Depending on their personal attitude to the pandemic, Tajik citizens can rely either on official or alternative data on COVID-19 mortality in the country.
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Tajik users on social networks express distrust of official statistics regarding the extent of the spread of coronavirus. In response, the authorities threaten to prosecute for spreading false information, and periodically block access to a site with alternative information about the number of victims of the pandemic.
Disbelief in official statistics appeared at a time when social networks reported the appearance of patients with suspected coronavirus and the facts of mysterious deaths. However, in light of these reports, the authorities repeatedly denied the presence of COVID-19 in Tajikistan and claimed that these cases are related to pneumonia. The authorities believed that “rumors” of coronavirus infection were being spread in order to sow panic and fear among the population.
For instance, on March 4, the Ministry of Health and Social Protection of Tajikistan called on the media to publish only official and “verified” information on this issue.
“Apparently, a certain group of people is interested in using the Internet to publish false and unverified information about coronavirus in Tajikistan in order to sow fear and panic among the population,” the Ministry said in a statement.
Due to lack of trust in official statistics on the number of victims of the new coronavirus, Tajik activists created an alternative site, kvtj.info, which contains a list of citizens allegedly killed by this virus.
According to the official statistics, as of June 8, 47 people died from the coronavirus. An alternative list on the same day lists the names of 426 people, who are supposed to have died from coronavirus or pneumonia.
The website’s statistics are based on information about the deaths of residents shared by their relatives and loved ones on social networks. The list includes the initials of the alleged victims of the pandemic, the region where they came from, age and occupation, and also the source of information.
Access to the website in Tajikistan is periodically blocked and VPN technology is required to visit it.
During a conversation with CABAR.asia one of the activists of this web resource expressed concern about the periodic blocking of their public web service in Tajikistan.
“The goal of this website’s creators is only to collect unofficial data on deaths from pneumonia or coronavirus. Certainly, our data is different from official statistics, and the authorities are not happy about this. This is not an attempt to cause panic. Perhaps these figures will one day be useful for history or even needed by the authorities themselves,” the speaker said.
According to him, the list is updated every day – after reports of new deaths appear on social networks. After receiving the data, the website administration tries to confirm the information received from other sources.
Another web resource activist claims that the data of their web service are more accurate and definite than the figures of official statistics.
“Our website lists the names of specific people, there are sources that can be verified,” he said, adding that there are no such specifics in the official data.
Activists draw attention to the point that the society does not have complete information about the mortality of people with suspected coronavirus. For instance, the public learned only a few days later about the death of Saidahmad Gadoev, a pediatrician from Vose district in southern Tajikistan. Gadoev fell ill on May 3 and died a week later on May 10. The media found out about his death only on May 15.
At the same time, observers note that despite apparent contradictions, some international organizations and databases continue to rely primarily on official statistics in their work. This includes the renowned web service about the dynamics of the spread of coronavirus established at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington.
The authorities advise not to believe rumors
Until April 30 of this year, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan were the two Central Asian countries that did not confirm the presence of coronavirus cases. However Dushanbe officially announced the presence of sick in the country a day before the visit of the World Health Organization delegation.
Even after acknowledging the presence of COVID-19, authorities continued to threaten punishment for people who “sow panic”.
“We call on the population not to give in to unfounded rumors about an alleged increase in mortality, price increases, shortages of essential products, and the closure of interregional roads, – said a statement released by the Prosecutor General’s Office of Tajikistan on May 7. – At the same time, we notify that measures will be taken in accordance with the laws of Tajikistan against those who sow panic in the country.”
Tajik authorities refuse to comment on the reliability of statistics on the victims of the pandemic. Recently, the Ministry of Health sent a text message to citizens so that they do not believe the rumors and get accurate information about the coronavirus from the website of the Ministry of Health moh.tj.
During a brief interview, representatives of the Ministry of Health stated that “the statistics provided are official and only those cases that have been documented are registered.”
Observers state that the Tajik authorities concealed the spread of COVID-19 in the country from the very beginning, and now do not provide accurate statistics on the number of people who became ill and died from coronavirus.
Tajik political analyst Parviz Mullojanov believes that the Tajik government does not want to provide real statistics for only two reasons.
“First of all, the authorities are concerned about panic among people, which could worsen both the social and economic situation. Secondly, they assume that this will negatively impact the government’s reputation, as there is a possibility that people will blame them for worsening the situation,” Mullojanov said.
In his opinion, the authorities’ efforts will not provide the desired result, and the “real figures cannot be hidden from the public”.
According to official data, as of June 8, the number of people infected with coronavirus in Tajikistan has reached 4529 people. The Ministry of Health stated that the death toll from COVID-19 has risen to 48.
According to these data, Tajikistan currently has the highest number of coronavirus deaths in Central Asia.
This article was prepared as part of the Giving Voice, Driving Change – from the Borderland to the Steppes Project.