Human rights groups say authorities in Turkmenistan's eastern region of Lebap have detained several local residents for filming damage to buildings and infrastructure inflicted by deadly wind and rain storms that hit the area last week.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a statement on May 4 cited the Prague-based Rights and Freedoms of Turkmen Citizens group as saying that it spoke with a woman in Lebap, who said security service held her for two days, together with 29 others, accusing them of sending videos “abroad.”
"The same group also received reports that security services held another 19 women for the same reason in [Turkmenabat], Lebap’s capital, releasing them May 3," HRW said.
Another rights group, The Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights, said police are watching for people in cars filming on their mobile phones the damage caused by the storms that hit the area on April 27.
"Turkmen authorities’ censorship and efforts to prevent information on the harms sustained from becoming public makes it difficult to accurately assess the damage and casualties," HRW statement said.
RFE/RL correspondents said they counted at least 30 people, including many children, killed by the storms in the Lebap region.
The Independent Turkmen News website quoted a medical official in Turkmenabat as saying that in the regional capital alone, the storms killed 300 people.
Videos that circulated on the Internet showed roofless buildings and private homes that had been destroyed inside.
Meanwhile, many residents of Lebap and the adjacent region, Mary, have said that the government has left them without assistance.
"Turkmenistan’s priorities should never include hunting down people filming news in their region, but particularly now in the wake of a disaster, the priority should be making effective and comprehensive efforts to bring aid to all who need it," HRW urged Turkmen authorities.