New York, September 26, 2006–The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by news that Uzbek journalist Dzhamshid Karimov, nephew of the president, has been forced into psychiatric hospitalization. CPJ is also gravely concerned by reports that raise disturbing questions about the treatment of jailed reporter Ulugbek Khaidarov.
“We’re shocked at the brutal methods used against these two journalists, including
psychiatric detention, a hallmark of Soviet repression,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said today. “If President Karimov is treating his own nephew in this manner, it’s hard to imagine how others might fare.”
Both journalists had once worked for the London-based Institute for War & Peace Reporting in the central city of Jizzakh. Most recently, they had reported for independent foreign publications. Karimov appeared to vanish two weeks ago after visiting his elderly mother in the hospital. Around the same time, Khaidarov was arrested on spurious charges of extortion and bribery after a woman placed an envelope containing US$400 in his pocket. (See CPJ alert: http://www.cpj.org/news/2006/europe/uzbek19sept06na.html).
Karimov, 39, went missing for two weeks before friends discovered that he was being held in a psychiatric hospital in the central city of Samarkand. Karimov’s wife, Nargiza, traveled to Samarkand on Sunday, but the hospital turned her away because she did not have authorization from the head doctor, the independent news Web site Uznews reported. CPJ was unable to contact the Karimov family directly. According to international press reports, the family’s long-distance phone service has been cut.
Authorities confirmed that Karimov is in psychiatric confinement but would not specify the reason, according to international news reports. The regional head of the National Security Service, Marat Khalturdyev, refused to comment on the case, calling it a “private” matter, press reports said.
Galima Bukharbaeva, editor of Uznews, told CPJ that she has reported on a number of cases in which Uzbek authorities used forced psychiatric treatment to gag critics. For instance, Bukharbaeva said, authorities placed human rights advocate Yelena Urlaeva, a vocal critic of President Islam Karimov, in mental hospitals on three occasions.
Swedish journalist Elin Jonsson, a friend of both journalists, told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that Dzhamshid Karimov had written to her prior to his disappearance, saying that local officials in Jizzakh were cracking down on independent journalists. Jonsson said Karimov had heard rumors that he and Khaidarov would be targeted, RFE/RL reported.
Khaidarov, 43, was arrested on September 14 on charges of bribery and extortion. Relatives told RFE/RL that police added new charges of corruption after his arrest. His wife, Munira, was allowed to see him in prison for five minutes on Saturday. She said Khaidarov appeared drugged, his eyes glazed, his speech broken, and his concentration interrupted, RFE/RL reported. She also reported that he looked very thin. When she asked how he was being treated in jail, Khaidarov appeared nervous and told her not to ask him that question, Uznews reported.
“We call on Uzbek authorities to immediately release our colleagues Dzhamshid Karimov and Ulugbek Khaidarov, to stop harassing them and their families, and to allow them to work without fear,” CPJ’s Simon added.
President Karimov launched a massive purge of independent journalists affiliated with foreign-funded media in the aftermath of the bloody crackdown on antigovernment demonstrators in the eastern city of Andijan in May 2005. Since then, Karimov’s regime has sought to eliminate alternative voices, including international correspondents, local human rights advocates, and foreign-funded non-governmental groups that support free media and democracy. A smear campaign in the state-controlled media has branded independent reporters terrorists and traitors.
Vaguely worded regulations adopted in February tightened control over journalists working for foreign news media. The regulations gave the Foreign Ministry wide discretion to issue warnings to foreign correspondents, revoke their accreditation and visas, and expel them. They also made it illegal for Uzbek journalists to engage in any form of “professional activity” with outlets not accredited by the Foreign Ministry.