Uzbekistan: Another citizen journalist falls prey to investigators
Haydarov is best known for his vocal criticism of officials in his native Ferghana region.
Police in Uzbekistan have detained another citizen journalist, Olimjon Haydarov, who is known for his vocal criticism of local officials in his native Ferghana region, on charges of extorting large amounts of money.
Investigators claim that Haydarov demanded $10,000 from the owners of a shopping mall in exchange for him not publishing a critical video report. They further said in a statement that the blogger, as citizen journalists are commonly termed in Uzbekistan, had already received $7,500 and was taken into custody while trying to collect the remainder.
Haydarov could, if found guilty, face between five and 10 years in prison. His brother, Salimjon, has said that the blogger has declared a hunger strike since being detained.
“We learned about my brother’s detention from social media. Afterward, he was able to phone from the Kokand police precinct. He said that while he was talking to an acquaintance on the street in the Bagdad district, he was approached by some Interior Ministry personnel, that they twisted his arms behind his back, planted money in his car and made him touch it with his hands,” Salimjon was cited as saying by Gazeta.uz news website.
Haydarov’s relatives have said they are “very concerned” and they deny suggestions he has been involved in extortion.
Investigators confiscated two computers, a knife and two mobile phones while searching his house.
Haydarov, 34, has amassed thousands of followers through his posts on Telegram, YouTube and Instagram. The ostensible focus of his material is best encapsulated in a self-penned YouTube channel description: “Together we fight problems, shortcomings, lawlessness and injustice in society.”
There are at present two ongoing trials against journalists and bloggers facing similar accusations to those leveled at Haydarov.
Abduqodir Muminov, 33, is facing charges that include gross extortion, fraud, violation of privacy, and bribery. When he was arrested in February, Muminov's close friend claimed he had been conducting an investigation into the president’s family.
Muminov’s trial opened just a few days before Haydarov’s arrest. Local news outlet Daryo.uz has reported that the blogger has pleaded guilty to some of the charges.
In another trial, a journalist and two government spokespeople are among four people facing accusations of extortion, defamation, and tax evasion. This group is associated with the Telegram channel Kompromatuzb, which has allegedly been used as a vehicle for extorting money from businesses and officials threatened with the publication of derogatory material about them. Hearings in this trial are being held behind closed doors.
Haydarov produced a video post two months ago about the Kompromatuzb and Muminov cases in which he expressed the opinion that the defendants had likely been arrested on political grounds because of their activism.
Rasul Kusherbayev, a former member of Parliament who himself has a popular blog, has in turn expressed skepticism about the case against Haydarov.
“As a person who has repeatedly communicated with Olimjon Haydarov, [and knowing what I do about] his religious convictions and principles, I do not believe that he is engaged in extortion. This is what I know,” he wrote in a Telegram post.