Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov secured a third term in office this week by winning a landslide election victory.
As RFE/RL reports, “Berdymukhammedov maintains strict control over all aspects of society and was all but guaranteed to defeat the other eight candidates, who were widely seen as window dressing for the vote.
“… Two days before the actual vote, students at a school in Ashgabat were tasked with filling in ballots in favor of the country’s president.”
In September last year, Berdymukhamedov amended the country’s constitution to allow him to serve for as long as he likes – scrapping the rule that a President must stand down at the age of 70 – and extended Presidential terms from five to seven years.
Turkmenistan is No. 19 on Open Doors’ 2017 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.
Open Doors estimates there are around 95,000 Christians in Turkmenistan, but just a dozen or so registered churches – the majority of which are Russian Orthodox. As most ethnic Turkmens are very unwilling to be associated with the Russian Orthodox churches, they have few legal options for practising their faith.
“Non-registered religious activity is illegal… Even registered religious communities face regular check-up visits. There is strict control by the government and local authorities over the Turkmen population, and all communication is being monitored,” according to the World Watch List. “Publishing and distributing religious literature is prohibited, and its import is monitored and censored. There is no Christian bookshop in the country.”