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The Heist Issue

Sports Reporter by Day, Political Revolutionary by Night

For more than a decade, a mysterious blogger struck fear into Uzbekistan’s untouchable ruling class. Then they caught him.

Bobomurod Abdullayev 

Bobomurod Abdullayev 

Photographer: Nora Hollstein for Bloomberg Businessweek

Bobomurod Abdullayev was a decent enough sports reporter, but he was a really good politics blogger. Household-name good. Getting-things-done good. So good that he lived in fear of government agents showing up to take him away. For most of the past two decades, Abdullayev kept this second beat a secret from even his wife and kids. Under his own name, he wrote jovial columns on soccer matches and posted YouTube videos of himself singing folk songs. But when he clicked over to a different tab, he became Usman Haqnazarov, the whistleblower who shook Uzbekistan.

Abdullayev’s homeland, a landlocked former Soviet republic situated between Afghanistan and Kazakhstan, is best known for its cotton, its natural gas, and its autocracy. Islam Karimov, a member of the Soviet Politburo, simply kept running the country after it declared its independence from the USSR three decades ago. The local KGB became the Uzbek secret services, and President Karimov continued to rule brutally for another quarter-century. His secret services rooted out, tortured, and often killed enemies real and imagined. It barred foreign media and kept the state’s approved press outlets closely in line. One person it couldn’t seem to silence, however, was the mysterious Haqnazarov. Under this pseudonym—a name that means “God’s all-seeing eye”—Abdullayev wrote juicy posts in extreme detail. He called out high-ranking politicians and other public figures he said had stolen millions of dollars in public funds. These public figures included secret services officials and the president’s daughter.