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Tajik Student Protests Signal New Culture Of Government Accountability

Students gather to protest at the Ministry of Education in Dushanbe, Tajikistan on 30 August, 2012.
Students gather to protest at the Ministry of Education in Dushanbe, Tajikistan on 30 August, 2012.
Just days after protests took place following charges that Tajik students lost their Kazakh university spots due to nepotism, coverage by RFE/RL’s Tajik Service helped the students regain their place in the classroom.

Tajikistan annually sends a number of students to Kazakhstan universities for preparatory courses, ensuring they stand a greater chance of formal acceptance into their chosen universities upon completion. But when this year’s group of 90 students arrived in Kazakhstan last month, they found that their expected university spots had been assigned to the children of high-ranking Tajik officials.

On August 30 and 31, Radio Ozodi covered demonstrations at the Ministry of Education and the president’s palace in Dushanbe by angry students. While covering the second day of protests, correspondents Abdullo Ashurov and Zarangez Navruzsho were detained by Tajik authorities and brought to a police station for questioning. After an intervention by Radio Ozodi’s bureau chief, the reporters were released and Tajik police later called the incident "a misunderstanding."

Less than a week after Radio Ozodi's reports on the protests and the correspondents’ detainment, the students returned to the Kazakhstan universities, where authorities granted 20 of them admission to their chosen faculties. The remaining students were satisfactorily assigned to other disciplines.

Ashurov credits Radio Ozodi’s reporting with facilitating a quick and peaceful outcome. "I saw how quickly the language of the authorities changed afterwards," he says. "Threatening words very soon changed to those of calming resolution."

Tajik Service Director Sojida Djakhfarova said that in addition to RFE/RL's coverage helping to hold authorities accountable, the protests signify a rejuvenated culture of demanding fair treatment following years of suppression after the Tajikistan civil war.

"The culture of protest is coming back to Tajikistan," she said. "People understand that they have to make demands to protect their rights. After all these years, that’s encouraging for young people and the future, to know they can make the government listen to them. "

-- Rob Peace