In an unusual development for Tajikistan, there have been two episodes of mass unrest in the past few days. Both were suppressed by force.
Prague-based Akhbor news website reported that a crowd of Chinese nationals working at a metals plant in the north of the country staged an impromptu demonstration on May 20 in a demand to be allowed to travel home. Riot police dispatched to the scene, in the town of Taboshar, about 90 kilometers from the city of Khujand, dispersed the crowd of around 100 people by firing gunshots into the air.
Travel between China and Tajikistan has been suspended since January, as soon as the potential danger of the coronavirus threat became evident. That has left a large number of now-jobless Chinese laborers stranded. According to official data, around 7,000 Chinese nationals live and work in Tajikistan.
Akhbor cited its unnamed sources as saying at least two workers at the Taboshar are suspected to have died with an illness bearing hallmarks of COVID-19. Workers have previously held unruly negotiations with management demanding to be given passage to their home country, but without any breakthroughs, Akhbor claimed. Frustrations culminated on May 20 with staff attacking the premises of their company, smashing windows and damaging cars.
There has been no official comment or confirmation of the incident.
On May 17, in a location several hundred kilometers to the south, in the Khuroson district in the Khatlon region, hundreds of local residents blocked a key thoroughfare with calls for the authorities to take action after days of mudslides in the areas destroyed fields and homes. At least one person is reported to have died in the disaster.
The flash protest lasted for four hours before it was brought to an end by the intervention of police.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radioi Ozodi, reported that officials had finally pledged to help out with disaster relief. At the same time, however, the Prosecutor General’s Office has said it will conduct an investigation into who instigated the protest and describe those people as “destabilizers.”
The Emergency Situations and Civil Defense Committee says it has sent tents and food packages to the affected area. UNICEF and the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat were among the international organizations who contributed 10,000 liters of diesel, thousands of liters of drinking water and 100,000 boxes of disinfectant tablets with which to treat water.
Residents have told Ozodi, however, that assemblies summoned by the local authorities to supposedly discuss coordination on the distribution of aid have turned into little more than ambushes, as many local men who turn up are detained by police upon arrival.
“These assemblies are a lie. There are no assemblies. They are locking up our men on the grounds that they expressed their unhappiness. Instead of helping, they are arresting our husbands,” one sobbing woman told Ozodi.