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Iranian Helath Minister Saeed Namaki (file photo)

The Iranian health minister has warned about a fourth COVID-19 surge in Iran due to the spread of a mutated virus in his country.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rohani has told state television that "alarm bells were ringing for a fourth coronavirus wave" as at least nine cities and towns in southwestern Iran were declared high-risk "red" zones after a rise in cases on February 12.

In a February 13 meeting with the heads of Iranian medical colleges broadcast live on state television, Health Minister Saeed Namaki said: "Hard days are beginning for us and you must prepare to fight the most uncontrollable mutated virus which is unfortunately infecting the country."

Namaki said Iran's first three deaths this week from the virus variant that was first found in Britain -- including the death of a 71-year-old woman with no history of travel -- suggested that the mutant strain of the virus was spreading and soon "may be found in any city, village or family."

He urged Iranians to avoid gatherings in order "not to turn weddings into funerals" during what is traditionally one of the most popular wedding months in the country.

Iran started a vaccination drive on February 9, two weeks after declaring there were no "red" cities left in the country.

Iran has recorded more than 1.5 million cases and 58,883 deaths from COVID-19.

Based on reporting by Reuters and IRNA
Saida Mirziyoeva's profile has risen rapidly in Uzbekistan since her father, Shavkat Mirziyoeva, became president in 2016. (file photo)

The eldest daughter of Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has become one the most visible public figures in the authoritarian Central Asian country, where the president enjoys enormous power.

Saida Mirziyoeva, 36, is often seen attending at official meetings, giving speeches, and visiting foreign countries or Uzbekistan's provinces on business trips. The mother of three also frequently joins the rest of the Mirziyoev clan at charity and cultural events.

Mirziyoeva's rising profile has led to inevitable comparisons to the country's previous first daughter -- Gulnara Karimova, the once famous and influential daughter of first President Islam Karimov -- who ended up in jail and spent years under house arrest after a major fall from grace.

Unlike Karimova, who controlled a vast portfolio of lucrative businesses, Mirziyoeva is not directly involved in entrepreneurship.

But her husband, Oibek Tursunov, has been linked to several banking and investment deals, which he reportedly secured after Mirziyoev came to power in 2016. Tursunov also works in his father-in-law's presidential administration.

Mirziyoeva got her first job in the government in April 2019 when she was appointed the deputy head of the Agency for Information and Mass Communications, a position that also automatically made her a deputy presidential adviser.

Created by Mirziyoev in early 2019, the state agency effectively controls the country's media, press services, and public relations. In late January 2020, she was appointed the deputy head of the Public Foundation for Support and Development of National Mass Media.

In a carefully carved public image, Mirziyoeva presents herself as an advocate of journalists and also an avid promoter of women's rights.

In Uzbekistan, where criticism of the first family isn't tolerated and freedom of speech is restricted, state media extensively covers Mirziyoeva's work, without making any negative comments.

The National Information Agency of Uzbekistan joined in the promotion when it listed Mirziyoeva's 35th birthday on November 4, 2019, as the most important event of the day.

Mirziyoeva also offers a glimpse of her family life on social media, sharing photos of her husband and their children, including five-month-old son Shavkat, named after the president.

Preparations Fit For A President

According to several local reporters in Qarshi, the southern Uzbek city recently welcomed the first daughter with elaborate preparations "fit for a head of state."

Extensive preparations began a week before Mirziyoeva's January 27 visit as part of her Eyes of the Heart charity project, which supports blind and visually impaired children.

The Center for Journalists, where Mirziyoeva was scheduled to attend an event, was abruptly renovated, the journalists told RFE/RL, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In a carefully carved public image, Saida Mirziyoeva presents herself as an advocate of free press and promoter of women’s rights. (file photo)
In a carefully carved public image, Saida Mirziyoeva presents herself as an advocate of free press and promoter of women’s rights. (file photo)

Photos obtained by RFE/RL show several workers putting new shelves on the walls of a meeting hall; another shows three women placing books on the newly built shelves.

The journalists said colorful flowers were planted on the patio outside despite the freezing weather in the middle of winter.

Local reporters who were invited to the event were ordered to take tests for COVID-19, they added.

Once the renovation works were complete, security services kept the building closed until the meeting on January 27. The journalist in Qarshi said such a high level of beautification measures are usually only reserved for presidential visits.


It's not only Mirziyoeva's business trips that raise eyebrows in Uzbekistan.

In October 2019, a video was shared online that shows Mirziyoeva, her younger sister Shahnoza, and their husbands at a lavish "banquet" reportedly thrown after a concert by Russian singer Polina Gagarina in Tashkent.

The video depicts the sisters singing and cheering along with other guests at the dinner party.

A screen shot of a party that appeared to show Saida Mirziyoeva (right) and her sister, Shahnoza, living it up in Tashkent.
A screen shot of a party that appeared to show Saida Mirziyoeva (right) and her sister, Shahnoza, living it up in Tashkent.

News websites and social media users were quick to draw parallels between the "lifestyle" of Mirziyoev's daughters and that of Karimov's daughters, Gulnara and Lola, who were reportedly known for frequenting parties and nightclubs in Tashkent.

One news outlet dubbed the latest video a "scandal" in Mirziyoev's family, while another asked if "history is repeating itself" in Uzbekistan.

Shahnoza Mirziyoeva is a department chief at the Preschool Education Ministry. Her husband, Otabek Umarov, is the deputy head of the president's security service in addition to being in charge of two national sports federations.

While nothing seemed out of the ordinary in the "banquet," several social-media users argued that it doesn't sit well with ordinary Uzbeks, many of whom live in poverty.

The average monthly salary in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, is about $270 a month. The wages are considerably lower in smaller cities and rural areas.

Corruption is widespread and jobs are hard to come by, forcing millions of Uzbeks to become migrant workers in Russia, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Turkey, and European countries.

Gulnara Karimova (file photo)
Gulnara Karimova (file photo)

Former first daughter Gulnara Karimova, 48, was placed under house arrest in 2014 while her father was still president. In December 2017, she was sentenced to a 10-year prison term, but this was later changed to house arrest and shortened to five years. She was transferred to a prison in 2019.

In March 2020, Karimova received an additional sentence of 13 years and four months imprisonment after being found guilty of extortion, money laundering, and other crimes.

Karimov's younger daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, currently lives outside Uzbekistan, reportedly spending time between Europe and the United States. Some of the major businesses controlled by her husband, Timur Tillyaev, and his family, have reportedly been seized in Uzbekistan since Karimov's death in 2016.

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About This Blog

"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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