On 8 December, RFE’s Uzbek service recounted the tale of an Uzbek woman who had committed suicide after being held and interrogated by police for four days. The main source of the story was a human rights activist, Yelena Urlayeva, who said that the young woman, Gulsumoy Abdujalilova, had been beaten and pressured to help murder opposition activists. After her release, Abdujalilova was said to have taken an overdose of pills, leaving a suicide note that read, “They tried to make me kill some opposition activists, but it is better if I die myself than to take someone else’s life.”
The story was picked up by the BBC, Ferghana.ru, and others, with people speculating that Abdujalilova had been singled out because her Facebook page revealed her support for the People’s Movement of Uzbekistan (PMU). She was otherwise not known in opposition circles, evidently just a university student in Germany who was home for vacation in the western province of Andijan when she was summoned by authorities.
None of that was apparently true. A report posted on RFE’s site on 21 December suggests that an Uzbek woman made everything up as part of a plot by the Uzbek secret services to kill Muhammad Salih, the PMU leader living in exile. The woman, Khurshida Jurabayeva, said at a press conference in Istanbul on 19 December that the plan also called for her to travel to Moscow and seek asylum. She was then supposed to try to meet Salih in order to introduce him to a “close relative” who would then murder the opposition leader.
The original story began to unravel soon after it was reported. Urlayeva, the human rights activist, had said that she heard about the story from a woman claiming to be the dead woman’s sister. Yet when she traveled to Andijan, she could find no evidence of Abdujalilova or her supposed death. A report in Uzmetronom, a news site based in Tashkent, also punched holes in the story. And RFE’s Uzbek Service found that a woman depicted in the photographs that had appeared on the Internet of Abdujalilova was very much alive – only that she was named Iroda Karabayeva and was a former classmate of the woman who claimed to have made up the story. A death certificate of the young woman also appears to be a forgery.
Yet, showing how difficult it is to get to the bottom of a story in a closed society dominated by unconfirmed rumors, a debate rages on in the blogosphere over the “mastermind” of the hoax and whether Abdujalilova or someone like her ever existed.