Government ‘squeezes’ and represses people ahead of Asian Games

They will be held in Ashgabat in September. Despite the economic crisis, billions have been spent on the construction of the Olympic Village and the International Airport. Announced cuts in aid to the population. The NGOs report systematic violation of human rights. Tourists must be followed all the time by "tourist guides", obliged to report on their movements.


Ashgabat (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A few months ahead of the start of the fifth Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, September 17 to 27, Turkmenistan is divided between the brilliant image painted by the government and the increasingly difficult socio- economic reality.

Turkmenistan is in a deep economic crisis, as evidenced by the population's difficulty in finding groceries and steadily levitating prices. During a government meeting last week, President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov announced cuts to the social security system that since 1993 provided free electricity, gas and water, which he called "ineffective." An opposition website also claims that 15-20% of workers' salaries in the oil and gas sector will be held back to pay for the games.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch and Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (Tihr) denounce human rights violations in the country, and press the organizers, the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), to comply with the "principles of the Olympic Games defined in the Olympic Charter ", including freedom of the press and respect for human dignity.

The NGOs report that the Turkmen government strictly controls all aspects of public life and systematically denies freedom of association, expression and religion. Among the violations: they control independent activists with repression and threats; place travel bans on activists and relatives of exiled dissidents; ban entry to human rights defenders and foreign journalists. There are dozens of people still victims of forced disappearance, probably held in Turkmen prisons.

In this difficult context Asghbat is spending huge sums on games: the Olympic Village had an estimated $ 5 billion, while the new airport (which seems to be sinking in the sand) cost $ 2.3 billion. About 8,000 athletes should participate in the games. An update published on June 2 at the event site tells of 10,000 dancers and artists needed for opening and closing ceremonies.

Turkmen authorities announce that 600,000 tickets will be available. However, Ashgabat does not seem to want to let "tourists" roam around the country. The official site of the event reports: "During their stay in Turkmenistan, tourists should be accompanied by a tourist guide at all times". Although the constant presence of a tour guide is a common requirement in the country, it is the first time that an official Turkmen site explicitly states it.

An anonymous Asghabat source reported to Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE / Rl) that tourist guides are obliged to "accompany foreign visitors all day and inform intelligence services at least three times a day on Tourists' activities ". And they are not the only ones. According to the same source, even some employees of the Ministry of National Security follow tourists everywhere in separate vehicles and walk alongside them in the markets.

 "Asghabat is squeezing the Turkmen people to pay for games - wrote Central Asia expert Bruce Pannier in an article published by Rfe / Rl in March - and will ensure that seats are occupied by smiling faces."

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