Uzbekistan: New conference with old zindan at background
"Open Journalism in Central Asia" Media Conference organised by Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) starts today in Tashkent, which will discuss issues of freedom of the media. This event, expected for fifteen years, can rightly be considered a breakthrough in relations between Uzbekistan and the international journalistic community. However, a recent arrest of our Tashkent colleague Bobomurod Abdullayev overshadows the "press freedom festival," so rare for the whole region.
The name of the well-known journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev, who for almost a decade fell out of the profession, emerged again today. However, this glory does not warm Bobomurod's soul: after his sudden arrest and charges of writing dozens of articles written under the pseudonym Usman Khaknazarov, and put in a real zindan (Persian word for dungeon or prison - note by Fergana), deprived of a fair trial, communication with relatives, and even a lawyer. The investigative authorities in Uzbekistan suspect him of anti-constitutional activity, close ties with the opposition, preparations for the revolution, in the end.
Who is he?
Journalist - gold medallist
Resume Abdullaev wrote himself testifies.
He was born in 1973. Achieving a gold medal he graduated from a secondary school in the Khorezm region in 1990. It is quite evident that the young man strived after knowledge. In 1995, Bobomurod, whom his friends then called just "Bob," graduated with honours from the Department of Russian Language and Literature of the Faculty of Foreign Philology of Tashkent State University becoming a philologist and translator. A year later he completed Translation Theory postgraduate course at his alma mater.
Even this education was not enough for him. He entered Tashkent State Economic University, the World Economy and International Economic Relations faculty, in 2001. And in 2004 he widens his collection of trophies with another Bachelor's degree with honours.
Since 1997, Bobomurod has been working as an editor in the methodology department of the Central Bank, an interpreter in the Union of Businessmen of Uzbekistan and Turkey, then again at the bank, then working as a correspondent for the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe / Freedom in Tashkent.
Until the middle of the 2000s, it was still possible to live and work as a journalist in Uzbekistan. Bobomurod serves as a senior correspondent for the international information department of the Turkiston-Press non-governmental news agency and later as a correspondent for the British Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). All of his colleagues at the time speak of him as an extremely calm, composed, and educated person mastering the highest skill of a newspaper word.
The journalist - "internal emigrant"
After the Andijan massacre, the majority of journalists who previously collaborated with foreign editions were forced either to leave the country altogether or to keep low profile ceasing their activities. Bobomurod chose the second way - "internal emigration."
"I'm here under the close surveillance," he wrote to the author of these lines in 2008. "All those who stayed are under monitoring, control, step left or right - you'll be shot on the spot. I can only write about football, which I like and I think I understand." Bob wrote about football in local publications, not a word about politics. Our site published several of his news and articles on Uzbek sports in those years.
Football became the meaning of Bobomurod's life - his creativity, research and ground for analysis. He has been earning for living by driving a taxi offering a lift to passengers hurrying somewhere through the streets of Tashkent.
Journalist writing for Fergana News under the pseudonym
We corresponded again with Bobomurod only in early 2017. It turned out that the "Mirziyoyev spring" encouraged him very much, he sincerely believed in the changes and was determined to participate in them actively. After long years of silence, he again wanted to talk, write and even sing: today many people know him as a performer of amateur, innocent, but touching and sincere songs published on YouTube.
Bob himself offered me several topics for the articles, and I happily seized them. Contrary to popular belief, Fergana News does not seek out gruesome stories in Uzbekistan slinging mud at the country by "continuous negative". We just do our journalistic work telling about the critical problems of the country, the state, and society. And Bobomurod fit the role of our correspondent like no other.
Many would envy his professionalism, clarity of vision, ability to grasp the essence, ease of pen. He made a portrait of a prominent imam of Tashkent. Unfortunately, even with the arrival of the "Mirziyoyev warming" in the still police Uzbekistan, such texts are impossible. Such a harmless article, not insulting or calling to anything illegal, can lead you to prison.
However, from the point of view of international journalism taking place in civilised societies, this is the most ordinary, thoughtful and critical text.
Not "Usman Khaknazarov"
Bobomurod always wrote thoughtful, critical but moderate texts. Therefore, I do not believe that he is the author of articles posted on the Internet en masse and signed by the name of "Usman Khaknazarov." The style is not the same. Vocabulary - not the one. Intonation is alien, hysterical.
Yes, the investigation has already stated about the "Bobomurod-Usman", and the court fixed it in its ruling on the arrest. However, are there many judges in Uzbekistan whom we can unconditionally trust? Is it possible to listen to the conclusions of the investigation when it literally steals a person, does not inform his family and friends about him for two days, then shows once and - bam! - again isolates from the world so tightly that neither a lawyer nor a mother can visit him?
We have seen a thousand times that innocent people are becoming guilty, taking responsibility for most serious crimes, perjuring friends, acquaintances and friends under systematic torture. The only thing the Uzbek Themis has learned in the last quarter of a century is to effectively wrest testimonies and successfully imprison the innocent.
I would not believe unconditionally the opposition leader Muhammad Salih, who confirmed the version of the investigation. With all my respect to this person, Salih is a politician, and politicians always have something on their mind: strategies, tactics, behind-the-scenes arrangements, delicate calculation...
Until Bobomurod Abdullayev appears in public court and recognises that he is the author of the texts of "Usman Khaknazarov" - (and we must have reasons to believe that he does it without coercion), I would not believe it. The articles written by the real journalist Abdullayev and the political publicist of the "Khaknazarov" are too different.
However, there is practically nothing to trial Khaknazarov for. There are acrimony and fantasies, and an unattractive diagnosis of power, and insider information that you cannot verify in his texts. But there are no state secrets, no propaganda of the revolution, no calls for overthrowing the constitutional order.
Protect a victim of the regime
Today, personally, I do not care about anything that the authorities' political opponent ascribes to Abdullayev, nor to what this power itself blames my colleague acting on the patterns of violence and tyranny of the Karimov era. I have a case for the man Bobomurod Abdullayev - an honest and professional journalist, insubstantially accused of the gravest crimes.
And I also care about the OSCE Central Asia Media Conference on "open journalism" started today in Tashkent. The name Bobomurod Abdullaev must necessarily ring at this conference and sound loudly. And the representatives of the government and parliament of Uzbekistan that will be in the meeting hall must certainly publicly answer the following questions.
What are the promises of liberalisation and the guarantee of legality coming from the highest tribunes of Uzbekistan today? What are the speeches of the new president of the country about the coming triumph of human rights? How long will Uzbekistan punish the word and the independent opinion expressed in this word? How long will irresponsibility, inhumanity, and arbitrary rule of special services last?
And guests from the OSCE, including the important Representative on Freedom of the Media, Harlem Désir, must demand the Uzbek authorities to release Abdullayev immediately.
We demand too. And we are waiting.
Daniil Kislov, Editor-in-Chief. Fergana News Agency