The name Ashgabat means “City of Love.” But in this amorous-sounding place, lovers are reportedly not free to kiss or hold hands in public.
Cops in Turkmenistan’s capital are now doubling as morality police. "On Ashgabat’s streets, couples are banned from kissing, hugging while seated on a bench, or walking holding hands," The Chronicles of Turkmenistan reported on March 31. "Vigilant police officers are closely watching the moral image of the country's citizens."
Police stopped a young couple walking down the street at night last week, the website said. When the two told suspicious officers they were a married couple living nearby, police demanded they produce not only their passports but also their marriage license.
"Remember, it is banned to hold hands, hug or kiss on the streets. This is a violation of our moral foundations," the website, run by Turkmen exiles from Vienna, quoted a senior officer as saying after he saw the required documents and apologized. Police now inspect the inside of parked cars. "Sometimes couples hide inside the car and are involved in lasciviousness," the officer was quoted as saying.
The Chronicles said it has received many similar reports: “There haven't been cases of detention but young people are threatened with detention, conveyance to a police station, imprisonment, expulsion from university and so on.”
The unofficial ban on public kissing and hugging continues a campaign for moral purity in Turkmenistan’s marble-clad capital: Last November, according to The Chronicles, plainclothes police were detaining women of all ages in cafes, restaurants, night clubs and on the street. Police explained that the women were being held as part of the fight against prostitution and "the fight for high morality in the era of power and happiness,” as the reign of Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov – who likes to be called “The Protector” – is officially known.