Residents in Turkmenistan's eastern region of Lebap who owe debts for natural gas are being deprived of the right to purchase subsidized food.
RFE/RL correspondents report from the region that indebted citizens, many of whom have low incomes or medical conditions, have seen their natural-gas supplies cut and been told that their properties could be confiscated.
The development comes amid an already dire economic situation marked by rising unemployment, food and medicine shortages, and overdue salaries and pensions.
Government critics and human rights groups say President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has suppressed dissent and made few changes since he came to power after the death of autocrat Saparmurat Niyazov.
Like his late predecessor, Berdymukhammedov has relied on providing citizens with subsidized goods and utilities to help maintain his grip on power.
The country has seen a dramatic increase in the number of individuals who rely on subsidized food, and prices at state grocery stores have risen.
Each customer is allowed to purchase a liter of cottonseed and sunflower oil, as well as one kilogram of sugar and rice per month in special shops. Sometimes the stores also sell eggs and chicken legs.
Turkmenistan boasts the world's fourth-largest proven natural-gas reserves but it has been mired in an economic slump worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, both of which the Turkmen government has officially denied.
According to Human Rights Watch, Berdymukhammedov, "his relatives, and their associates control all aspects of public life, and the authorities encroach on private life."