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Dozens of women have described having their licenses seized by traffic-police officers under thin pretexts like missing spare tires or lack of a first-aid kit.

An Ashgabat mother who's been driving for two decades has found herself stranded after authorities recently refused to extend her driver's license in what looks like a fresh blow to women drivers in the male-dominated Central Asian country.

The woman, who doesn't want her identity revealed for fear of reprisals, says more than a dozen visits to the relevant authorities have elicited no explanation for why they derailed her routine application for a renewal.

She's never gotten a ticket, she says. "When I demanded that one official show me some official document" to explain the cutoff, she adds, he described "a verbal instruction from above."

"He said, 'Please understand me: I can't accept your applications.'"

She says driving is essential to her family life.

Several other women in the capital have shared similar stories with RFE/RL's Turkmen Service about not being allowed to apply for extensions in the past several months. Turkmen driver's licenses require renewal every 10 years.

Turkmenistan suffers from a legacy of Soviet bureaucracy and bribery is rampant. But informal polling of male drivers gave no indication of any similar trend among men.

The women told RFE/RL that while obstacles to license renewal had existed for some time, they believed the flat refusal to accept their applications began only months ago.

An official news website in Turkmenistan published a cartoon showing a woman driver with traffic signs on her ears.
An official news website in Turkmenistan published a cartoon showing a woman driver with traffic signs on her ears.

The accusations come against a backdrop of claims that Turkmenistan has already taken measures to discourage women from driving, including arbitrary stops and citations as well as on-the-spot confiscations of licenses.

The mother who lost her license says there was another sign that other women were being targeted specifically. "When [I] asked when the authorities are going to issue licenses again, the official said, 'As soon as they start [issuing licenses again], there will be rumors in the city about it and you'll find out,'" she says.

Dozens of women have described having their licenses seized by traffic-police officers under thin pretexts like missing spare tires or lack of a first-aid kit.

In February, opposition publication Chronicles Of Turkmenistan said 20 or so female drivers were stopped and inspected at a single traffic post on Bitarap Turkmenistan Avenue in one day alone.

In September, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported that traffic officers were stopping female drivers en masse on downtown roads and summarily taking their licenses before taking them to the central traffic-police headquarters.

Turkmen authorities have not publicly commented on allegations that they are singling out female drivers despite repeated attempts by RFE/RL to get official comment.

Written by Farangis Najibullah with reporting by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service
Russian authorities "interfere with performances of rappers and other musicians popular with younger audiences, supposedly with the aim of protecting children from promotion of suicide, narcotics, and propaganda of 'non-traditional sexual relations.'"

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Russian authorities to end their "attacks on artistic freedom," after police in Moscow launched an audit of an independent theater known for productions focusing on societal issues.

The audit of Theater Doc was launched earlier this month, with the authorities saying they were looking for signs of promotion of terrorism, drugs, and "gay propaganda" in three of its productions, HRW said in a statement on November 28.

The head of Theater Doc, Aleksandr Rodionov, was interviewed by police this week, the New York-based group said.

Russian authorities "increasingly crack down on artistic expression," according to Tanya Lokshina, associate Europe and Central Asia director at HRW, with theater productions, films, and exhibits deemed "out of line with so-called traditional values and patriotic sentiment" being banned.

They also "interfere with performances of rappers and other musicians popular with younger audiences, supposedly with the aim of protecting children from promotion of suicide, narcotics, and propaganda of 'non-traditional sexual relations,'" the statement added.

HRW said one Theater Doc production in question tells the challenges gays in Russia are facing.

Another is about the war in eastern Ukraine, Russian government propaganda, and the case of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who spent five years in Russian custody.

The third production deals with the stigmatization of drug users in Russian society and their treatment by the authorities.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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