UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said crackdowns on human rights in Central Asia could backfire by encouraging extremism.
Ban spoke on June 13 to students at an international university in the Turkmen capital, Ashgabat, as he wrapped up a five-day regional tour.
Ban said he was impressed by Central Asia’s economic growth since his last visit five years ago, but added that he had "heard concerns about the deterioration of some aspects of human rights, a shrinking of democratic space."
He said crackdowns on rights could be triggered by "perceived security threats -- in particular, rising concerns about terrorism and violent extremism."
But he warned that governments may use such threats "as a pretext to clamp down on civil society, minorities, and human rights defenders."
"Curbing freedoms may create an illusion of stability in the short run,” he also said.
The UN chef said the failure to respect human rights, promote participation in politics, and create equal opportunities "creates gaps.”
“The wider the gaps, the greater the openings for violent extremists," he added.
"I see this phenomenon on the rise in the region and it troubles me greatly," he said, adding that "democracy in Central Asia can work."
At a briefing with President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, Ban called for steps to improve Turkmenistan’s rights record, including allowing independent observers to visit prisons.
He also urged Ashgabat to "move toward media pluralism, freedom of expression, and access to information.”
"In every corner of the world, a robust civil society is crucial for national development,” Ban said. “I urge the government to strengthen its partnership with the nascent civil society in Turkmenistan."
Ban traveled to Turkmenistan after visiting Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan.
On June 12 in Tashkent, he urged Uzbek President Islam Karimov to stop using forced labor in cotton fields and to improve the treatment of prisoners.
And on June 11, Ban urged Kyrgyzstan to hold an impartial investigation into ethnic clashes that killed more than 400 people in June 2010.
With reporting by Reuters and AFP