UPDATE: This original statement was based on an erroneous article and misrepresented the scope of the government’s censorship. It has been edited to reflect more recent information. PEN America regrets the error.

(Washington, DC) – The Turkmen government is reportedly avoiding and discouraging the use of the word coronavirus to limit information about the pandemic at the direction of long-time president of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. PEN America’s Washington director Thomas O. Melia issued the following statement:

“As authoritarians around the world are looking for ways to exploit the coronavirus crisis to clamp down on critical voices or entrench their rule, Turkmenistan’s regime has gone to dangerous lengths by discouraging direct references to the word coronavirus and seeming to retaliate against people who utter the word in public. At a moment when open and fact-based communication about the crisis is vital, this censorious response is not only an affront to free expression–it could well threaten the well-being of Turkmenistan’s citizens.”

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