A COVID-19 Loan for COVID-Denying Turkmenistan

World Bank in July a $ 20 million loan To address the health and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic for Turkmenistan. In Turkmenistan, however, The virus has not arrived. Or at least that’s what the government is asking for.

Turkmenistan Zero is one of the few countries in the world to report COVID-19 cases. According to the government, this is thanks to those who have succeeded Defensive strategies In place. But the reality is more blurred. they said Epidemic In the country, however, the authorities made it impossible to report them.

Nurgeldi Halikov, A 26-year-old reporter, has been jailed for a year for sharing a photo of the World Health Organization (WHO) mission in the capital. The delegation was to assess the country’s readiness for COVID-19.

July 12 Halikov took that photo – shared by a stranger – on social media Turkmen. News Website, one of the few independent media and human rights projects in the country that covers daily news and human rights issues. The next day, the police called him in for questioning. His family and friends have not been in contact with him ever since. They think he may be imprisoned in Seydi Prison, but they are not allowed to visit him or talk to him.

In September 2020, Halikov was sentenced to four years in prison on fraud charges for failing to repay a $ 5,000 loan from a friend. After his arrest, authorities interrogated acquaintances, trying to find someone who was willing to complain.

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“[Halykov’s conviction] The independent press denies the allegations made by the authorities to abduct the remaining delegates. There is a risk of torture in prisons, ”said Jean Caveley, head of the Office of Reporters Without Borders in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Press release. Turkmenistan is a black hole for news and information. The media is completely controlled by the government and some journalists risk taking independent reporting.

February 2021 United Nations Special Reporters Group a Letter He expressed concern to the Turkmen authorities about “improper charges, harassment, and arbitrary detention.” To date, no response has been received.

However, soon after Halikov was arrested on fraudulent charges, the World Bank began negotiating a loan with the Turkmen government. Paradox cannot be started. While one journalist was in prison for sharing a photo related to COVID-19, World Bank representatives decided how much money would be given to that jailed government to support the COVID-19 response.

The World Bank project will “strengthen the country’s response efforts and preparedness for COVID-19 pandemic health and social risks” as well as raise awareness and communication activities. Interestingly, the World Health Organization, which arrested Halikov, was arrested in 1965. Credit document. Anyone who dares to speak out against the flu can go to jail.

Turkmen News editor Ruslan Miyetti tried to contact the World Bank and brought the Halikov case to them, urging them to raise the issue with Turkish authorities. He also called on the World Bank to take steps to ensure that people speak freely and peacefully about the bank-supported project. But the questions were answered in silence.

“Development banks are strong actors and they must use their influence to take concrete steps to protect press freedom,” he said. However, experience has shown that Halikov’s case is a case in point when the banks face real retaliation. They ignore requests from civil society, flee from responsibility, say press freedom issues are too political and emotional, and do nothing to push their debtors to release journalists. This is not acceptable. ”

In Turkmenistan, the right to freedom of expression and information is guaranteed Prohibited. Turkmenistan is below Reporters Without BordersThe 2021 World Press Freedom Index ranks 178 out of 180 countries. The government controls all media and citizens can only access the high-censored version of the Internet. The situation worsened only during COVID-19, as authorities blamed the outbreak More pressure on human rights And suppress basic freedoms.

Unfortunately, Turkmenistan is not a neutral issue. According to a recent report, “Unhealthy Silence: The Development Banks did not retaliate during COVID-19Governments around the world have received billions of dollars in response to COVID-19 from public development banks. At the same time, they were threatening, attacking, and committing crimes against journalists, health workers, and human rights activists, providing critical information about the spread of the virus or criticizing the government’s response.

Basis ReportAt least 335 people have been retaliated against by COVID-19 in response to COVID-19, published in Article 19 and IFEX, July 27, in response to COVID-19.

“Development banks have failed to take clear action to prevent retaliation,” said researcher Dalile Antunez. Coalition for the development of human rights. Although they have reaffirmed their commitment to civic engagement and have zero tolerance policies in place, banks remain silent when these attacks occur. The retaliatory measures taken by development banks in borrowing countries will greatly weaken the legitimacy of these loans and risk their potential impact.

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As of July 30, 2021, public development banks have been allocated above $ 154 billion To fund COVID-19 responses worldwide. Development banks, as international institutions, have a duty to respect human rights. They must also abide by their internal policies, which are committed to protecting the right to freedom of expression and information. Last year the World Bank also a To avenge the zero-tolerance policy.

“Development documents of development banks are well-intentioned, but they are of little use if their promises are not kept,” Antunez said. Halikov remains locked up in prison for trying to prove the existence of COVID-19 in a country where the World Bank has responded to the outbreak. If the voices of those who provide vital information about him are silenced, we do not expect the virus to spread. ”