berdimuhamedov.

Such restrictions, which citizens of other countries regard as an uncomfortable and totally out of the ordinary situation, is an undisputable and habitual reality to the citizens of Turkmenistan.

If they are told to stay home they will stay home. If they are told to grab their bikes and ride through the streets they will do it. Wear masks?  No problem. Take masks off?  Fine, no worries.

Authorities have no issues locking up entire families: sick and infected in their homes, and those that speak behind bars.

South Korea had developed a mobile application that allows authorities to accurately trace who an infected person had been in contact with. In Turkmenistan they dont need to bother that much. Nobody would care about plus or minus a few people disappeared, infected or not.

It's a sad irony, but in Turkmenistans case such barbaric methods really might help stop spreading the infection. Especially, since the government has no other means of combating the epidemic anyway. Relying on the underdeveloped health system is useless, as is on the appropriate discretion of the population, since the average level of education and civic engagement is incredibly low across the nation.

Rumors of the word coronavirus itself being banned in Turkmenistan did not appear out of thin air. However, what needs to be said is that people in Turkmenistan do not talk about coronavirus not because its banned, but because they simply couldnt care any less. Over the years dictatorship has done its best to destroy peoples ability to speak and think for themselves, so separate restrictions are not really necessary.

If one should believe in something, it is that Turkmenistan is likely to avoid a large-scale epidemic, mainly due to:

1) learned helplessness of the population;
2) completely closed off borders;
3) low counts of elderly citizens (average life expectancy in Turkmenistan being 65 years);
4) police regime and total control which people are absolutely used to; and
5)the good old lying about the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

An expert mission of the World Health Organization will arrive in Turkmenistan this week to check whether everything is as safe as authorities say.

And so we shall see.

Translated from Russian