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Tajik President Slams Brakes On Well-Heeled Students Behind The Wheel

Several fatal road accidents in Dushanbe have been linked to children of high-ranking officials in recent years.
Several fatal road accidents in Dushanbe have been linked to children of high-ranking officials in recent years.

Tajikistan had given prior warning that it was not cool with the idea of university students driving to school, but it seems the kids were not paying attention.

To get their point across, the authorities have resorted to publicly shaming violators, and to leave no room for confusion the president himself has called for their expulsion in the future.

Speaking at a gathering on May 13, President Emomali Rahmon said that young, inexperienced drivers were responsible for nearly half of the 3,000 serious traffic accidents, causing 1,000 deaths, recorded across the country over the past two years.

He also slammed government officials and private entrepreneurs for letting their children drive "extremely expensive" cars to university classes, "putting their own as well as other people's lives in danger."

So, in an apparent effort to both reduce such road accidents and at the same time discourage ostentatious displays of wealth, Rahmon announced that from now on students caught driving to lectures "would be immediately expelled from universities and will not be readmitted to any other school."

It's the second time in less than a month that Rahmon has singled out young drivers of "expensive cars" causing road accidents and pointed out that many of them are the offspring of government officials.

A similar warning from Rahmon came in a government meeting in late April, when he threatened officials with dismissal and their children with expulsion from universities for breaking the law.

That was swiftly followed by an unprecedented move by the Interior Ministry, which published a list of 313 students "who drove to school in private vehicles and violated road-safety regulations in the first four months of 2017."

The list included the names of the students and their schools, details relating to their vehicles, and the type of violations they were allegedly involved in, such as speeding, lack of car insurance, or failing to wear a seat belt.

Rich Kids, Drive Safe!

Several fatal road accidents in Dushanbe have been linked to children of high-ranking officials in recent years. In one of the most-publicized cases, three people were killed when a BMW plowed into their vehicle in Dushanbe late at night in October 2013.

Tajik authorities said a 16-year-old son of the influential head of the state railways company was behind the wheel. The teenager's mother was fined under Tajikistan's law on parental responsibility, although police eventually cleared the young driver of any wrongdoing.

Just three weeks after the accident, Tajikistan launched the Safe City campaign in Dushanbe, with the presidential press service saying that 850 CCTV cameras were installed around the city to monitor the streets to prevent, among other violations, "deadly accidents [involving] the children of officials, state workers, and rich citizens."

In 2007, Tajikistan prohibited students from driving to school to prevent traffic accidents involving inexperienced drivers as well as to create an egalitarian environment in schools.

Don't Flaunt It

The measure came after Rahmon ordered a state anticorruption agency to investigate the incomes of the students who owned luxury cars.

The same year, Tajikistan banned students from wearing expensive jewelry and using mobile phones on university campuses.

Rahmon also initiated a law that sets a limit on how much families can spend on weddings, funerals, and other private functions.

The law, locally known, as the "regulation," is strictly enforced in Tajikistan, curbing a local tradition of private parties that Rahmon said put a financial strain on many families in the impoverished country.

With a GDP per capita of $3,000, Tajikistan is one of the poorest Central Asian states and heavily depends on remittances from migrant workers abroad.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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