Uzbekistan Frees Sanjar Umarov

by Noah Tucker on 11/11/2009 · 2 comments

If you haven’t heard yet, Sanjar Umarov was released from prison in Uzbekistan last week. (Read about in the original story that broke on and its RFR/RL English derivative).

Umarov, perhaps the most famous political prisoner in Uzbekistan, was charged with tax evasion and embezzlement after founding an opposition party called “the Sunshine Coalition” in 2005. An oligarch of sorts, he had been living in the U.S. for a number of years and returned to Uzbekistan in the aftermath of the Andijon events of 2005 to head what briefly appeared to be a potentially viable domestic opposition to the Karimov regime. There was a great deal of speculation in 2005 that his wealth (rumored to be somewhat fantastic), presumed connections, and domestic influence might actually provide him a “krysha” (Rus: ‘roof’, political protection) strong enough to protect him in open opposition.

It didn’t. He was arrested shortly after a much-trumpeted return to the country and was “disappeared” for long periods of time, much to the protest of his family, international human rights organizations, and Western governments.

Whether his surprise release is directly connected with the lifting of EU sanctions or continued US/NATO development of the Northern Transportation Network, we’ll probably never know. So far very few details have been released–according to the stories linked above, it’s still unclear whether he’s even allowed to leave Uzbekistan. However the details eventually emerge, this is clearly a tremendous relief to his family and friends and potentially a significant sign of Uzbek rapprochement with the West.

Subscribe to receive updates from Registan

This post was written by...

– author of 54 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Noah Tucker is managing editor at and an associate at George Washington University's Elliot School of International Affairs Central Asia Program. Noah is a researcher and consultant for NGO, academic and government clients on Central Asian society and culture. He has worked on Central Asian issues since 2002--specializing in religion, national identity, ethnic conflict and social media--and received an MA from Harvard in Russian, E. European and Central Asian Studies in 2008. He has spent four and half years in the region, primarily in Uzbekistan, and returned most recently for fieldwork in Southern Kyrgyzstan in the summers of 2011 and 2012.

For information on reproducing this article, see our Terms of Use


Prithvi November 12, 2009 at 6:44 pm

Didn’t the Uzbek government try to spin the Andijan massacre as some kind of oligarchic insurrection?

bakinets November 13, 2009 at 4:28 pm

Like anyone, I am happy to hear of Umarov’s release. He has been treated very badly in prison. He should have everyone’s sympathy, and his arrest and torture is just another of the endless list of crimes committed by the Uzbek regime.

That being said, one should acknowledge a few things. Umarov did not to to prison because he was fighting for justice in Uzbekistan, or fighting to defend the rights of the thousands of people who became his fellow prisoners in the Uzbek gulag for four years.

He was a member of the Karimov-era political and economic elite who was both an actor and a pawn in high-level political games – games in which he ended up a loser, with tragic consequences for him and his family.

The only thing his release tells us about the Uzbek regime is that its strategy is still working just fine: the strategy of releasing one or two high-profile political prisoners per year – those whose names are known in Europe and the US — while continuing to repress Uzbek society in every other way.

Previous post:

Next post: