Athletes from dozens of nations across Asia and Oceania will compete at the fifth Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, beginning on Sunday 17 September in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

The Olympic Council of Asia (OCA) – and by virtue so too the International Olympic Committee – has come under fierce criticism for allowing Turkmenistan to stage the fifth Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games, beginning this Sunday (17 September) in Ashgabat, while making “no visible efforts to urge the Turkmen government to address a single human rights concern”.

“The OCA’s silence about abuse in Turkmenistan is deafening,” said Rachel Denber from Human Rights Watch. “The OCA has utterly failed the Olympic charter’s ideals that it is supposed to uphold.”

“Turkmenistan is one of the most closed countries in the world,” reports Human Rights Watch. “The government has a long record of tightly controlling virtually all aspects of public life and severely punishing even the mildest criticism of government policies.

“The Turkmen government systematically denies freedoms of association, expression, and religion. The country is closed to all independent scrutiny, and the few independent activists who try to promote human rights under the radar face a constant threat of government reprisal. Authorities often impose arbitrary travel bans on activists and relatives of exiled dissidents and others, and deny entry to foreign journalists, human rights defenders, and rights monitors.”

Denber added that, while the Turkmen government has repeatedly said the Games offers Turkmenistan the chance to “show itself to the whole world”, “the only thing the Turkmen government is showing is its perverse, terrible treatment of its people. No amount of games and fanfare can cover that up. It is appalling that the OCA is allowing Olympic values to be so thoroughly degraded.”

Similar criticism was levelled at the European Olympic Committees when Baku, Azerbaijan hosted the first ever European Games in June 2015.

As World Watch Monitor reported at the time, Amnesty International was ordered to leave Azerbaijan just days ahead of the Games, and highlighted Azerbaijan’s alleged rights abuses in its report, Azerbaijan: the Repression Games.

The two countries, on either side of the Caspian Sea, have many similarities – not least when it comes to poor human rights records and a lack of religious freedom. Turkmenistan ranks 19th on Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries in which it is most difficult to be a Christian. Azerbaijan doesn’t make the top-50 this year, but last year ranked 34th.