Central Asia’s stand against corruption

My latest for Foreign Policy is on how Central Asians are using the internet to document and battle a familiar scourge — corruption, particularly that of the police:

In Kazakhstan, activists are mounting dash cams to cars to film traffic police and showcase their shakedowns on YouTube. In Uzbekistan, renegade lawyers are dispensing online advice on how to lawfully deal with crooked cops and shady bureaucrats. In Tajikistan, a viral video of a driver who ignored a command to pull over by a policeman and then drove forward as the cop clung to the hood of his car spurred national discussion of corruption among traffic police. In Kyrgyzstan, activists from the banned religious group Hizb-ut Tahrir are posting bloody selfies taken after harsh interrogations by security services.

According to Central Asian analysts, corruption is endemic in the region. “Corruption is at every level here,” political analyst Dina Baidildayeva says of her native Kazakhstan. “Be it education, healthcare, road accidents, kindergarten. The majority don’t believe they can change anything and don’t really want change because they are used to corruption from a very early age. You can finish school by buying your diploma. You can bribe your professors to pass exams. As a result we don’t have qualified teachers, doctors. Most people even think that it’s normal for officials to steal public money. Who wouldn’t?”

Until recently, Central Asians had little recourse to address this devastating problem. Not only are organizations that criticize state institutions banned or highly discouraged, merely noting a civic problem — like bribery, crime, or police brutality — can be considered an affront to authorities, who will deny the problem’s existence and likely punish the individual who exposes it. Since state surveillance is an ingrained practice and laws that protect citizens exist more on paper than in practice, any attempt to challenge corruption invites a swift — and brutal — crackdown.

Read the whole thing, Dashcams for Freedom, at Foreign Policy

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