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‘The Dictatorship Devours its Own Children': Has Uzbekistan's ‘Princess’ Fallen Forever?

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Cartoon by Tom Wellings for The Conway Bulletin. Shared on Twitter. 

She looks fine / But she has hundred things in her mind / She looks fine / But she's so fragile in her soul / She looks fine / But she's always on firing line / But what can she do about it / It's her rock and roll.

When Gulnara Karimova and her showbusiness team concocted the pop song “How Dare?” she was far from fragile. Her allegedly corrupt dealings with a Swedish telecoms firm had not yet been uncovered, she had a music career of sorts and with the possible exception of the mother she despises, she was the most powerful woman in the authoritarian state of Uzbekistan.

Two years later Karimova's How Dare ‘hit’ has taken on a twisted relevance. How dare Gulnara's father, Uzbek President Islam Karimov, keep her under house arrest for over seven months? How dare the low-ranking security guards patrolling her garden manhandle her whenever she steps outside? How dare the country's feared SNB security services abduct her lover blindfolded from her home in front of her watching sixteen-year-old daughter? Even the song's bizarre, ambiguous video now appears full of omens. Karimova, it seems, dared too much. 

Now Karimova — a regular user of Twitter until mid-February this year — has problems both at home, where she is being probed for fraud and criminal conspiracy by Uzbek authorities, and abroad, where European investigators are examining the details of a reported $300 million bribe she allegedly accepted to provide Swedish firm Telesoniera access to the Uzbek telecoms market. But it is the palace drama taking place in the Uzbek capital Tashkent that is of more concern to Uzbek citizens, who are pondering its implications for the republic's political future.

On September 8, 2014, the Prosecutor General's Office of Uzbekistan, issued a press release stating that Karimova was potentially linked to a criminal group led by her supposed lover Rustam Madumarov and several others. The group is accused of defrauding the state to the amount of $65 millon. Karimova claims Madumarov was forcibly taken from her home earlier this year. The Prosecutor's office confirms he has already been convicted.

News of the General Prosecutor's statement provoked immediate discussion on Uznews.net, an independent website edited by Uzbek expatriate Galina Bukharbaeva, where readers tend to be opposed to Karimova.

A reader using the username chip offered a morbid analysis of the situation:

HuetVnXI

Gulnara Karimova slurps Nesquik under house arrest. A photo from @GooGaNews Twitter account.

Революция пожирает своих детей. Диктатура тоже. Кстати, каннибализм – частое явление в дикой фауне.

The revolution devours its own children. The dictatorship, too. Cannibalism, of course, is widely practiced among wild animals.

But another reader suggested Karimova's suffering was part of an elaborate political show being put on by Karimov and his cronies:

4-я часть марлезонского балета! :-) Не принимайте близко к сердцу. Все идет по сценарию. Страшно только, кто его пишет и насколько он кровавый для людей.

The fourth part of the spectacle is underway! Do not take any of this to heart. A specific scenario is being followed here. The only thing that scares me here is who the author of this scenario is, and how bloody it might be for ordinary people.

This “spectacle” theory has plenty of adherents, even after Karimova's London-based PR agent Ryan Locksley released a statement calling to “Free Gulnara Now” September 15, along with photos of his client seemingly being hassled by guards outside her house:

Содержится под домашним арестом и легко разрешают снимать фотки. Да, очень правдоподобно. Второй сеанс “Новые сказки Шахерезады”. Всем приятного просмотра!

So she’s detained in her house, but at the same time allowed to have photos taken of herself. Right, that sounds pretty truthful! The second part of Shakherizada’s fairy tales [1001 Nights]. Enjoy!

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Karimova arguing with guards. A photo shared by Uznewsnet.

Garik, meanwhile, offered Karimova a way out:

Ей надо совершить суицид, харакири. Тогда её все поймут и поверят. И все будет в шоколаде.

She needs to commit suicide or do hara-kiri. Then everyone will believe her. Then everything will be hunky-dory!

Those who don't doubt the seriousnessness of Karimova's position tend to point to karma:

Каждый заслуживает то, чего он стоит. Я тоже однажды от судьбы получил удар. И знаю что это заслужил и виню в этом только себя. А в этой ситуации под маской невинной жертвы, прикрываются все делишки которые проворачивались в тени. Пусть каждый получит по заслугам.

Everyone gets what they deserve. Once I was struck down by life, too. I now know I deserved it and blame only myself. In the situation with Gulnara, she wears a mask of an innocent victim even as all her underhanded deals are coming to the surface. Everyone gets one’s deserved punishment.

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Gulnara Karimova in her socialite days. A photo from @guardian Twitter account

Some readers of Uznews — one of the few reliable sources of information coming out of Uzbekistan — were even unhappy with what they viewed as the website’s sympathetic coverage of Karimova’s case:

А когда она занялась “рейдерством”. Никого не щадила. Узнюс хватит о ней писать как о жертве. Она сама еще тот беспредельшик. Немало людей пострадала за ее алчность. Вот пример. Все подделники сидят а она типа под дом арестом.

When she was doing the raiding, she didn’t have mercy for anyone. Uznews needs to stop portraying her as a victim. She’s guilty, too. Many people suffered because of her avaricousness. Note that all of her sidekicks have been jailed, while she is being kept under house arrest.

Gulnara is certainly able to call on more resources to lobby for her freedom than many of the ordinary Uzbeks her father's regime has jailed and tortured. She is recently believed to have sent a letter to BBC in which she described in detail her experience under house arrest, including alleged beatings. Her allies, meanwhile, have created the Free Gulnara Now website, where they argue for her immediate freedom:

Gulnara is committed to the people of Uzbekistan and the arts. She has fallen victim to powerful forces within the country who see her as an obstacle to their own success. We may not be able to stop this, but we can respond to false accusations against her, and will continue to do so.

The website also mentions that it is Gulnara’s sister Lola Karimova-Tilloeva and her mother Tatiana Karimova, who are responsible for the troubles she currently faces:

Gulnara Karimova has also confirmed that her mother typically sides with her younger sister. There are many rumours that Tatyana Karimova is working together with Lola to conspire against Gulnara. Gulnara believes: “Their goals are obviously the same, and nothing unites people better than one aim … I would rather not talk about it as it hurts me to accept that for the sake of tomorrow people can betray their close ones today.”

Lightening the mood, Lord Venal, a satirical blogger that hosts the Kazaxia blog, has also claimed to be in contact with Karimova:

In a shocking new twist to the tale of Googoosha, Lord Venal has received a hand-written note smuggled out of Uzbekistan from the secret location where the fallen princess is being kept under alleged house arrest.

The note was written in lipstick on the back of a Sarbast beermat after the evil henchmen of a sinister and mysterious figure – referred to by Googoosha as the Wizard of Uz – confiscated all the pens and pencils from her gilded cage.

Googoosha claims that the Wicked Witch of West Tashkent, her mother Tatiana Karimova, has cast a spell that has cut off access to twitter in her prison.

In the note she calls on Lord Venal to help her find a yellow brick road away from this nightmare scenario, but with the net of corruption allegations closing around Googoosha in Europe, not even the good Lord and his contacts may be able to rescue this princess.

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