Governments in Central Asia have failed to consistently uphold human rights obligations in their responses to the Covid-19 pandemic by limiting access to information about the spread of the virus and implementing restrictions in discriminatory or arbitrary ways, says a statement released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on April 23

Turkmenistan and Tajikistan have yet to acknowledge the existence of Covid-19 cases in their countries.

The statement notes that Central Asian governments should ensure that citizens have access to timely accurate information about how to prevent the spread of Covid-19.  They should ensure that restrictions responding to the pandemic are not carried out in ways that violate or undermine protection of rights.

The governments of Turkmenistan and Tajikistan have reportedly responded to the global pandemic by limiting entry to the country, closing borders, and forcibly quarantining people arriving from abroad.

Tajik authorities have reportedly provided some information about how to prevent the spread of Covid-19 on government ministry websites, and have visited some schools, universities, and army bases to inform people about the disease.  However, they have not imposed a quarantine or encouraged social distancing in any meaningful way.  The government did not cancel Nawrouz, or New Year, festivities in late March, and schools, businesses, and most public spaces remain open.

The statement notes that Tajikistan has been receiving protective equipment, medication, and financial support from international donors in preparation for a Covid-19 outbreak since March 16.  But it has publicly reacted with blanket denials about the spread of Covid-19.  On April 1, Galina Perfilyeva, the country representative to the World Health Organization (WHO), reported that Tajikistan did not have a single case of the virus, which government officials continue to reiterate.

The Tajik government has introduced almost no measures to prevent or slow the spread of Covid-19, other than closing its borders to foreigners and sending people who arrive from abroad to 14-day mandatory quarantine. The country has posted some information on its Health Ministry website about how to prevent the spread of the disease, and conducted informational outreach at some schools and army bases, but it has not promoted these efforts broadly or consistently.

The government has taken an inconsistent approach toward social distancing.  On March 4, the authorities ordered a halt to rehearsals for the traditional holiday Navrouz, citing both the need to limit spending and to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Then in mid-March, health officials said there was no need to close schools, universities, or kindergartens because no Covid-19 cases had been identified in the country. Rehearsals for Navrouz resumed and festivities took place as planned on March 21, resulting in large gatherings across the country that President Emomali Rahmon attended.

Mosques were shut briefly in March but reopened on March 20, only to close again on April 18.

On April 17, the president told parliament that despite the fact that there were no cases “[we] should not be arrogant and sit idly by,” and recommended the public comply with hygiene measures, and that people older than 65 stay home.  On the same day, he ordered his government to prepare a two-year food supply for each family in Tajikistan, citing Covid-19.

All events related to Ramadan, which was set to begin on April 24, were cancelled, but schools and other public spaces, as well as businesses, remain open.

As of April 10, more than 4,000 people, including both Tajik and foreign citizens, reportedly remained in quarantine.  Hundreds of people have been forced to stay in “extended quarantines” of up to 21 days.   

By failing to deliver information about Covid-19 and repressing information about it, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan are gravely endangering their citizens’ health, says the statement.