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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”103170″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_custom_heading text=”El uzbeco Hamid Ismailov, periodista y escritor, se vio obligado a huir de Uzbekistán en 1992, debido a lo que el Estado definió como “tendencias democráticas inaceptables“”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]
Hamid Ismailov deserves an apology. Or at the very least, an explanation.
It has been 26 years since the events that led Uzbek journalist Hamid Ismailov to leave his home country of Uzbekistan and flee to the United Kingdom. In the 1990s, Ismailov was working with a BBC television crew to make a film about Uzbekistan. The repressive regime in power under Islam Karimov opened a criminal case against Ismailov. The authorities said Ismailov was trying to overthrow the government.
Friends advised Ismailov to flee Uzbekistan after threats against his family and attacks on his home. So he did. Twenty-four years later, he still hasn’t been back.
That’s not for lack of trying. Ismailov attempted to go back as recently as last year after the death of Karimov in 2016. He was denied entry.
One of the most widely published Uzbek writers in the world, Ismailov’s books are banned in his home country. Mentions of Ismailov are not tolerated. His existence has essentially been erased from the daily cultural life of his homeland. However, in the age of the internet, Ismailov has found ways to reach the Uzbek audience through social media sites like Facebook. He posts his novels to Facebook where Uzbeks can read them.
According to Reporters Without Borders’s press freedom index, Uzbekistan is ranked 169th out of 180 countries. With traditional media tightly controlled, the government’s attention has more recently begun cracking down on the independent news websites and instant messaging apps.
After Karimov’s death in 2016, Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev assumed power. On 2 March 2018, Uzbekistan released the world’s longest-imprisoned journalist Yusuf Ruzimuradov, who had been imprisoned for over 19 years. Ismailov expressed joy at the news of Ruzimuradov’s release but remains doubtful saying, “as much as I am hopeful, I am skeptical as well”.
In his time in exile in the United Kingdom, Ismailov has worked for the BBC World Services. In May 2010, Ismailov was appointed the BBC Writer-in-Residence, a position he held until the end of 2014. Ismailov is currently the editor for Central Asian Services at the BBC.
Hamid Ismailov spoke with Index on Censorship’s Sydney Kalich about the state of human rights in Uzbekistan, his time in exile and his newly translated book, The Devil’s Dance. Below is an edited version of their interview:
Index: What was the human rights situation like in Uzbekistan before you left and how has the situation changed over the last 23 years?
Ismailov: Unfortunately it has worsened over the years because of the autocratic regime of president Karimov, who was in power at that time and died in 2016. So all this time the situation with human rights was quite dire in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan was always in the lower, in the bottom part of the human rights records in the world. So, nowadays with the new president, the way Shavkat Mirziyoyev acts makes us hopeful that the situation with human rights is improving because several political prisoners were freed from prison. Some activities and press have started to be more active and more open. There’s a glimmer of hope that things will improve. But at the same time — looking around at other countries with new leaders who pretended first to be reformers but then revert to the policies of previous rulers — I am also a bit skeptical. As much as I am hopeful, I am skeptical as well.
Index: You tried to go back to Uzbekistan last year and were turned away, do you think you’ll see your country again?
Ismailov: Yes, it was quite unfortunate because even under the previous authorities I attempted twice to enter Uzbekistan after the Andijan events of 2005, but the new administration did not allow me to enter the country. That was quite a shock. I think that they owe me an apology for why they didn’t allow me into my own country. I am one of the writers that is quite well known in the west and all over the world who promotes Uzbek literature, maybe most of all. So why haven’t I been allowed into the country? I need an explanation and at least an apology before I decide what to do next.
Index: And you’ve felt that way each time you’ve been refused entry, you just feel like you need an apology?
Ismailov: I think so. I didn’t commit any crimes against Uzbekistan. I didn’t do anything or any harm to Uzbekistan. All I am doing is promoting the literature and the culture of Uzbekistan all over the world. Therefore, I am a bit shocked and perplexed why I haven’t been allowed into Uzbekistan. It is where all my relatives live, I was planning on going to the grave of my mother to pay tribute. But when I planned everything, all of a sudden, I was kicked out of the airport.
Index: You haven’t lived in the country since 1992, but you still publish in Uzbek. Does this mean you still write with an Uzbek audience in mind, rather than a western audience?
Ismailov: I write in different languages. I write in Uzbek. I write in Russian. I write in English as well. So different languages for different audiences. If I write in Uzbek, it’s probably for Uzbeks, not many English people or Russians are reading in Uzbek. The translations serve me well because of the ban on my books in Uzbekistan. But in the age of the internet, the bans don’t matter too much because I can still publish my work on the net. Another thing is that people are afraid to name me or discuss me because they know the consequences of that. Nonetheless, the internet makes my life much easier.
Index: Your new book, The Devil’s Dance, is about to be released to the UK market in English, what is it about?
Ismailov: In fact The Devil’s Dance is not a new book. I finished it in 2012 and then published it in Uzbek on Facebook. It was quite viral at the time. It seems new because it’s been translated to English. In fact, I wrote three novels after that one and I just finished an English novel. The Devil’s Dance is the story of the iconic writer, Abdulla Qodiriy, the most revered 20th Century Uzbek author, who wanted to write a novel which would supersede all he had written before. We know what this novel was meant to be about but while he begun to draft this novel he was arrested. Ten months later, in 1938, he was shot dead in the Stalinien prisons. My novel is about Qodiriy’s days in prison when he thinks about his famous unwritten novel. There are two novels in one. I dared to write a novel for him. It happens in his mind so it’s not 100 per cent written but there are rough drafts, there are stories, there are intentions and ideas. It’s a written but — at the same time — an unwritten novel.
Index: How did your time as writer-in-residence at the BBC influence you as a journalist?
Ismailov: It was fun but at the same time I felt a great responsibility because I was representing this great cohort of writers like George Orwell, V. S. Naipaul and others. I was feeling like an embodiment of those people. I was trying to show what the writership means for the organisation, what the creativity means for this organisation.
Index: What do you think the most difficult part about being a journalist in exile has been?
Ismailov: The most difficult part is not being with your people on a daily basis. Though virtually you are with them on a daily basis but you don’t see them face to face, that’s the biggest part. There are bonuses to being in exile though. When you start to look at your part of the world or your country with a bird’s eye view in a way. You can see the perspective of your country within the world. You can compare the experiences of your country to other parts of the world and you can bring experiences or similar experiences of other countries into your world. So there are pluses and minuses.
Index: How do you think your reporting has changed since you’ve been in exile?
Ismailov: I think journalism in the former Soviet Union was a very conceptual one. It was about the concepts and big schemes rather than human stories. BBC Journalism is more about human stories, you approach the reality through human stories and human experiences. So that was the most striking difference and striking experience for me. As a writer, I always treat my stories through the experiences of my characters so that was a very similar in western journalism as well. So therefore, it was a harmony for me working in journalism here. As a writer, you approach through the characters, as a journalist here you do the same.
Index: You once mentioned that some people feel more connected to their home country’s culture and more pride in their culture after leaving their country, do you feel that way about Uzbekistan culture?
Ismailov: Yes, I do. Yes, I feel responsible for my culture because when I think about my forefathers, about my grannies and about my aunties, about all people whose input in my culture was so great – I have to return something to this culture which made me what I am today. But at the same time, I feel part of different cultures, of the Russian culture, of the English culture as well, now that I have been living in the London for the past 24 years. I have never lived in one place for so long. So therefore, I pay tribute to this country and I am in debt to this country. I am writing several novels in English as well to pay my tribute to this country and to this culture.
Maybe Uzbekistan even owes Ismailov a thank you.
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_video link=”https://youtu.be/tOxGaGKy6fo”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship partner Global Journalist is a website that features global press freedom and international news stories as well as a weekly radio program that airs on KBIA, mid-Missouri’s NPR affiliate, and partner stations in six other states. The website and radio show are produced jointly by professional staff and student journalists at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, the oldest school of journalism in the United States. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”Don’t lose your voice. Stay informed.” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_separator color=”black”][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]Index on Censorship is a nonprofit that campaigns for and defends free expression worldwide. We publish work by censored writers and artists, promote debate, and monitor threats to free speech. We believe that everyone should be free to express themselves without fear of harm or persecution – no matter what their views.
Join our mailing list (or follow us on Twitter or Facebook). We’ll send you our weekly newsletter, our monthly events update and periodic updates about our activities defending free speech. We won’t share, sell or transfer your personal information to anyone outside Index.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/2″]
Index on Censorship urges Ukraine to not extradite journalist Narzullo Okhunjonov to Uzbekistan where he faces prosecution.
On 20 September authorities detained Okhunjonov when he arrived at an international airport in Kyiv, Ukraine, following an Interpol red notice.
Uzbek authorities issued an international arrest warrant on fraud charges against Okhunjonov, who denies the charges.
A Kyiv court then approved a 40-day detention period for the journalist, the limit under an Interpol notice.
Okhunjonov along with his wife and five children were seeking political asylum from the Ukrainian authorities. The journalist has been living in exile in Turkey since 2013 in order to avoid politically motivated persecution for his reporting.
“This abuse of the Interpol system is a direct violation of Article 2 of its constitution and a clear effort to silence critical journalists,” Hannah Machlin, project manager of Index on Censorship’s Mapping Media Freedom platform, said. “We call on the Ukrainian authorities to allow Narzullo Okhunjonov to remain in Ukraine, grant him political asylum and reject requests to extradite him to his home country.”
Okhunjonov writes in Uzbek and Russian for media outlets including BBC Uzbek on topics such as Uzbekistan’s authoritarian government and has criticised by the late president Islam Karimov.
The journalist’s family is currently residing in Kyiv.
The Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly published Resolution 2161 in April 2017 on the abuse of the Interpol system. The resolution underlined that “in a number of cases in recent years, however, Interpol and its Red Notice system have been abused by some member States in the pursuit of political objectives, in order to repress freedom of expression”.
In August, two exiled Turkish journalists, Hamza Yalçın and Doğan Akhanli, were detained in Spain following Interpol red notices from Turkey. Both are no longer facing extradition. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_basic_grid post_type=”post” max_items=”4″ element_width=”6″ grid_id=”vc_gid:1506702230284-c0425a2a-f87f-6″ taxonomies=”6564″][/vc_column][/vc_row]
On 27 January, internationally renowned photographer Umida Akhmedova, her son Timur Karpov and seven other people took to the streets of Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Armed with Ukrainian flags, cameras and a petition, they staged a peaceful protest in solidarity with the Euromaidan movement.
Knowing they might attract unwanted attention, the group, which included one journalist reporting, posed for a few photos outside the Ukrainian embassy, handed over the petition, and quickly wrapped up the demonstration. However, their worries soon proved valid. Three days later, the protesters were hauled in one by one by police for a “short talk”. They would be held incommunicado for one day, first in a central Tashkent police station and later at a more remote location.
Karpov, a photographer based in Russia, told Index about unprofessional and aggressive officers, who called the protesters “dissidents” who were “ruining the constitution”. Passports and phones were taken away, but Karpov managed to keep one concealed to alert the outside world to their detention. It was eventually discovered and confiscated. When he got it back, it had been completely wiped. Without access to lawyers, the protesters were questioned by the SNB — the KGB’s successor — before being put through a quickie court session and ordered to pay fines of some £1,200. Three of them have been sentenced to 15 days in prison. Justice, as understood by Uzbekistan’s notoriously repressive regime.
This is not the first time Akhmedova has run into trouble with the regime of former Communist Party official Islam Karimov. In 2009, the photographer and documentary film maker, whose work has been published in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, was charged with “damaging the country’s image” over a series of photographs depicting life in rural Uzbekistan. Similar charges were later levelled at her over a film about challenges facing Uzbek women, and in 2010, over a book about Uzbek traditions. It’s worth noting that she never intended to make a political statement with her work — the authorities’ reaction is what has politicised it. The cases have made Akhmedova a credible voice of opposition, and while her high profile provides some protection, it also means her every move is noted — as the latest case shows.
“We live in a strict, archaic society, where all unregulated acts, especially those that can cause some kind of a response in the society, are nipped in the bud,” she told Index. “In the case of our Maidan project, the authorities did not have to be clairvoyants to see the similarities between the situation in Ukraine and the one in Uzbekistan. The government has started scaring children and adults with the word Maidan and did not like it when we showed support for Maidan.”
“As for our previous case,” she adds “we were charged with slander and insult of Uzbek nation, because the government wanted to teach us a lesson that without the approval from above, we were not allowed to film anything or publish books, or generally, do anything artistic without a superior permission.”
While Akhmedova’s latest arrest hit headlines across Central Asia, the story made little impact in the west. This is not surprising. Earlier this year the soap opera-like falling out between first daughter Gulnara Karimova — businesswoman, sometimes pop star, and until recently tipped to follow in her father’s presidential footsteps — and, seemingly, the rest of the family was covered by media outside the country. But on the whole, Uzbekistan rarely commands international attention. Like many other countries in the region, it is able to carry out its repressive rule away from the global spotlight.
President Karimov, by taking a number of liberties with the country’s constitution and term limits, has been in power since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Reports of torture and other power abuses are widespread, the darkest days of the regime coming with the Andijan massacre, where security forces killed hundreds of people in the aftermath of a peaceful protest. The country is also one of the most corrupt in the world and despite its gas resources — part of the reason for many western sanctions quietly being dropped — suffers “recurring energy crises“. But Karimov has been careful to remove nearly all institutions that might use this information to challenge his power. Uzbekistan has no official opposition parties and no press freedom to speak of. Opposition news sites that operate outside of the country are blocked. Karpov puts it simply: “There is no freedom of expression in Uzbekistan. Absolutely none.”
One aspect of the widespread press censorship, is that developments in Ukraine have been met with near media blackout in Uzbekistan — the same way authorities dealt with the Arab spring and other incidents of popular unrest outside the country’s borders.
“From my point of view, they’re afraid. Extremely afraid of any sort of freedom,” says Karpov. ” That’s why they made the case with us. To frighten us. To show to other people that if you do this, you will be sentenced.”
Mother and son have accepted their punishment — partly because refusal to do so would lead to further blacklisting, and partly because they weren’t alerted to their appeal until after it had taken place. Unsurprisingly, the sentences were not overturned.
Despite this latest setback, and the possibility of being handed down a travel ban, Akhmedova remains undeterred. “Nothing has changed for me. I will carry on ‘slandering’ as I have done,” she says. “The state cannot help or stop me.”
This article was originally posted on 17 April 2014 at indexoncensorship.org