Turkmen Consumers Face Jail Time If Caught Buying Too Much Bread

By RFE/RL's Turkmen Service

ASHGABAT -- Consumers in Turkmenistan may pay a lot more than money for their daily bread after officials warned that anyone found buying more than their allotted share of the staple could be jailed.

RFE/RL correspondents from the energy-rich Central Asian nation's capital, Ashgabat, said that police have begun monitoring lines at state grocery stores, taking pictures and filming customers to prevent them from returning to buy extra bread.

As they studied the crowds, police warned that anyone found buying more than their allotment of bread will face a penalty of up to 15 days in jail, the journalists said.

The authoritarian government in Turkmenistan has been forced to tighten controls as poverty and economic hardship grow across the country despite its wealth of energy resources.

Lines are commonplace as people rush to state shops when they open at 5:30 a.m. in an attempt to get subsidized bread, which is about a tenth of the price of what is found at bazaars and private bakeries.

Earlier in February, police were detaining those who tried to buy more bread than their ration, including children, but released them shortly afterward. The amount of bread allotted to a person varies from region to region, and can be up to three pieces a day.

Despite being home to the world's fourth-largest proven natural-gas reserves, corruption and chronic mismanagement of resources have led Turkmenistan into an economic tailspin. The situation has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which the Turkmen government officially denies.

The country has seen a dramatic increase in the number of individuals who rely on subsidized food as prices at state grocery stores rise.