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Friday 23 February 2018

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Rashid Qodirov is the former prosecutor-general of Uzbekistan. (file photo)

Uzbek authorities have arrested the country's former prosecutor-general, the latest in a series of top government officials who have been caught up in an apparent purge by the administration of President President Shavkat Mirziyoev.

An official with the country’s Prosecutor-General’s Office told RFE/RL that Rashid Qodirov was arrested on February 22, and was being questioned by investigators in Tashkent.

The official, who spoke to RFE/RL on condition of anonymity, said two other former prosecutor officials, who worked under Qodirov, were also arrested the same day.

The agency’s press service said it could neither confirm nor deny the arrest.

The moves comes roughly three years after Qodirov was sacked amid a purge of officials connected to the investigation of Gulnara Karimova, the elder daughter of late President Islam Karimov.

Karimova has been imprisoned since 2014, and was reportedly sentenced last year, for a multinational, multiyear bribery extortion campaign that ensnared, among other things, major telecommunications companies.

Qodirov, who served as the country's top law enforcement official for 15 years, was the prosecutor in charge in 2014 when Gulnara was charged.

Qodirov's arrest also comes about 10 days after his son, Alisher, fled the country.

Since succeeding Karimov after his death in 2016, Mirziyoev has been gradually moving to sack or remove large numbers of government officials.

At a meeting of ministers last August, Mirziyoev excoriated the Prosecutor-General's Office, calling officials there "the biggest thieves." Most observers interpreted his comments as specifically targeting Qodirov.

The country's finance minister has reportedly dismissed some 1,000 employees since December, after being called out publicly by Mirziyoev.

More recently, on January 31, Mirziyoev removed the long-serving head of the country's powerful SNB security service. In recent weeks, he criticized the security agency, and last week, accused it of committing atrocities, targeting innocent people, and "exceeding its authority."

He has also publicly criticized other government agencies, including the tax agency, the health-care system, and other state entities.

Under Islam Karimov, who ruled the country with an iron fist after the Soviet collapse, Uzbekistan had largely become isolated and economically stagnant.

Mirziyoev has since moved to open up the country, calling for a relaxation of onerous visa rules, a stop to the use of forced labor in the annual cotton harvest, and releasing some dissidents and independent journalists.

Authorities have also relaxed hard currency rules for businesses and individuals.

Uzbek oppositionist Isroiljon Xoldorov (left) and rights lawyer Saidjahon Zaynobiddinov on February 22.

Isroiljon Xoldorov, an Uzbek opposition politician and human rights activist who was imprisoned over the 2005 Andijon massacre, has been released after almost 12 years behind bars.

Rights advocate Saidjahon Zaynobiddinov told RFE/RL that Xoldorov was released on February 21 and has rejoined his family in his native Andijon, in eastern Uzbekistan.

Xoldorov, chief of the opposition Erk (Freedom) party's branch in Andijon, was a key source of information about the bloodshed in Andijon on May 13, 2005, when security forces shot dead scores -- or hundreds, by some accounts -- of antigovernment protesters and then tried to cover up the massacre.

The killings came after weeks of peaceful protests in Andijon against the jailing of 23 businessmen whom the Uzbek government, under then-President Islam Karimov, accused of being Islamic extemists. The demonstrators said they were being victimized for their political views.

Uzbek authorities put the death toll at 187 and said most of those killed were either armed terrorists or had been killed by terrorists. The massacre caused an international outcry and led to European Union sanctions, which have since been eased.

Xoldorov was arrested in 2006, convicted of plotting activities against the constitutional order and illegal border-crossing. He was sentenced to six years in prison.

Xoldorov's sentence was prolonged twice while he was in prison.

After his release on February 21, Xoldorov expressed gratitude to President Shavkat Mirziyoev and to domestic and international human rights organizations for contributing to his release.

Several public figures, journalists, and politicians jailed on politically motivated charges have been released since Mirziyoev came to power following Karimov's death in 2016.

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"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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