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Road Wreck Prompts Rage Against The Tajik Machine

A social-media photo of a well-connected Tajik youth, who is believed to have been responsible for a fatal traffic accident. The incident has sparked outrage in the country.
A social-media photo of a well-connected Tajik youth, who is believed to have been responsible for a fatal traffic accident. The incident has sparked outrage in the country.
It's nothing new for the well-connected to raise hell on the streets of Dushanbe, racing through the capital in expensive luxury cars. But now there is blood on the streets, a young driver with connections to the first family, and it's an election year.

That combination is causing problems for President Emomali Rahmon as he campaigns for Tajikistan's November 6 presidential election.

On October 9, a 16-year-old youth was driving his brand-new BMW above the speed limit in the wee hours of the morning when he struck another vehicle, killing its driver and two passengers. Three others were gravely injured.

Sources from Tajikistan's Interior Ministry confirmed to RFE/RL's Tajik Service that the son of a high-ranking state official was behind the wheel during the incident, which took place at 2:30 a.m. on October 9.

The driver, whose name RFE/RL is not divulging because he is a minor, is the son of Amonulloh Hukumov, who heads the state Railways Agency and has close family ties to Rahmon and his inner circle.

The outrage resulting from the deaths of the three young friends has gone viral on social media, and the youth's subsequent disappearance has prompted calls for Rahmon to get involved personally to ensure that justice is served.

Police and investigators, who initially disclosed names and details, quickly began limiting new information related to the traffic incident to bland statements like "an investigation is under way."

But amid unconfirmed reports that the young driver had fled the country, local newspapers and social media filled with articles and photographs documenting the crash, the lives of its victims and, most of all, Hukumov's son.

'No Laws For Tajikistan's Elite'

Numerous photos depicting the young man as a privileged hoodlum have emerged. In one he is seen brandishing a gun as he stands next to his car; in another he is seen lying back on a couch, exhaling a large cloud of smoke from a hookah as a gun lies nearby.
Several photos depicting the young man have been posted on social media.
Several photos depicting the young man have been posted on social media.

The images have been making waves on Facebook and Odnoklassniki, a Russian-language social website.

Commenters are demanding that the authorities bring the youth to justice, and are making it clear that the average citizen is closely watching the case.

"No laws for Tajikistan's elite!" someone calling herself "Gulnor" wrote on the Russian-language social-media site Odnoklassniki. "We are watching how police treat this crime."

"Tajik laws are created for ordinary people only," said another commenter called "Diplomat TJK." "We have different laws for different people. The law for government officials is 'eat and rule.'"

Facebook user Nazir Nusrat posted an article from Tajikistan's Criminal Code that stipulates jail terms for those found guilty of killing two or more people in traffic accidents.

For President Rahmon, the incident comes at a bad time.

As the president's camp hones Rahmon's image as an irreplaceable leader of the nation ahead of the November 6 presidential polls, the furor over the car crash has stolen the spotlight.

Presidential candidate Saidjafar Ismonov has described the case as an undesirable and nasty "gift to Rahmon and the entire Tajik leadership during such a sensitive period."

Gathering Momentum

Local journalists and ordinary Tajiks are calling on Ismonov and other opposition candidates to voice their opinions on the matter. And, cornered by journalists and apparently fearing public outrage, even some government officials are weighing in.

"According to Tajik law, an underage child has no right to obtain a driver's license and drive a vehicle," Abdujabbor Aliev, an Education Ministry official, has stated. And, under the country's Parental Responsibilities law, the youth's parents should be held responsible, according to Aliev.

Rahmon has not yet been challenged directly over the case, but social media comments are becoming increasingly hostile toward the president's inner circle.

Odnoklassniki member "Imperator" writes that people like Hukumov "think the world has been created only for them, as if other people don't exist."

Some comments have urged people not to vote for Rahmon in the election, a managed affair that the long-serving president is expected to win by a landslide.

"If they win the election this time, it would be the end of Tajikistan," Odnoklassniki member Salim Rustam warned.

"Don't vote for this lot," said another member called "Khushbakht."

Opposition politicians seem to be making the most of the situation as momentum gathers against the ruling elite.

The Gruppa 24 opposition movement is keeping the debate about the car crash alive by frequently posting relevant articles and photos.

And Rahmatillo Zoirov, leader of the opposition Social Democrat Party, notes that "under Tajikistan's totalitarian regime" the well-connected often get away with crime.

Considering the timing and the attention surrounding this incident, however, it might not be so easy.
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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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