In Uzbekistan, a journalist disappears and another is arrested

New York, September 19, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by the disappearance of one independent journalist in the central Uzbek city of Jizzakh and the arrest of another.

Dzhamshid Karimov, a former correspondent of the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), who wrote critically about both local and federal officials, disappeared September 12.

Ulugbek Khaidarov, also a former IWPR correspondent and reporter for Internews Network, a U.S.-based media training and advocacy organization, was arrested September 14 on trumped-up charges of extortion and bribery after writing several articles critical of local authorities.

Karimov has not been seen since visiting his elderly mother in the hospital September 12. His mother, Margarita Karimov, told CPJ that her son never went home and his personal effects are intact. Authorities have ignored her calls for help, she said

Karimov is the nephew of President Islam Karimov, who has ruled Uzbekistan since 1991. Galima Bukharbaeva, editor of Uznews and 2005 recipient of CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award, said that Karimov has been critical of his uncle and that his family lives in poverty.

Karimov worked for IWPR until May 2005, when troops killed antigovernment protesters in the northeastern city of Andijan. Afterward, he contributed to many independent newspapers and online publications. Most recently, he worked as a contributor to the Almaty-based independent online newspaper Liter. According to Uznews, Karimov wrote about social and economic problems as a freelancer.

For the past year, local authorities have closely monitored Karimov’s activities. In early August, his mother petitioned authorities to remove all listening devices from her house; they refused. In fact, law enforcement agents set up more surveillance equipment in a neighboring building, the Moscow-based Central Asia news Web site Ferghana reported. Karimov’s long distance and international phone connections are cut; his family cannot call the capital, Tashkent, Uznews reported.

Also in August, Karimov’s passport was seized by the authorities in Jizzakh after he applied for an exit visa to attend a journalism seminar in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. On August 31, the head of the regional administration, Ubaidulla Yamankulov, visited the family home and offered Karimov positions at the state newspapers Mulkdor and Tasvir. Karimov refused the offer, according to the reports.

Two days after Karimov’s disappearance, his former IWPR colleague Khaidarov was arrested. He is in jail awaiting trial on extortion and bribery charges. He refused a state-appointed attorney, and his family cannot afford a private lawyer. Police have not allowed his family to meet with him, according to international press reports.

Shortly before his detention, Khaidarov published several articles about the unpaid salaries of workers at a local marble factory managed by Rakhima Abdullayeva.

The international press and a CPJ source close to the case reported that Abdullayeva approached Khaidarov while he was standing at a bus stop and put an envelope containing US$400 in his pocket. Khaidarov threw the envelope on the ground, where it was immediately picked up by four police officers, who arrested Khaidarov. Abdullayeva told police Khaidarov tried to blackmail her.

Khaidarov’s most recent online article—headlined “Where did the $100,000 go?”—heavily criticized the administrative head of the Bakhmalsky region of Jizzakh, where Abdullayeva’s factory is also located. After his arrest, 20 police officers searched the journalist’s house, seizing books and handwritten notes, according to international news reports.

Independent journalists and human rights activists have been targeted for repression since the brutal May 2005 crackdown in Andijan in which troops killed hundreds of demonstrators. Information coming from Uzbekistan has been extremely limited following the Andijan killings. Many independent and opposition journalists had to flee the country, and others continued to face official harassment for their reporting. Journalists working for U.S. and Western media were labeled “traitors” and “terrorists” in the mainstream, government-controlled media, which launched a massive smear-campaign against them, according to CPJ research. See CPJ’s August 2 alert.