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January 23, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Popular radio host arrested on religious extremism charge


Reporters Without Borders is concerned about the arrest of Khayrullo Khamidov, a well-known sports commentator, poet and host of a popular radio show. Arrested at his home on the morning of 21 January and accused of participating in an illegal religious group, he is due to be brought before a Tashkent court today. “The haste with which the authorities have acted is very suspect given their readiness to brand all government opponents and civil society activists as extremists,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Two weeks after five independent journalists were summoned to the prosecutor’s office for questioning about their work, President Islam Karimov’s government is pursuing its offensive without fear of any reaction from the international community.” Khamidov was arrested in a pre-dawn raid by police who searched his home thoroughly and removed books, CDs and his computer. His family, which said he is now being held in a provisional detention centre in Tashkent, reportedly managed to get a state-appointed lawyer replaced by a more independent one. Charged under article 216 of the criminal code (concerning the “organisation or active participation in a banned social or religious group”), Khamidov is facing a possible five-year jail sentence. In his show “Kholislik Sari” (Voice of Impartiality), a programme on semi-privately-owned radio Navruz with a large audience throughout the country and among Uzbek minorities in neighbouring countries, Khamidov offers advice based on traditional Islamic values to listeners in distress. In so doing, he also sheds light on issues that are generally ignored in the official media – public health problems, corruption, prostitution and the country’s social and moral crisis. Recordings of his programme are on sale in all of the region’s markets and can even be found on mobile phones in neighbouring Tajikistan. Pressure from the press and information ministry previously forced Khamidov to stop hosting a similar TV programme and to close his newspaper, Odamlar Orasida. Fellow journalists told Reporters Without Borders that “Kholislik Sari” contains no religious propaganda or proselytism. Khamidov also writes football columns for the sports newspapers Interfootball and Champion. “With press freedom constantly violated and at least 10 journalists imprisoned, repression continues to gain pace in Uzbekistan and the European Union’s decision to lift the last sanctions on the Karimov regime three months ago appears to have reinforced its feeling of impunity,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Khamidov’s arrest seems to confirm that referring to Uzbek society’s problems is sufficient to provoke the regime’s paranoid rage,” the press freedom organisation added. Documentary-maker Umida Akhmedova, for example, is currently being prosecuted on charges of defaming and “insulting the Uzbek people” in connection with her reports and photos about women and poverty. (Photo : vof.kg)