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'Restrictive Measures A New Normal': Turkmen Region Imposes Unofficial Nighttime Curfew

The province, especially the resort town of Awaza, is a top destination for domestic holidaymakers in the summer.
The province, especially the resort town of Awaza, is a top destination for domestic holidaymakers in the summer.

TURKMENBASHI, Turkmenistan -- Residents of Turkmenistan's western province of Balkan can be arrested if they leave their homes after 9 p.m.

The unofficial nighttime curfew was imposed by the police earlier this month in the coastal province, where state employees can lose their jobs if they breach the new rules.

It's the latest restriction in Turkmenistan, an authoritarian Central Asian country where the government has severely curtailed individual rights and freedoms.

The provincial government in Balkan has not given any reasons for the measure. But a police officer in the coastal city of Turkmenbashi told RFE/RL that the move was aimed at "maintaining peace and quiet and ensuring that people can rest peacefully at night."

State employees said they received leaflets from provincial police that warned them against "walking in the streets in the evenings with or without a purpose."

Another police officer in Turkmenbashi, who also spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity, said the measure was a response to the alleged disappearances of mostly young women in the country in recent years.

"There have been many cases of girls leaving their homes to go to nightclubs and not returning home," the officer said. "In the past two years, there have been 54 unresolved cases involving missing young people in the country."

The officer did not elaborate, but said the alleged disappearances had raised the concerns of the Interior Ministry and the country's leadership.

The new restrictions came as the provincial government in Balkan ordered all female high-school students to undergo mandatory virginity tests to "evaluate their morality" and prevent teen pregnancies.

The list of those deemed to have failed the controversial examination will be shared with police and security services, according to local officials.

'More Rules'

RFE/RL correspondents in Balkan say the unofficial nighttime curfew comes as the police have intensified "control measures" across the province in recent weeks.

That includes detaining those caught drunk on the streets. Some of those detained will be sent to alcohol and drug rehabilitation facilities for up to three months, according to a police officer who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity.

In Turkmenistan, one of the most repressive countries in the world, citizens are often forcibly sent to rehabilitation centers or subjected to mandatory tests. Those who refuse to comply or criticize the government's policies can face arrest.

There are no opposition parties or independent media in Turkmenistan, where public protests are extremely rare and many government critics have been jailed or forced to flee the country.

Mehri, an elderly Turkmenbashi resident who gave only her first name, told RFE/RL that the authorities were trying to make "increasingly restrictive measures a new normal."

"It feels like more and more rules are being imposed to curb people's freedom of movement," Mehri said on February 13. "The authorities are doing it gradually, as if to see how people will react. If there are no protests, they introduce new restrictions. Judging by the scale of the restrictions, the authorities are increasingly afraid of people."

The unofficial nighttime curfew in Balkan is likely to create more challenges for locals and visitors in the coming months as the days become longer.

The province, especially the resort town of Awaza, is a top destination for domestic holidaymakers in the summer. The town is known for its restaurants, nightclubs, and concert halls. Many locals also go to the town's mosques for evening prayers.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

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