Eurasianet notes that public shaming is an ever-reliable weapon in Tajikistan’s toolkit for silencing expressions of discontent.
This treatment is reportedly not only reserved for dissidents; ordinary citizens sharing details of their lives or casually talking about their impressions online must be on their guard too.
The latest to feel the icy hand of state censors are female social media users, according to Eurasianet.
On November 25, the Interior Ministry published a statement on its Facebook page to reveal that a young woman called Fotima Qurbonova had been sentenced to 10 days in jail for disseminating video footage including “obscene” content.
The offending footage was filmed some time in November and has since been deleted on Instagram, although it has been uploaded by other users elsewhere. As in many of Qurbonova’s videos posted on Instagram, the chatter is impromptu and unstructured.
On that day, it happened to be particularly cold in the unspecified location where Qurbonova was filming. And so, she remarked in passing that it was chilly enough “to freeze off your balls.”
It can only be surmised that this is what reddened the cheeks of the Tajik police since they are being cagey as to what exactly Qurbonova did wrong. All they have said is that Qurbonova filmed and distributed videos of an indecent nature and used obscene language not in keeping with traditional Tajik mores.
“We ask citizens, in particular bloggers, to refrain from spreading offensive words online,” the Interior Ministry said in its statement.
The term “blogger” is typically used in Tajikistan and elsewhere in the region to describe social media users with a public profile of note. Some are equivalent to citizen journalists, but most, especially in the constrained conditions of Tajikistan, typically confine themselves to posting on trivial and nonpolitical matters.
Eurasianet notes that the warning leveled at Qurbonova and her peers creates a perplexing predicament for female social media users in Tajikistan – men are never singled out for moralistic criticism in this vein – since the Interior Ministry has issued no guidance on what constitutes indecent conduct or language. The closest the authorities have come to laying down the law on such matters was five years ago, when the government’s Women and Family Affairs Commission published a visual guide instructing women on what clothes were suitable to wear in public.
Eurasianet says that in fact, Qurbonova’s transgressions, as the police perceived them, may have extended beyond any specific throwaway remark. In her dress, appearance, and overall demeanor, Qurbonova appears to have offended the prim sensibilities of both the authorities and the broader conservative population.
Eurasianet notes that comments underneath the Interior Ministry statement on Qurbonova’s arrest are strongly supportive of the actions of the police.
In the wake of the clamor over Qurbonova, social media users reportedly began directing police to adopt measures against other people deemed to have expressed themselves improperly. Shortly thereafter, a handful of women filmed and uploaded videos of themselves apologizing to camera for failing to comply with moral norms.
Eurasianet notes that the paradox of this officially sanctioned moral panic is that it goes a long way toward contradicting the government’s unspoken strictures on women avoiding dress that could be deemed as excessively Islamic. Women wearing hijabs are informally prohibited from entering government buildings, for example.