Turkmenistan readies for polygamy crackdown


Reclusive Turkmenistan appeared to be cracking down on polygamous relationships on Tuesday, with the parliament issuing new legislation against the practice in the majority-Muslim ex-Soviet republic.

Polygamy is already formally banned and punishable by up to two years of corrective labour in ex-Soviet Turkmenistan. But nevertheless it has a degree of social acceptability and was traditionally practised before the Soviet era.

A new amendment to the family code passed by parliament and published in the state newspaper Neutral Turkmenistan on Tuesday seemed aimed at clearing up any ambiguity. It stated that polygamy "refers to cohabitation with two or more women at the same time" and stressed that this was "not permitted" in the republic.

This new stronger wording is likely to lead to stricter application of the law, which may be aimed at curbing Islamic influence.

Turkmenistan's first president after independence from the USSR, Saparmurat Niyazov, suggested he might legalise polygamy in 1999. Turkmenistan would have been the first ex-Soviet country to legalise polygamy had Niyazov followed through with his proposal, which he justified in terms of the need to respect "old ways" and "local customs."

Some speculated at the time that he was motivated by his own desire to legitimise relationships with women other than his wife Muza, with whom he was believed not to be cohabiting.

The totalitarian ruler who styled himself Turkmenbashy or "Father of the Turkmen" died in 2006 and was replaced by Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who served as his personal dentist before ascending the ranks to become health minister and then president.

Berdymukhamedov has echoed many of his predecessor's authoritarian tactics and both men are honoured by golden statues in the Turkmen capital Ashgabat.    (AFP)

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