Central Asia’s political rumor mill has been swirling with reports that Uzbekistan’s mysterious leader, Islam Karimov, may have died after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage last week.
In an unusual move for the secretive ruling family, younger daughter Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva announced the condition on Instagram on Saturday. “My father was hospitalized after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage on Saturday morning, and is now receiving treatment in an intensive care unit,” she wrote on Monday, claiming that it was “too early” to say whether he would survive.
NBC News notes that reports have confirmed police surrounding the hospital treating Karimov.
At least one news outlet is reporting, however, that Karimov has died. That outlet is the Russian news site Ferghana, which covers news in Central Asian post-Soviet states. The Stratfor Intelligence Agency has picked up the report, which claims Karimov died Monday, the day Karimova announced his illness. Anders Aslund, a Senior Fellow at Georgetown’s Atlantic Council, suggests that a confirmation of his death has not arrived because Uzbek authorities need presidential permission to make such an important announcement, impossible to acquire without a living president in power.
Ferghana is not an outlet with a favorable view of Karimov. In a column looking back on his legacy as Uzbekistan’s only president, the news agency suggests that his family may succeed him, as his wife “is the de-facto second most important person in the country” and his children “are prepared to jump on each other’s throats at any time” for power.
Karimov became the leader of Uzbekistan upon the collapse of the Soviet Union after an extensive career in the Soviet Communist Party. He has served as secular tyrant since 1991, most recently “winning” re-election with 90 percent of the national vote last year. His tenure has been one marked by some of the world’s most gruesome human rights violations, many against “religious prisoners” arrested for their faith. Uzbekistan is a majority Muslim country, though Karimov’s government has greatly curbed Islamic activities so as to prevent the spread of radicalism.
Karimov’s prisons serve as national torture centers, where prisoners are beaten, have needles stuck under their nails, and some have been boiled alive. The prisons have also used food deprivation, solitary confinement, and the forcing of prisoners into tiny metal boxes as torture mechanisms.
Who will take over should the government confirm Karimov’s death remains unclear. At one time, eldest daughter Gulnara Karimova was seen as the clear successor. Karimova, who made an international name for herself releasing Western-style pop music videos under the name “Googoosha,” spent most of her youth as a jewelry designer, aspiring pop princess, and sex slave trafficker. A leaked U.S. diplomatic cable once described her as “the single most hated person in the country.”
Karimova was placed under house arrest on corruption charges in 2014 and never seen in public again. Her son, Islam Karimov, Jr., said at the time that he feared she was dead; if she were killed, “I would not know about it and there is no way for me to find out about it.” The younger Karimov was studying in London at the time and has not made a public appearance since.
At the time, Gulnara accused her younger sister, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, of “witchcraft” against her. Lola at the time noted that she had not seen her sister in over a decade and avoided her at all costs. It is unclear whether the younger Karimova is on the list of succession.
Radio Free Europe highlights several other possible successors: Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyaev; National Security Committee (SNB), Rustam Inoyatov, who is suspected of having led the arrest of Gulnara Karimova; and Parliament leader Nigmatulla Yuldashev, who would legally take over for Karimov in the immediate aftermath of his death for three months.