Acting Out Uzbekistan is in

by Nathan Hamm on 9/13/2003

Acting Out
Uzbekistan is in the midst of it’s harshest crackdown
on human rights activists and reformers since the Tashkent bombings of
1999. This article notes that Uzbekistan tends to lash out at its own
reformers when it is criticized from without.

The causes for targeted attacks now are similar to those
then in that the government is sensitive about its international
reputation and is struggling to maintain prestige in the face of strong
criticism,” Shields said. “At sensitive moments, like the critical EBRD
meeting in Tashkent back in May, the government strikes out against
critical voices, and human rights defenders are the first and hardest
hit.” Uzbekistan’s human rights practices have been subjected to
growing international criticism. At the same time, Tashkent has been
facing increasing pressure from global financial institutions to
implement badly needed reforms. Uzbek officials have made repeated
promises to introduce currency convertibility and take other steps to
liberalize economic activity. However, authorities, much to the
consternation of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, have
yet to follow through on such pledges. Rather than respond to the
criticism with reforms, the reflexive Uzbek government preference
appears to be to tighten its control over the country’s civic life.
“The Uzbek government has always been sensitive to criticism and has
lashed out at critics. The increase in international pressure has made
Uzbekistan more sensitive and rather than make things better and
relieve problems, they remove the critics,” Shields said.

For some reason, this analysis always has escaped me, but
it makes a lot of sense. Anytime some big event that would focus
attention on Uzbekistan came near, the police presence would get
ridiculous and everyone would get hassled more frequently. It makes
sense that they would go after the opposition at the same time.
So, on second thought, the US policy of quiet diplomacy is probably the
best to pursue with Uzbekistan. The current crackdown puts us in a
tough position though:

The crackdown has created a dilemma for US diplomats,
given that Uzbekistan is Washington’s most important strategic partner
in Central Asia. The Bush Administration maintains that Uzbekistan is a
key player in the regional effort to contain Islamic radicalism and is
keen to continue strategic partnership programs. But Uzbekistan’s tough
treatment of its domestic critics runs contrary to Washington’s
democratizing mission, and thus complicates US efforts to strengthen
security ties. Observers say that the US pressure has been instrumental
in limiting oppression in the past. Usually such pressure has been
exerted through quiet diplomacy. But now international rights advocates
say the severity of the Uzbek action requires the United States to
voice a stronger public position.

It certainly would be interesting to see how Uzbekistan would react.
There is a risk of driving Karimov into the arms of China, but
Uzbekistan has always had muted reactions to US criticism in the past.
Further, I think Uzbekistan prefers to have its most important
strategic relationships with countries far, far, away.
Anyhow, Ruslan Sharipov
has gotten a letter out of prison (I can’t find a link for this–it
might show up on Prima News later, it comes from an RPCVs of Uzbekistan
listserve via one of his former teachers).

To the Secretary General of the UN Mr. Kofi Annan From
sentenced prisoner Ruslan Sharipov
Correspondent of the Russian News Agency “Prima”
Leader of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan “Citizen Assistance
to” Tashtyurma UYa 64/ Si 1 Copy to: HRW, RSF, PEN, CPJ, IPI, IFJ,
OSCE, EBRD, ICJ, George Bush, Islam Karimov, Procuracy of Uzbekistan,
Ministry of the Internal Affairs of Uzbekistan, Supreme Court of the
Uzbekistan, Ombudsman of Uzbekistan. Coming of age of the Uzbek
Republic, or
All roads lead to “Independence” “Don’t make me commit suicide Mr.
President! ” “Now it is 12 years of our Independence. In the Eastern
calendar 12 years means full age.. It will not be a mistake to say that
in the past period we have built a new life, new society, democratic
government in our country, in Uzbekistan. In short we have built up a
worthy life for us and our generation, the life on the level of the
world’s developed countries – without a doubt it equals centuries”
–speech given on 31.08.03 by the President of Uzbekistan, Islam
Abduganiyevich Karimov Dear Kofi Annan, I am writing to you from
Tashkent prison in order, once again, to draw your and the
international community’s attention to the situation of human rights,
freedom of _expression, and persecution of opponents of the corrupt
regime. Despite of the fact that as a result of my previous letters
from prison I endured increased pressure, threats and torture, I
decided again to write to the international community with a request to
decisively judge the repressive politics of the Uzbek government
against the few remaining critical voices in Uzbekistan. My agony for
our country, which is run by corrupt authorities and organized crime,
pushes me to take this illogical action, as well as concern for my
colleagues, both those who are not imprisoned and those who are in
Uzbek prisons. I say “illogical” because before I “confessed” and
“plead guilty” at the trial presided over by judge Mahmudov Ganisher, I
was forced to write a “death note,” in which I wrote, as dictated, a
goodbye letter and declared that I committed suicide of my own
volition. I was clearly told that if I would write any further appeals
or complaints, I would commit suicide, that is, I would “kill myself.”
I was tortured and pressured in ways I cannot describe with the aim of
forcing me to confess and plead guilty at trial for a crime that I
hadn’t committed. The same thing happened to me during the
investigation at the Mirzo-Ulugbek District Department of Internal
Affairs. When using torture and pressure against me, police officers
from the criminal investigation department of the District Department
of Internal Affairs, whose names are Umar and Otabek, understood very
well that, during the trial, if they were to use cruel methods of
torture: beatings or harassment, my lawyers would see the marks of the
torture. This is why they used forms of torture that couldn’t leave any
evidence of beatings on my body. However, these barbarians did all that
was necessary, to “convince” me to plead guilty and incriminate myself
with my own mouth at the trial. They put a gas mask on my head and
sprayed an unknown substance into my throat, after which I could hardly
breathe. The also injected an unknown substance into my veins and
warned me that if I did not follow their instructions they would give
me an injection of the AIDS virus. I could not withstand such excesses,
and now I am writing only a small part of what I faced and
unfortunately I can’t now write the names of all the persons who were
directly involved. As the officers of the Mirzo-Ulugbek District
Department of Internal Affairs, Otabek and Umar, tortured and
threatened me, likewise Valeri Lobanov and Marat Izatulin tortured and
threatened me in the basement of the GUVD (City Department of the
Internal Affairs); and similarly the officers of the Yunusabad District
Department of Internal Affairs who detained me and tortured and
threatened me at the building of the Yunusabad District Department of
Internal Affairs, all of them
being employees of different sections of the Ministry of Internal
Affairs, hiding their names under the Minister of the Internal Affairs,
Ministry Zokir Almatov and the President of Uzbekistan Islam Karimov.
During my detention, these officers told me that Zokir Almatov himself
was keeping my criminal case under his control and reporting personally
to Islam Karimov, that they would imprison me, and that it would be
better if I followed their instructions, in order to shorten the prison
term and imprisonment, as well as to save my life and health. The judge
Mahmudov Ganisher, Umar, and Otabek even threatened physical harassment
of my lawyers if I did not release them, and they demanded that I send
my mother out from the court room, confess, and plead guilty, and
especially that I ask pardon of President Islam Karimov and Zokir
Almatov for criticism and “disinformation” about the Uzbek government
and the system of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. They were irritated
when their suit against me collapsed before their own eyes, victims
became hysterical during cross-examination by the defending side, the
lack of evidence to support their allegations, and furthermore that the
forensic examinations showed no evidence of sexual contact between us.
And that is why, during this crucial stage of the trial I faced such a
cruel treatment, in spite of the risk that I could testify about the
torture with my lawyers at the trial. But I remembered their warning,
that the lawyers will go an I will stay in their hands. To be honest, I
was horribly afraid after what they had done with me, and about what
unfortunately I cannot say. I was also afraid that they could do all
this to my mother and younger brother, as well as to my lawyers. I will
never forget that videotaping, which shamed my honesty and dignity that
they organized and indeed I am, as every citizen of the country,
literally without the strength to oppose this hellish machine. Today I
indeed damn the day when I believed in the purposes and aims spread in
the propaganda of the Uzbek authorities in 1999, when I set myself the
goal of taking part in and successfully completing the program of the
“Umid” foundation of the President Islam Karimov, participation in
which led to my independent journalistic and human rights activities
and subsequent imprisonment because of these activities. It would be
foolish to say that I did not know what my actions would lead to. In
fact I understood perfectly. But it is an entirely different matter to
actually to go through this hellish nighmare yourself, in which no one
will help you and no one will hear you. President Islam Karimov will
not give his hand of aid because I and my colleagues in the Uzbek
prisons are considered enemies of the people. The President Islam
Karimov doesn’t even know, that as a result of pursuing justice,
defending human rights and freedom of _expression, and criticizing
corruption in the higher level authorities and the Internal Affairs
Ministry (city and district departments), now I am afraid of my own
shadow and the noise of the opening of the cell’s doors, because I am
waiting the next round of torture at the hands of the officers of the
Mirzo-Ulugbek District Department of Internal Affairs and other
structures of the system. The officers always reminded me that they and
others (whose names I cannot write now) at any time can call me back
with the same request and again continue the derision of my life,
honesty and dignity, which they have already turned into a
laughingstock. Soon, I will be sent to a prison colony to serve my
sentence, where, according to the city department and Yunusabad and
Mirzo-Ulugbek district departments officers, some people are already
waiting for me and I will have to answer for the “damage” caused to
independent Uzbekistan. Now, after hearing the open threats of the
higher level authorities, especially the chief of the anti-terrorism
department of the Tashkent City Department of Internal Affairs, and
high-level officers of the Ministry of Internal Affairs: Tursunbai
Rakhmatullaev Lutfullo Abdullaev of the anti-terrorism department
Ministry of the Internal Affairs Uzbekistan I already don’t expect to
be released, at least in near future. Today I would hope at least not
be forced to “commit suicide” in detention, or to be disabled, as I now
know from my own experience that in our independent Uzbekistan
everything is done “by oneself.” Meanwhile, against the background of
repression of human rights defenders and journalists, pious believers,
political opponents, and ordinary citizens, Uzbekistan recently
celebrated the great day of Independence Day. Dear Kofi Annan, as
official Uzbekistan destroys critical voices, puts opponents of the
regime in prisons, life in independent Uzbekistan goes on. You can be
sure of this by reading an excerpt from an article by Vokhid Lukmon:
“Today’s sunrise is not as usual. This is the sunrise of Independence.
Let Independence be forever!” President Islam Karimov solemnly spoke
this sensitive wish twelve years ago. Today Independence square is as
smart as ever. Here the biggest holiday of our country is starting and
from here it will spread along the country, will go from one side of
the Republic to another, will grasp the furthest villages. Each year of
our Independence equals centuries. It would be impossible on this
holiday not to remember the huge successes of the wheat pickers of our
country, not to reward them with dignity and praise. They picked up the
biggest harvest in the country’s history. Under the leader of
Uzbekistan Islam Karimov, who chose his own way of development,
progress confidently proceeds, and is internationally recognized as the
‘Uzbek Model’.” Today all the streets of Tashkent City are leading to
Independence square. On August 31, 2003 at 7:30 p.m. the President of
Uzbekistan Islam Karimov sets his foot on the square. The Governmental
Hymn of Uzbekistan is played. Our compatriots are getting up, pressing
hands to their heart, and at the same time singing the hymn. There is
inspiration on people’s face and it is as if it spreads throughout the
world. And indeed this is the case. In these exciting and happy
minutes, one thinks about lots of things. One wants to look at the path
traveled, breath freely, and to be proud of the great achievements of
its people. Children are dancing. A march is played. Yes, what is
reached in centuries we have reached in months, in years. Each past day
can be written with golden letters to Independent Uzbekistan’s history.
Enemies, who can only make rumors and slander, can’t oppose such
progress. Our people know very well indeed who is who. The twelfth year
of independence our President declared the year of the Mahalla, peace
in Mahalla, peace in the country, comfortable Mahalla, the country is
blooming. The holiday program on the square of the country is not only
imagination. On this huge stage the past, present and future, the great
dream of Uzbek people is reviving. Each melody, each song tells about
the achievements of the twelve years. Happy Independence Holiday, my
great country!” –Vohid Lukmon, commentator for Uzbekistan’s
Information Agency. However, in the end I agree with the wishes of
Vohid Lukmon: “Independence! – The sky is singing, the stars are
singing, the centuries-old Chinar trees, the whole city is singing, the
whole country! Being glad for these happy days, we remember the dark
days and Thank God for that we have reached these days, this bright
time.” Ruslan Sharipov September 05, 2003

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This post was written by...

– author of 2991 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Nathan is the founder and Principal Analyst for Registan, which he launched in 2003. He was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uzbekistan 2000-2001 and received his MA in Central Asian Studies from the University of Washington in 2007. Since 2007, he has worked full-time as an analyst, consulting with private and government clients on Central Asian affairs, specializing in how socio-cultural and political factors shape risks and opportunities and how organizations can adjust their strategic and operational plans to account for these variables. More information on Registan's services can be found here, and Nathan can be contacted via Twitter or email.

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