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The Qurghonteppa Escape, Aka the Shawshank Redemption with a Tajik Twist

A now infamous jail in Tajikistan. Photo by RFE/RL, used under a CC license.

Last week a young, enterprising and dangerous inmate, jailed just months earlier for murdering and burning a woman, managed to escape confinement in an innovative fashion — by hiding in the trunk of a car driven by the head of the high-security prison where he was serving a 23-year sentence.

This is not a segment of a Hollywood or even Bollywood screenplay, but a real-life story from Tajikistan, a country where even the totally ridiculous (see Global Voices coverage herehere, here and here) no longer surprises.

The event last week might well have never surfaced in local news had the escaped inmate not had the misfortune of being noticed by exactly the same policeman who arrested him last year. When the policeman — who is being held up as a hero by Tajiks simply for doing his job — made the call to the jail, none of the penitentiary staff seemed aware that there was one less prisoner in the facility.

In the aftermath of the scandal the chief of prison and two of his deputies have been fired from their jobs.

Just like the movies

The Shawshank link was not lost on Tajik social media-ites who are converting their horror into comic relief as the ex-Soviet country flirts with full-blown absurdity.

One, named Qurbon commented:

О таких снимают фильмы!!!))))

They make movies about these stories.

Recalling other attempts by locals to dodge punishment, netizens remembered the local pop diva that dragged her handcuffed lover into her Lexus to escape sentencing by a local court but earned herself a two year sentence in the process, as well as the 25 inmates, including foreign nationals and some jailed for terrorism, who escaped a high security prison in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.

One commenter on the Asia Plus website wrote:

уахахаххахахаахахаха когда нибудь прекратят наши органы смешить народ?

LoL. Will our security forces ever stop amusing us?

While another doubted that the penitentiary head drove the inmate away unknowingly:

Еще одна версия, по моему самая правдивая – за определенную (очень большую) сумму, начальник колонии вывез заключенного на свободу. В свете коррумпированности, и последних громких предательствах силовиков, это вполне возможно!

Another version, which I think is most close to the truth: for a huge amount of money the prison head drove the inmate out to freedom. Taking into account the corruption levels and the recent scandalous betrayal of our security forces [the defection of a top police chief to the ISIS terror group] this version is not far from reality.

O little town of Dangara

Notably, the penitentiary head was going to his hometown of Dangara, a small dusty place in southern Tajikistan that was insignificant until incumbent Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon came to power after the collapse of the Soviet Union and began packing his cabinet and security forces with residents of the 20,000 strong settlement and its surrounding district.

Several readers of the Tajik service of RFE/RL (Radio Ozodi) raised the issue of corruption in an impoverished country ranked 152nd of 175 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index:

Мухтарам раисон махсусан аз нохияи дангара дар тамоми сохторхо сардоршуда кор мекунед ахмият дихед наход одамкуш гурезад дар мошини шумою шумо хабар надоред.хайрият хамон милисаи вахдат шинохту дастгир карданд набошад шумо бехабаред.ман бисери сардорон (началникхо)ро мешиносам ки ё аз дангаранд е аз кулоб харуз бо мошин мераванду меоянд ин хело рох аст нархи бензин 5-6 сомон.оё маоши шумо мерасонад ин масрафро.

Dear leaders, especially those from Dangara, who seem to head all sectors! Please, pay more attention! How can a killer escape prison in your car and you don’t know about this? Good that the policeman in Vahdat [town not far from the capital Dushanbe] caught him. I know many of you [leaders] from Dangara or Kulob [a city close to Dangara and another home to many top managers in the country]. You drive to your home region every day despite the fact that gas is 5-6 Tajik Somonis [almost 1 USD per liter]. How does your salary cover all these expenses?

Сардор мошини Кэмри….. Маошаш чанд сомон асту, чанд нонхур дорад???

So the prison head owns a Toyota Camry… How much does he earn, how many dependents does he have?

In the name of law and order

Still others lauded the Vahdat policeman, who for the second year in a row detained the same dangerous murderer.

Мы гордимся тобой оперативный сотрудник! Ты просто молодец! Правительству стоило бы обращать внимание на заслуги таких сотрудников, поощрять их учитывать во время очередных и внеочередных кадровых перестановок. Долой национализм, регионализм и кумовство!

We are proud of you, policeman! Good job! The government should pay attention to the merits of such policemen, promote them. Say no to nationalism, regionalism, and nepotism!

Руководство колонии на хорошее мыло, так сказать, а опера из Вахдата представить к награде, однозначно. Мужик конкретного преступника поймал. А вдруг этот сбежавший еще кого нить зарезал бы. Короче, опер – МОЛОДЕЦ. Побольше бы таких милиционеров, спалось бы спокойнее.

The prison management should be fired, and the Vahdat policeman should be promoted. This guy detained a real criminal. Who knows, otherwise, he would perhaps murder someone else. We need more such policemen in order to sleep better at night.

Clearly the Vahdat policeman was only doing the job he gets paid for but taking into account public perceptions of inactivity or misactivity on the part of the police and other government structures in Tajikistan, the idea of an officer without a price tag has won him special attention and praise in the Central Asian country.

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