Karimov senior creams off
the cotton and gold revenues, has many palaces and a retinue.
His nephew Karimov who has been taken off
into custody far from being the residue
that his uncle may presume
is, as a journalist and human rights defender,
fighting for freedom of expression.
I ask you who is being more true,
who is the real offender?
(Extract from the poem ‘Two Karimovs’, by Richard McKane)
I know I regularly focus on Uzbekistan in these pages, but President Islam Karimov’s tyranny seems to know no bounds and, recently, in a bizarre twist, it appears that even his own family are at risk. It was the poet and translator Richard McKane who first alerted me to the fate of 39-year-old Dzhamshid Karimov, an independent journalist and nephew of the President, who disappeared on 12 September 2006, after visiting his elderly mother in hospital. Richard was disturbed to read about the case on Uznews, a Russian-language website dedicated to reporting on Uzbek and human rights issues.
Karimov was missing for two weeks before friends and family discovered that he was being held in a locked ward in a psychiatric hospital in the central city of Samarkand. Uznews reported that the journalist had been given a six-month order to stay in the psychiatric unit. Karimov’s wife, Nargiza, apparently travelled to see him, but the hospital turned her away because she did not have authorisation from the head doctor.
In the aftermath of the Andijan massacre in May 2005, the Uzbek government has pursued a fierce crackdown on civil society. President Karimov has sought to eliminate independent or dissident voices, including international correspondents, local human rights advocates, and foreign-funded non-governmental groups that support free media and democracy. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that regulations adopted in February last year 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.
According to Human Rights Watch, at least twelve human rights defenders have been convicted and imprisoned on politically motivated charges this year alone. Those brave enough to continue to work in Uzbekistan are routinely followed by plainclothes men, videotaped by the authorities and prevented from leaving their homes on certain days (for example, to stop them from monitoring a trial). When I was in Uzbekistan, in 2004, on behalf of the writers’ organisation PEN, there was no attempt to hide the fact that we were tailed at all times. Our hotel room was evidently searched, and I was followed so closely by one man that he was practically tripping over my heels.
Families of dissidents and journalists are also harassed – many were too frightened to meet us, and our interpreter was picked up and questioned after we had left. Having the card of Craig Murray, then British ambassador, in his pocket protected our guide from facing a more brutal attack, but for the most part having foreign associations or contacts in the international media has become a massive risk.
Karimov has worked for the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (www.iwpr.net), in the central city of Jizzakh, as well as reporting for various independent journals and websites. Apparently he had been watched since covering the demonstrations in Andijan, where he reported on the civilian deaths. In August, Karimov’s family complained about the high levels of police surveillance at their home, but their demands that the listening devices be removed were ignored. At the end of August, the head of the regional administration allegedly visited Karimov, who refused the offer of a position on two state newspapers. Recently, the family’s long-distance phone service has been cut. Few doubt that the journalist’s detention is linked to his reporting on human rights abuses in Uzbekistan.
The Uzbek authorities have confirmed that Karimov is in psychiatric confinement, but are calling it a ‘private’ matter. The forced psychiatric hospitalisation of Karimov is reminiscent of Soviet tactics of repression, particularly common in the 1970s. Worryingly, Galima Bukharbaeva, editor of Uznews, reports similar incidents, in which Uzbek authorities have used forced psychiatric treatment to gag critics. And as CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon points out, ‘If President Karimov is treating his own nephew in this manner, it’s hard to imagine how others might fare.’
Maybe forced hospitalisation is considered a less harsh form of punishment than detention in one of Uzbekistan’s notorious prison camps, but it is just as frightening to contemplate what could be happening to this young journalist whilst locked in a psychiatric ward. McKane, in another poem dedicated to the release of Karimov, writes:
In one language it’s aminazine,
here it’s called ‘liquid cosh’, chlorpromazine.
In the Soviet Union they also called the punishment drug Sulfazine,
all anti-psychotics are dangerous for the sane.
To express deep concern for Dzhamshid Karimov’s forced hospitalisation in a psychiatric institution and call for his immediate release, and further to urge that the journalist, while deprived of his freedom, be granted access to his family and independent legal advice, readers may like to send appeals to:
Islam A Karimov And HE Mr Tukhtapulat Tursunovich Riskiev
Embassy of the Republic of Uzbekistan
41 Holland Park
London W11 3RP
Fax: 0207 229 7029