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Jump off the Bridge! The Tajik President's Motorcade is Coming

Three young men were recently beaten up by police and put in prison in Dushanbe, apparently after they failed to move out of the way of the Tajik president's motorcade. The incident has triggered an outpour of anger in social media, revealing how much Tajikistani netizens hate traffic disruptions and other inconveniences caused by presidential motorcades.

On September 27, three young men working for a local charity were detained [ru] by police in central Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. The incident drew much attention after one of the detained men, Kamil Areshov, posted on Facebook his version of what had happened. According to Areshov, he and two of his coworkers were beaten up by several drunk police officers, apparently because they had been too slow in moving their car out of the way of President Emomali Rahmon's motorcade. The three young men were then convicted of “hooliganism” and sentenced to five days behind bars.

The story took a bizarre turn on October 3 when state-run television aired Areshov's “confession” in which he admitted [ru] to violating traffic rules and failing to obey police orders. As the young men and his coworkers were released, they refused to talk to media. Soon after his release, Areshov deleted his Facebook post about the incident.

A humorous photo circulating on Facebook. On the photo, a police officer is portrayed as saying, "Hey you! Jump off the bridge! The presidential motorcade is approaching!"

A humorous photo circulating on Facebook. On the photo, a police officer is portrayed as saying, “Hey you! Jump off the bridge! The presidential motorcade is approaching!”

As the incident generated a buzz in social media, some netizens demanded that the young men be cleared of charges laid against them. For instance, Aziz Kholmatov on ASIA-Plus's blog claimed [ru] that police was to blame for the incident, demanding:

[мы] очень надеемся, что поступок тех сотрудников правоохранительных органов не останется безнаказанным и руководство МВД проведет тщательное расследование по данному факту и привлечет к ответственности причастных и виновных лиц.

We very much hope that the representatives of law-enforcement agencies will be punished for their actions, while the leadership of the [Ministry of Internal Affairs] will investigate the incident thoroughly and will hold accountable all persons involved in the incident.

Many more netizens have used the opportunity provided by the buzz to say how much they hate presidential motorcades and all the inconveniences they cause. On Blogiston.tj, Beparvo wrote [ru]:

Мы все живем в Таджикистане и мы все реально знаем как достают эти кортежи. Один президент куда то едет а изза него пол города закрывают. Его машина должна например проехать в 10 часов и всего за две минуты проедет а дороги уже в 9 часов начинают закрывать. Ментов наверно со всего Таджикистана пригоняют, они через каждый метр дороги стоят и свистят как придурки. Еще у водителей денег снимают. А бедные люди не могут на работу попасть или в школу или в больницу. Уже реально все это достало выше крыши.

We all live in Tajikistan and we know [how many problems] these motorcades cause. When a president goes somewhere, half of the city is closed off because of this. When his motorcade is expected at 10 o'clock and it takes the motorcade only two minutes to pass a certain road, they start disrupting the traffic at 9 o'clock. They bring in police officers from all over Tajikistan; these police officers then stand along the road [through which the motorcade passes], one meter from each other, and blow their whistles like idiots. They also extort payments from drivers. Meanwhile the poor people cannot get to schools or hospitals [because of traffic disruptions]. I am sick and tired of this.

According to the blogger, things get much worse when Tajikistan's capital hosts high-level international events:

А еще когда другие президенты приезжают к нам вообще черте что творится. Вообще все дороги от аэропорта закрывают, даже пешеходам не дают ходить там где хотят. Зачем нам вообще все эти гости президенты если простые люди нормально не могут в своем городе ходить и на машине ездить.

And it becomes hell when the presidents of other countries come to [Dushanbe]. All roads leading to the airport are closed off then, and people are not even allowed to walk where they want. Why on earth do we need all these presidents visiting the country when the ordinary people cannot walk freely or drive cars in their own city?

Commenting on a news report about the incident, ‘Grazhdanin’ [Citizen] suggested [ru] that the way the authorities handle presidential motorcades in Tajikistan smacked of Middle Ages:

Просто средневековье какой та. Освободите дорогу Царю. Царь едет Царь. Как в историческом кино Царь едет а вокруг все кланяться а кто оказался не в то время не том месте КАЗНИТЬ…

It is like the Middle Ages. Give way to the Tsar! The Tsar is coming! It is like in a history movie: the Tsar is coming and everyone around bows, while those who happen to be in a wrong place at a wrong time are EXECUTED… 

Another photo circulating on Facebook. On this photo, Tajik police officers are portrayed as telling an elderly man, "We don't give a shit that your legs hurt. Get lost! Go over there because [the president's motorcade] is approaching.

Another photo circulating on Facebook. On this photo, Tajik police officers are portrayed as telling an elderly man, “We don't give a shit that your legs hurt. Get lost! Go over there because [the president's motorcade] is approaching.

The incident in Dushanbe has also inspired some Twitter users to put together facetious recommendations for people who happen to see a presidential motorcade.

New law in Tajikistan: if you see a presidential motorcade, lie down on the ground, facing down, with your arms behind the head, do not breathe, pretend that you are dead.

…if you see [the motorcade] from a window in your house, move away from the window, go to the bathroom, lock yourself inside the bathroom, with lights off

…if you are driving a car [when you see the motorcade], pull over, turn off the ignition, exit the car, and run fast towards the mountains

A newer version: if you see [Emomali Rahmon's] motorcade, raise your hands and turn yourself in to the nearest police department #Tajikistan

On your way to [the police department], start beating up yourself and writing an admission of guilt for a coup attempt

After Areshov's televised “confession”, an amendment to the “law” was proposed:

A newer version of the law in Tajikistan: if you see a presidential motorcade, go to the television office in order to admit to a crime

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