Police in Tajikistan are busy naming and shaming renegade members of the pop star class, who have somehow managed to accumulate dozens of unpaid fines for driving violations.
Like many cities across the former Soviet Union, Dushanbe has a driving culture straight out of a Fast and Furious movie. Potholed roads encourage swerving at speed. And it is often the city’s well-heeled and privileged that are the worst offenders.
But running red lights and hanging illegal U-turns is riskier than it used to be thanks to the installation of around 1,000 closed-circuit television cameras.
The ‘Safe City’ project, which has been almost completely financed by deep-pocketed neighbor China, has transformed Dushanbe into a surveillance hotspot. Officials claim it has halved the number of traffic accidents.
If the Interior Ministry is to be believed, it seems famous musicians are particularly egregious lawbreakers, and they often ignore the consequences.
As Asia Plus reported on August 13, citing the Ministry’s website:
Popular Tajik pop star Noziyai Karomatullo, driving a Mercedes Benz ML350 (registration number 1234 AT 01) committed 38 traffic violations from November 1, 2013, to August 9, 2015. The singer paid fines totaling 3,160 somoni [roughly $500] that have already been transferred to the state budget. However, fines for another 21 traffic violations remain unpaid.
Just the day before, the outlet wrote:
First on the list is people’s artist Afzashlo Shodiev. The singer, driving a Toyota Land Cruiser (registration number 6262 AC 01) committed 27 traffic violations between November 3, 2013, to August 7, 2015. The singer paid 2,560 somonis [roughly $400] in fines for 12 violations, but 15 violations remain unaccounted for.
Shodiev is a well-loved, 50-something crooner, who first found his voice in the Soviet period. Among his heartstring-tugging classics is Samarkand and Bukhara, a ballad about the two fabled Silk Road cities that many Tajiks believe are rightly theirs, but which ended up in neighboring Uzbekistan
Karomatullo is a cute young synth-pop sensation whose latest releases are popular with the YouTube set and add a bit of dance to the grind of daily rides on Dushanbe public transport.
While the pair occupy opposite ends of the Tajik music spectrum, the Interior Ministry’s message appears to be that all are equal before the law — including those whose concerts are funded by the rich and well-connected.
But ordinary Tajiks will need some convincing before they believe the days of impunity — on the road and off it — are coming to an end.
Two years ago, local social media circles rose up in rage over reports that the 16-year-old son of the head of the state railways czar was allowed to skip the country after killing three people in a nasty road wreck.
However, even if the Safe City campaign fails to win over the public, the government has a plainer motivation to clampdown of delinquent celebrities.
ChinaExim Bank has given Tajikistan 20 years to repay the low-interest $20.9 million loan used to install the surveillance cameras. Tajik traffic cops are in a race against time.