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Uzbek Activist Reveals 'Threatening' Video As He Prepares To Run For President

Uzbek singer and opposition activist Jahongir Otajonov
Uzbek singer and opposition activist Jahongir Otajonov

ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Well-known Uzbek singer and opposition activist Jahongir Otajonov says he has been threatened with bodily harm after he announced his intention to run for Uzbekistan's October presidential election.

Otajonov provided RFE/RL with what he said was a video taken by a security camera in his office in the Turkish city of Istanbul that showed three unknown men making thinly veiled threats against him on March 27.

The men in the video, who refused to identify themselves, told Otajonov that they came "just to tell" him that up to $15,000 had been offered to potential attackers in recent weeks to "seriously beat" him.

The three men speak broken Russian mixed with Uzbek in the video, using phrases that are common among criminal groups in the former Soviet Union, as well as continuously calling Otajonov "brother."

"If you think this is just a joke, well, it's not. Time will prove it and place everything in its proper perspective, right? That is why we came, to discuss the situation with you. We know those people [who ordered the beating] through connections and we can ask them, at this point, to calm down," one of the visitors says.

Otajonov told RFE/RL that he considers the visit to be an obvious attempt of "blackmail and a threat to frighten" him because of his intention to take part in the October presidential election.

He said, however, he had no plans to change his mind on running for the presidency or curbing his political activities.

The incident comes days after Uzbek rights activist and government critic Miraziz Bazarov was hospitalized after he was attacked by unknown men hours after a public event he held was disrupted by dozens of aggressive men in Tashkent.

The men informed Otajonov that they knew his plans for the near future, namely his intention to visit Uzbekistan in the coming days.

"Brother, you are going to return to Tashkent in four days, aren't you? They will be waiting for you there as well," another man says in Uzbek on the video.

The visitors said they know Otajonov to be "a good person" and therefore "just wanted to let him know" about the possible danger he faces.

Otajonov said that a day after the visit he turned to Istanbul police, asking for help.

Otajonov announced his plans to run for the presidency in January. The founding congress of his Interests Of The People party was disrupted by a group of unknown women.

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev took over the most-populous nation of the Central Asian region of 32 million people after his authoritarian predecessor Islam Karimov's death was announced on September 1, 2016.

Since then, Mirziyoev has positioned himself as a reformer, releasing political prisoners and opening the country to its neighbors and the outside world, though many activists have cautioned that the reforms have not gone far enough.

Though Mirziyoev has said he is not against having opposition political groups in Uzbekistan, it has been nearly impossible for any genuine opposition party to be registered in Uzbekistan since the country gained independence in late 1991.

The presidential election will be held on October 24.

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