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In writing this column, I have often taken the most embarrassing members of the profession to task: the shameless sycophants, the suck-ups who seek out those in positions of wealth and power and do their dirty work; the log-rollers. They are almost too numerous to count, and they seem to grow more entrenched every year.
But there are also real heroes in the world of journalism, and some of them can be found in the most unlikely places. One of them was my young friend Alisher Saipov, who was murdered today in the ancient Silk Road city of Osh. He had just turned 26 when he died. The single word that best described Saipov was fearless.
An ethnic Uzbek residing in Kyrgyzstan, Saipov had staked out a critical beat—the Ferghana Valley. This is the historical heartland of Central Asia, its most densely populated strip, divided between three nations. Like most of the population of the Ferghana, Saipov was an ethnic Uzbek. He was very concerned about the conditions in Uzbekistan, now governed by a brutal Stalinist dictatorship and among the most corrupt nations in the world. In May 2005 there was a popular uprising in Andijan—just across the frontier from Osh—which was violently put down by the Uzbek dictatorship. Hundreds of Uzbeks were mowed down by gunfire, and their bodies quickly disposed of in shallow graves. The Uzbek Government worked feverishly to cut the country off from the world and to prevent word getting out about the massacre.
A number of brave journalists and human rights workers got the story of the massacre out, and documented it with photographs. But few if any played quite so effective and powerful a role as Saipov. He was the key Central Asia reporter for Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty and other broadcasters, and he founded his own journal focused on political and economic developments in Uzbekistan. In his reporting, Saipov put his life on the line, repeatedly. And in the following years, he was the journalist to whom everyone turned for information about what was happening. I turned to Alisher often to understand what was happening, and there is no one whose opinion I ever found more reliable. He always succeeded in drawing out the details, the incessant power plays that mark Uzbekistan’s politics, the acts of repression and petty corruption. He was a bright spotlight on the Uzbek leadership, he was unflappable and incorruptible.
Last night Saipov was shot by an assailant using a gun with a silencer, just as he left his office in Osh. It was clearly an act of political assassination, and suspicions will immediately fall on one party, already known to use assassination as a tool to eliminate its enemies. Shortly before his killing, Saipov received repeated death threats and came under heavy attack on Uzbek state television. It was clear that he was being targeted. Saipov ignored these threats and plowed ahead with his work. His courage knew no limits, but an assassin’s bullet has put an end to his career. His death is a great loss for Central Asia and for the journalists’ profession.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”