Despite what Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev and other top officials say about reforming the system and respecting the rights of all Uzbeks, the governor of the eastern Ferghana Province is busy demonstrating he can do and say anything he wants and get away with it.
Born in the Ferghana city of Margilan in 1968, Shukhrat Ganiev has been in charge of the regional governor's office since 2011, having come to power under authoritarian President Islam Karimov. He previously served three years as first deputy governor.
Ganiev has accumulated a record of nasty behavior and abusive language during his rule -- including his most recent example just a few months ago.
The Soh exclave belongs to Uzbekistan, though it is surrounded by Kyrgyzstan and inhabited overwhelmingly by ethnic Tajiks. Soh is administratively part of the Ferghana Province and thus under Ganiev's control.
Soh is a rich agricultural region in an area that is rocky and largely barren and, unsurprisingly, problems over water rights often break out with the neighboring Kyrgyz villages in the area.
Such a conflict erupted on May 31 when villagers from Soh and nearby Kyrgyz territory got into a huge rock fight. More than 200 people were injured and several homes were also burned down.
Ganiev went to Soh to meet with Kyrgyz officials and try to restore calm.
Ganiev also met with residents from the Soh village of Chasma, the center of the clashes, but that meeting turned into a fiasco.
Ganiev began by assuring Soh residents that Uzbek authorities would not give away any of their land or “even one bucket of your water.”
But Soh has been neglected for many years and the exclave has often been cut off from the rest of Uzbekistan due to problems between the Uzbek and Kyrgyz governments.
Officials seldom visit the exclave and some residents took the opportunity of Ganiev’s presence to air some of their grievances, which were not well received by Ganiev.
Even though he was surrounded by soldiers, residents of Soh threw stones at Ganiev and his delegation, prompting Ganiev to demonstrate a lack of diplomacy by threatening to close the exclave's borders, put some people in jail, and wipe several of the villages there off the map.
The following day, Uzbek Prime Minister Abdullo Aripov arrived in Soh to speak with villagers.
Villagers also told Aripov about their problems.
One villager in particular, 22-year-old Haydarjon Bobohaydarov, a blogger with reportedly some 800,000 subscribers on YouTube who goes by the name Dadahon Haydarov, listed the troubles in Soh and called for Ganiev to be sacked. Other villagers agreed with his request.
Aripov promised to try to solve Soh’s problems and pledged that no Soh residents would face any charges from the clash with the Kyrgyz villagers.
Shortly afterward, Soh residents made a video of a meeting where they appealed to Mirzioyev to help them and also said the "unsympathetic Ganiev said we could leave. This attitude toward us is because we are Tajiks."
From August 22 until August 24, authorities detained about a dozen people in Soh, including blogger Haydarov --who had a hood thrown over his head -- on charges of resisting a government official or person performing a civic duty and participating in mass unrest. They were taken by helicopter to Ferghana Province proper and nothing was heard from them.
On August 25, the Prosecutor-General’s Office confirmed that charges had been filed against six Soh residents, but on August 30 it was clarified that Haydarov was not one of them.
Ganiev appears to be one of those Uzbek officials who for some reason is impossible to fire.
A glance at his last three years in office shows that the governor’s temperament is not well suited to holding public office.
On January 18, 2018, a fire broke out on a bus traveling through northern Kazakhstan en route to Russia. Fifty-two of the 57 people on board were migrant workers from Uzbekistan.
All but five of the people died and among the dead were 16 residents of Ferghana's Tashlak district.
On January 20, Mirzioyev expressed sorrow for the tragedy and lamented that Uzbek citizens are still forced to leave the country to find work, ordering officials to create more jobs so that people could find employment in Uzbekistan.
But on January 23, in a video conference with local officials, Ganiev said the Tashlak district had brought shame to Ferghana Province.
“Why do young men 20 to 22 years old continue to leave [Ferghana Province] for work?” he asked, adding: "Now the poor district inspector will be blamed for everything."
Ganiev’s remarks were posted on social networks, including his comments that, “There are some bastards from the Tashlak district. Bastards! You need to call bastards by their name -- bastards!”
The governor also said: “No one from Tashlak is going to make the hajj. No one! They are all excluded!”
Ganiev was later pressured by clerics into rescinding his prohibition on Tashlak district residents from making the hajj.
Harsh Words On Record
In an audio recording from a May 22, 2019, provincial council session that was obtained by RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, known locally as Ozodlik, Ganiev is heard speaking to the province’s chief tax inspectors.
It is unclear from the recording exactly what the inspectors did to earn Ganiev’s wrath, but the governor can be heard calling them "traitors" and "scum" while threatening to “rip out” their intestines and “wrap them” around their heads.
Far from being rebuked for his comments, Ganiev and Andijon Governor Shukhrat Abduramonov -- who is similar in character to Ganiev -- received medals for their work as governors ahead of Uzbekistan’s Independence Day on September 1.
One month later, another audio recording emerged with Ganiev addressing city and district heads.
Ganiev talked about men with “unkempt beards” walking around in public places, "bastards with beards," and about women and girls wearing the hijab.
“I’m warning you,” Ganiev said. “If I see women in Muslim head scarves at any of your meetings…I’ll grab this scarf and stuff it in your mouth.”
Ganiev told the city and district leaders to start a campaign to rid the province of bearded men and women who wear the hijab.
The Uzbek Senate's Ethics Committee did on that occasion issue a severe warning to Ganiev and put him on three months of probation.
Three months later, the Prosecutor-General’s Office said Ganiev had violated the ethics rules of civil servants.
In early December, the Kuvin district of Ferghana Province was without electricity and natural gas and some of the residents of the district protested and blocked a main road.
Someone posted a video of the protest, and Ganiev told the district chief the person responsible should say their funeral prayers.
'No Real Threat'
The Prosecutor-General’s Office ruled that "considering that the words of Shukhrat Ganiev do not pose a real threat to the life and health of a human being, there is no reason to fear the implementation of this threat [and therefore] a decision was made to decline to initiate a criminal case in accordance with the requirements of the Criminal Procedure Code."
But Soh blogger Haydarov was released from custody on September 2 because, according to his lawyer, Hamidahon Abdunazarov, there was not enough evidence to hold him on charges of public disorder.
Another Soh resident, Dilmurod Mahbubov, was also released.
Six of those detained in Soh are still in custody and face charges, and two others were released but told they should be available for further questioning.
The fate of two others is unknown.
Their detentions three months after the event are a reminder that Ganiev has not forgotten what happened in Soh on May 31 or what was said on June 1 when the prime minister visited.
And the volatile Ferghana governor does not have a record of forgiveness or leniency.