PRAGUE, September 27, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Thirty-nine-year old Jamshid Karimov left his home in Jizzakh on September 12 to visit his mother at the hospital. That was the last time his relatives saw him.
As his brother Alisher explained, Jamshid "never returned home." Two days later, Jamshid Karimov's friend and colleague, Ulugbek Khaidarov, was arrested in broad daylight in Jizzakh.
"[Jamshid and Ulugbek] were almost the last remaining free journalists working in Uzbekistan. They have been writing openly about things they witnessed following the Andijon events. They both critically reported on what the governor of Jizzakh said [to justify] the Andijon [crackdown]. They received threats. They were told to stop writing. They were even offered money and asked to switch sides, to write more 'positive' articles. But they refused."
Relatives say the journalist was waiting for a bus when a woman approached him and put an envelope in his pocket before running away.
When Khaidarov realized the envelope contained $400, he threw it away. But he was then surrounded by plainclothes security officers who retrieved the envelope and took him away.
For Nortoji Khaidarova, there is no doubt her brother was framed. She spoke to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service two days after Khaidarov's arrest was first reported.
"I talked with the [Interior Ministry] officer who is investigating my brother's case," she said. "'If only he had kept silent!' he told me. 'Why is he publishing such slanderous articles on the Internet? Since he published those articles, we will send him [to jail].'"
On September 26, Khaidarova said extortion charges were brought against her brother. "The chief investigator told me that under Article 165 of the Uzbek Criminal Code, [Ulugbek] faces between five and 10 years in prison," she said.
Reports Of Abuse
Khaidarov was initially kept in a pretrial detention facility of the Interior Ministry's regional branch. He was then transferred to a cell in the ministry's municipal branch. This is where Nortoji says Khaidarov's wife, Munira, visited her husband a few days ago.
"Munira Mustafaevna [Khaidarova] was the only one who was allowed to see [Ulugbek] on Saturday, September 23," she said. "They hardly gave her five minutes. They kept rushing her. She told us she found [Ulugbek] in bad shape. She says he didn't seem to be in his right mind. His eyes were unfocused. His mouth was twisted. He'd lost a great deal of weight. He didn't seem to know what he was saying. He kept repeating: 'I know nothing, I know nothing,' and 'everything's alright, everything's alright.'"
If authorities have been readily commenting on Khaidarov's arrest, they remain tightlipped about the other journalist's fate. In remarks reported by the independent uznews.net on September 20, the head of the National Security Service's regional branch, Marat Khalturdiev, curtly described Jamshid Karimov's disappearance as "a private affair" and refused to elaborate.
On September 25, uznews.net quoted "sources close to Jamshid Karimov's family" as saying the journalist had reportedly been sent to a psychiatric hospital in Samarkand, some 100 kilometers southwest of Jizzakh.
Reporters Were Worried
Elin Jonsson, a freelance Swedish journalist who specializes in Central Asian affairs, is a longtime acquaintance of the two journalists. She told RFE/RL that earlier this year both men told her they were increasingly concerned about their safety and had informed her of their intention to get a visa for Sweden.
"The last time I received a letter from them was in late July; I think it was July 28," she said. "They were telling me they had received information that Ulugbek would be arrested and that Jamshid would be sent to a psychiatric hospital, or a similar kind of closed institution."
Jamshid Karimov is the son of President Islam Karimov's elder brother Arslan, who died in a car crash 17 years ago. He and Khaidarov have been reportedly working for independent media outlets, such as the Russian-based ferghana.ru website and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting in London.
Although Jamshid Karimov is notoriously critical of his uncle and his government, his blood ties to the Uzbek leader have safeguarded him and his family from trouble.
But Jonsson says things changed in the wake of last year's military crackdown in Andijon.
Threats And Repression
"[Jamshid and Ulugbek] were almost the last remaining free journalists working in Uzbekistan," she said. "They have been writing openly about things they witnessed following the Andijon events. They both critically reported on what the governor of Jizzakh said [to justify] the Andijon [crackdown]. They received threats. They were told to stop writing. They were even offered money and asked to switch sides, to write more 'positive' articles. But they refused."
Jonsson said that following his refusal, Khaidarov was assaulted on the streets of Jizzakh.
In comments to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, Jamshid Karimov's 70-year-old mother, Margarita, confirmed that her son feared something bad would happen to him.
"One day he visited me at the hospital and the director made a scene," she said. "Jamshid was worrying more and more of late. He was telling me: 'Things will blow up, they will put handcuffs on me.' 'You did nothing wrong.' I was telling him. 'You criticized the authorities a little bit, so what? Don't worry, things will settle down.' But things didn't settle down, quite the contrary. They took everything from us, even the money. Now I live in poverty."
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Uzbek authorities to immediately release the two men and stop harassing their families.
"We're shocked at the brutal methods used against these two journalists, including psychiatric detention, a hallmark of Soviet repression," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said in a statement on September 26. "If President Karimov is treating his own nephew in this manner, it's hard to imagine how others might fare."