Accessibility links

Breaking News

Tajik Women Aghast To Find Their Selfies Touting Instagram 'Prostitutes'

A Tajik young woman checks her mobile phone. (file photo)
A Tajik young woman checks her mobile phone. (file photo)

Farangis, a 22-year-old actress and dancer from Dushanbe, was horrified to see images of herself being billed online as a "Tajik hooker."

She had clicked onto the obscure Instagram account after a friend recognized her among the photos of nude or semi-nude women. They appeared carefully selected to give the impression that all were of the same person.

Farangis, who asked RFE/RL's Tajik Service not to use her full name, says her photos had been taken from social media and reposted alongside images of a naked woman with a similar build.

Tajik police confirm Farangis’s account and say they have launched an investigation.

The Interior Ministry says more than 10 women have complained of being similarly targeted, and some have reportedly paid off blackmailers in an effort to have their images removed.

A self-described independent career woman, Farangis fears for her reputation in conservative Tajik society. Already, she says, some people refuse to believe she didn't post the photos herself.

She also appealed to other young women whose images and details she found alongside her own, albeit with little success.

"One of the [other] victims refused to come with me to the police to file a complaint, telling me that I looked suspicious," Farangis says, referring to her European-style clothing and hairstyle. “Others don’t complain in order to avoid drawing attention to the photos.”

Abdurahmon Sharifov, a lawyer for Tajikistan’s Human Rights Center in the capital, says many families try to settle such problems in private, believing complaining about it to authorities might simply exacerbate the problem publicly.

Sharifov urges victims not to give in to blackmail and instead to report similar incidents to law enforcement agencies.

Police say some of the victims were befriended online before being persuaded to provide private photos, while others simply discovered that their selfies and other images had been taken from social media outlets like Facebook or VK (formerly VKontakte), the leading Russian-language social network.

Many of the photos appeared on Instagram accounts along with the victims’ real names and, in some cases, correct phone numbers.

Some of the offending accounts -- including one with thousands of followers and hundreds of posts -- have been deleted, apparently after they were reported by the victims and authorities.

The authorities have not publicly identified any suspects, but Interior Ministry spokesman Umarjon Emomali says “most of them are Tajik citizens.”