Journalist-Critic of Uzbek Regime Murdered

Reporting on Islamist groups led to “terrorist” designation in US

Twenty-six-year-old Uzbek journalist Alisher Saipov has been shot dead in the city of Osh, Kyrgyzstan, apparently by Uzbek security agents. Human Rights Watch reports:

Saipov was a regular contributor to news agencies such as Ferghana.Ru, Voice of America, and RFE/RL. In May, Saipov began regularly publishing a weekly Uzbek language newspaper Siosat [Politics], devoted to covering politics, human rights, and religious persecution in both Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Saipov distributed Siosat widely in southern Kyrgyzstan, where a large number of ethnic Uzbeks live and regularly travel across the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border.

Saipov was one of Central Asia’s most outspoken and active critics of the Uzbek government. He was instrumental in reporting about the immediate aftermath of the 2005 uprising and massacre in the Uzbek city of Andijan. Saipov reported on the harassment of Uzbek refugees and asylum seekers, including those who fled Andijan, by Uzbek security agents in southern Kyrgyzstan. In addition, he advocated on their behalf with human rights organizations and other groups.

The Uzbek regime labelled Saipov a supporter of terrorism – doubtless because, like some other commentators (such as Ahmed Rashid and Craig Murray), he had made the point that government suppression in the region was encouraging the growth of Islamist movements. Apparently at least one US agency was willing to take Uzbek president Islam Karimov’s word for it, as was reported in a Japan Times profile by Jeff Kingston last year:

…Saipov is somehow designated a terrorist on some list in some agency in the U.S. government — but he doesn’t know why. Others speculated to me that his recent reporting on members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan seeking asylum in Iran may have been a factor. Also, his reporting on Islamic groups advocating the creation of a Central Asian caliphate may have landed him in the Kafka-esque purgatory of terrorist “fellow traveler” redolent of McCarthy-era red-baiting.

…Nonetheless, Saipov remains favorably disposed to America, and supports keeping the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan…What Saipov is more concerned about is the rebound of Russian influence in this former Soviet republic where they, too, have an air base — that, and the rising tide of Chinese economic penetration.

So was Saipov placed on the nameless US agency list as a favour to Karimov, or was it just gross incompetence? Somehow I doubt we’ll ever know.

A report in today’s London Observer adds:

The Siyosat (Politics) newspaper office, outside which he was killed, is now closed. All his computers, notebooks and mobile phones have been confiscated. Shocked and shaken, his colleagues say they fear intelligence-sharing between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan could mean many people in Alisher’s vast network of contacts may be in danger.

The Japan Times profile also showed that Saipov was aware of the dangers of his work, and was willing to make a stand:

…He still bore signs of a savage beating that had landed him in hospital six weeks earlier. Apparently some readers took exception to his editorial line on the political links of organized crime…Over dinner, Saipov showed no signs of backing down, saying that the duty of a journalist is to give people hope by not giving in to fear.

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  1. […] of protestors, and two months ago a young critical Uzbek journalist named Alisher Saipov was murdered in Kyrgyzstan after being harassed by Uzbek agents (although Kyrgyzstan now claims Hizb ut-Tahrir […]

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