Tajikistan’s Dead Insurgent Lives Forever Online

by Nathan Hamm on 2/10/2011 · 2 comments

The following is a post submitted anonymously — Nathan

After taking serious losses in an ambush and a helicopter crash (possibly shot down), Tajikistan’s security forces played catch-up recently and reigned in some cantankerous insurgents in the Rasht Valley. At the beginning of the year the Tajik government announced that an opposition commander by the name of Alovuddin Davlatov (Ali Bedaki) was killed in combat operations. A photo of his dead body was shown and the episode seemed to be over.

However, unwelcome attention was brought to the incident by the rapid spread of a video showing Ali Bedaki being interrogated/berated in the back of a vehicle. The video spread quickly via mobile phone and then turned up online. The Tajik Interior Ministry claims the video is a fake, as if Tajiks dress up as security forces and make super-realistic, gritty COIN dramas. The truth is, it’s him. RFE/RL quotes one former comrade confirming the identity of Ali Bedaki in the video. The implication is that he was soon after executed. That’s embarrassing for the government of Tajikistan.

Now, nobody seems to be too broken-hearted over Ali Bedaki. And, of course, there are some concerns about extrajudicial executions. But the point I want to make from this episode is in regards to the video. The link from RFE/RL to the video leads to this YouTube video. That’s right: “This video has been removed because its content violated Youtube’s terms of service.” Does it? Well, the video shows Ali Bedaki in his underwear being asked questions and treated rudely with a gun near his head. At this point it’s still a lawful arrest of an armed insurgent fighting the state. However, there is something in the small print about humiliation being unacceptable for Youtube videos. But by this standard YouTube could not show video of prisoners or crime reports with people being arrested, etc. Even demonstrators being beaten by police could not be shown.

So did YouTube take the initiative? Of course not. Someone made a complaint against the video. Corporations, authoritarian governments and angry individuals target online videos, sometimes maliciously. A good example is a recent YouTube take down of some harmless political ramblings by some guy sitting in front of his computer. Someone made a illegitimate copyright complaint against the videos and YouTube took them down. There are many other cases of YouTube video take-downs that are completely unjustified. YouTube just takes them down upon request, and the appeal process is probably too confusing for someone who does not speak English well and know how the system works. Who made a complaint in the Tajik case? We have no idea, but we can make a reasonable guess that they work for the Tajik government – or at least a sympathizer for that government.

And it gets sillier. I went to the Tajiki language website for RFE/RL and found a similar article. The commenters on the article discuss the YouTube take-down and eventually someone provides a new YouTube link. However, this one is removed for violating YouTube “hate speech” code. This is ridiculous. YouTube does not have a Tajiki-speaking employee sitting around to judge the content of the video. And if they did he/she would just say that the security guys keep asking Ali Bedaki about the who, what, where, and when. Hate speech this is not. But someone knows how to manipulate the YouTube guidelines.

What they (whoever requested the video be taken down) don’t understand is how hard it is to kill videos once they go online. Soon afterward another YouTube copy showed up, for you viewing pleasure.

Now, the guy that requested the previous videos be taken down can do the same with this one. But more will just go up. In fact, there are already copies up, on YouTube and elsewhere. I downloaded a copy. And in one forum people were discussing what filesharing sites to use for downloading a copy. Whoever thought they could kill this video is still living in 1992. You can’t just block Russian TV and make an embarrassing story inaccessible like you could before. Seriously, kids have this video on their mobile phones.

Again, I’m not losing any sleep over Ali Bedaki. My point is that governments like Tajikistan’s have no idea how to handle embarrassing situations in an environment where media flows quickly. This response has just brought them more attention.

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This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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Grant February 10, 2011 at 10:19 pm

It’s rather typical of them, I can’t even keep count of the number of Favorites I’ve had to delete* because YouTube deletes videos without hesitation.

*Most of them fan videos of games sometimes called MADs

Turgai February 11, 2011 at 7:28 am

Ali Bedaki took serious personal risks for what he believed in. This can not be said of the Islamophobes who want others to do the dirty work (the US military, the IDF, and the Mubaraks, Karimovs and Rahmons of this world). For the rest, this video offeres indeed a glimpse of the true face of the beasts that run these countries.

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