Turkmenistan has banned the media from using the word 'coronavirus' and threatened to arrest people wearing face masks, a watchdog has said.
Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders said anyone talking about the coronavirus is liable to be arrested by plainclothes police in the country.
A Turkmen radio station claims that special agents have been eavesdropping on people in buses and public places to find people talking about the contagion.
The repressive ex-Soviet nation claims to have no cases of the virus, despite bordering Iran which has reported more than 44,000 infections and exported them around the region.
A man wears a mask in a bus in Turkmenistan which is being cleaned - despite the government's insistence that there is no outbreak in the country
A man carries bags as he walks away from a queue of people in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan
The state-owned media in Turkmenistan has not covered the topic of the coronavirus pandemic or mentioned any measures taken in the country.
Reporters Without Borders said the word 'coronavirus' has also been removed from health information brochures distributed in schools, hospitals and workplaces.
'The state-controlled media are no longer allowed to use the word,' the watchdog said, citing independent news source Turkmenistan Chronicle which is banned in the country.
Autocratic president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov has previously told officials to 'fumigate' the population by burning harmala, a local herb.
This would destroy viruses 'invisible to the naked eye', he explained without mentioning Covid-19.
Berdymukhamedov, a former dentist, has ruled the country since 2006 through a personality cult that styles him as the country's 'arkadaq', or protector.
Radio Azatlyk, a Turkmen-language station, claims that plainclothes security service agents 'take people away for any talk about coronavirus'.
'Special agents listen to conversations in queues, at bus stops, on buses,' the radio station says.
People carry out cleaning work by the side of a road in Turkmenistan, which claims it is one of the few countries with no coronavirus cases
People clean a pavement in Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, where the government is allegedly banning the word 'coronavirus'
A woman wears a mask in Ashgabat, where the government has taken some public health measures despite saying there is no outbreak
Autocratic president Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov (pictureD) has previously told officials to 'fumigate' the population by burning harmala, a local herb
Nonetheless, the government has taken some public health precautions. The school holidays have been extended without acknowledging the reason.
Bank customers in capital Ashgabat are given wet wipes and sprayed with disinfectant in their mouths.
Temperatures are checked in city buses and the vehicles are cleaned with a chlorine solution.
However, public gatherings have not been banned.
Turkmenistan's government claims that the country is one of the last remaining places on Earth with no cases of the virus.
The group includes remote Pacific islands, some African countries, and research bases in Antarctica.
Secretive North Korea also claims it has no cases, despite bordering China and South Korea which have both suffered major epidemics.
Ranked last in the group's 2019 World Press Freedom Index, Turkmenistan is one of the world's most closed countries, Reporters Without Borders says.