Turkmen President Saparmurat “Turkmenbashi” Niazov’s ongoing governmental “spring cleaning” bore fresh fruit this week, when the country’s prosecutor general, Kurbanbeby Atajanova, announced the results of a two-month probe into the leadership of the National Security Committee (NSC), the regime’s main agency for intelligence and political surveillance. Atajanova said the country’s former security chiefs had been part of a criminal conspiracy that had committed five murders, arrested or detained sixty-nine people, twenty-two of whom were beaten and/or tortured with electric shocks, taken bribes and embezzled government funds. The former NSC chief, Muhammet Nazarov, was accused, among other things, of premeditated murder, receiving bribes, forging official documents and procuring prostitutes. Niazov has also removed the defense minister and the commander of the border troops, and accused all three of having engaged in drug dealing. Yesterday, Niazov dismissed Seyitbay Gandymov, the country’s deputy prime minister and chief of Turkmenistan’s Central Bank.

While Niazov’s sudden anticorruption zeal may look impressive, observers say his purge is motivated less by a deep and abiding commitment to good government than a desire to reassert his iron grip following the recent defections of several ministers and diplomats, along with, perhaps, a desire to deflect growing popular discontent caused by the mineral-rich country’s continuing economic stagnation. Not that such discontent is easy to detect: A report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty correspondent who attended the Caspian Sea summit in Ashgabat earlier this month painted a picture of a totalitarian order rivalling North Korea’s in terms of repression. Late last month, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe condemned Turkmenistan for what it called an “absolute lack of any freedom of expression.”

This issue was written by Jonas Bernstein.