Tag Archives: Uzbekistan

Craig Murray on Uzbekistan Today

. . . 1.4 million Uzbek children are today working in regime forced labour in the Uzbek cotton fields. They work at physically very tough labour for twelve hours a day in conditions identical to those in which black slave workers suffered in the Southern United States 200 years ago – indeed several US slave owners would have scrupled at the wholesale use of children as young as eight in the fields, as is done by the Uzbek government. They sleep in barracks on concrete floors, live on weak vegetable soup and drink dirty water from the irrigation ditches.

Of course it is not only children who are forced into the fields, and the system requires extreme compulsion. On October 6 in Kashkadarya, 18 year old Navruz Islamov was beaten to death by police for attempting to leave a cotton field when suffering from sunstroke. There are scores more such instances we do not hear about.

I have never felt so outraged as I did two years ago, when a European Commission official told me that the EU would not act on child labour in Uzbekistan as there was “no official evidence” of the practice, only “rumour”. This year – with the active connivance of EU nation state diplomats in Tashkent, particularly the German Ambassador – the Uzbek Government for the third successive year refused a request from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to visit Uzbekistan to monitor child labour in the cotton harvest. At the same time, the EU says it will not act without this report from the ILO.

This is also the position of the British Government, which has never made a single comment or statement on child labour in Uzbekistan (except by me while Ambassdaor). Indeed the coalition government has never made any statement on human rights in Uzbekistan at all, having no interest in the fate of its 8,000 political prisoners and ever-lengthening list of tortured and killed by the British “ally”, President Karimov.

Cuba has just announced the abolition of exit visas. Uzbekistan is now one of a tiny number of extreme regimes which still locks its people in, retaining the old Soviet exit visa system. The Cameron/Clegg government refuses to raise this with the Uzbek regime.

Britain and the EU are again selling weapons and providing military and secret service training to the Karimov regime, and the UK, US and other NATO countries are negotiating to “gift” huge amounts of arms and military materiel to Karimov as they withdraw from Afghanistan. Nobody in the West, and particularly in the Western media, appears to have any interest at all in our collusion with the most repressive and corrupt regime in the world.

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Sting and the Dictator’s Daughter

Sting’s bollocks
The St. Petersburg Times
Issue #1551 (12), Friday, February 26, 2010
Chernov’s choice

Sting made the news on Sunday, when information about him accepting between $1.5 million and $3 million to play in Tashkent for Uzbek president Islam Karimov’s glamorous daughter and heir was picked up by the press.

The former Police singer and bass player is known as a human rights campaigner and Amnesty International supporter.

Karimov, the former First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, is known as one of the world’s harshest dictators, who has used torture, media censorship and false elections to remain the country’s president-for-life since 1990.

Gordon Sumner & Gulnara Karimova

Uzbekistan is a country in which children are employed to work on state cotton fields, and protest rallies are shot at (several hundred protesters were reported to have been shot and killed in Andijon in 2005).

Craig Murray, the former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, who wrote about sweeping corruption and appalling human rights abuses in his 2007 memoirs, “Murder in Samarkand,” even reported cases of Karimov’s political opponents being boiled to death.

Tactfully, Sting’s official web site did not report the event — neither when it took place in October nor when the controversy arose on Sunday — but the singer reacted to media criticism with some remarks in his defense.

“I am well aware of the Uzbek president’s appalling reputation in the field of human rights as well as the environment. I made the decision to play there in spite of that,” Sting was quoted as saying by The Daily Mail on Sunday.

“I have come to believe that cultural boycotts are not only pointless gestures, they are counter-productive, where proscribed states are further robbed of the open commerce of ideas and art and as a result become even more closed, paranoid and insular.”

Former ambassador Murray disagreed. “This really is transparent bollocks,” he wrote on his blog.

“He did not take a guitar and jam around the parks of Tashkent. He got paid over a million pounds to play an event specifically designed to glorify a barbarous regime. Is the man completely mad?”

Sting chose the wrong line of defense.

The Scorpions, after performing at the Federal Security Service’s 90th anniversary concert in the Kremlin (yes, the FSB sees itself as the heir to Lenin’s murderous Cheka) in 2008, said they did not know what the concert was about.

Anti-capitalist Roger Waters, whose 2008 concert on Palace Square was promoted as a “gift” from the Economic Forum and was attended by oligarch Roman Abramovich — who traveled to St. Petersburg on his state-of-the art, missile-proof yacht — said that the promoters hadn’t told him that his show was part of the forum.

“What Uzbekistan? What Karimov? I wasn’t told what it was about,” would be the right answer. Or does Sting still have some conscience left?

— By Sergey Chernov

Editor’s Note: You have one day left to listen to Dave Hare’s brilliant radio dramatization of Craig Murray’s Murder in Samarkand, starring David Tenant as Ambassador Murray.

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Free Umida Akhmedova!

Journalist charged with defaming Uzbeks, faces 8 years jail

New York, January 22, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on the Uzbek authorities to immediately drop all charges against Umida Akhmedova, a prominent photojournalist and documentary filmmaker who covers gender, ethnic, and cultural issues, and allow her to continue to do her work without fear of reprisal.

On January 13, investigators with the city police department in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent, criminally charged Akhmedova with insulting and libeling the Uzbek people and its traditions through her work, according to international news reports. On Thursday, investigators informed Akhmedova’s lawyer that they had concluded their probe and the case will be transferred to court in the next few days, Akhmedova told CPJ. If convicted on both charges, she could serve up to eight years in jail. Akhmedova is prohibited from leaving the country, she told CPJ.

According to the independent regional news Web site Ferghana, the charges stem from a 2007 album of photographs depicting life in Uzbek villages and a 2008 documentary on the traditional ban on premarital sex. Both were produced with support by the Swiss Embassy in Tashkent, Akhmedova told CPJ. In the album, titled “Women and Men: From Dawn to Dusk,” Akhmedova showed men, women, and children in their daily routine and during traditional rituals. Her documentaryThe Burden of Virginity—criticizes the pressure on young women in Uzbekistan to practice abstinence until marriage.

“We call on the authorities in Tashkent to drop the absurd charges against Umida Akhmedova at once,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “It is unthinkable that a documentarian should go to prison because the state interprets her work as insulting.”

The indictment, obtained by CPJ, and signed by Tashkent police investigator K. Kh. Akbarov, said that results of a “complex expert review” of Akhmedova’s work revealed that “with her unscientific, unsound, and inappropriate comments, which contain hidden implications, are directed at discrediting values and traditions of our people, and hold negative information that can affect moral and psychological conditions of the youth”—she insulted “traditions of the Uzbek people, which is viewed as defamation, scornful, and disrespectful attitude towards national traditions.”

According to Ferghana, in mid-November, Akhmedova learned that a criminal case concerning her work was filed by Uzbekistan’s State Agency for Press and Information, a government media regulator. Investigator Nodir Akhmadzhanov with the Mirabad District Police Department in Tashkent called and asked her to come and testify as a witness in the case. After the visit, Akhmedova told Ferghana she was perplexed at the authorities’ claims. She said Akhmadzhanov was unable to answer her question how the visual depiction of traditions could defame an entire nation. A month later, the same investigator told Akhmedova that, as an author of the documentary and album, she was no longer a witness in the criminal case but has been upgraded to a suspect; he suggested that she seek a lawyer, Ferghana reported.

In their conclusion, the state-sponsored panel of experts who reviewed Akhmedova’s work said it left a negative impression on viewers unfamiliar with Uzbek traditions, Ferghana reported: “Looking at the pictures, a foreigner who had not seen Uzbekistan comes to the conclusion that this is a country where people live in the Middle Ages. The author intentionally focuses on life’s hardships.”

Akhmedova deems the charges against her unsubstantiated but told CPJ she feared for her subjects. “I am not scared of being prosecuted but hope they will spare the people I have documented and worked with,” Akhmedova told CPJ.

Akhmedova is the author of several documentaries on Uzbekistan; her photos have been shown in exhibitions at home and abroad. She is the first female documentary filmmaker in Uzbekistan, the regional press reported. See a slide show of her work on the CPJ Blog.

Photographer who showed Uzbek reality to be tried for “insulting the people”

Reporters Without Borders condemns the upcoming trial of photographer and documentary filmmaker Umida Akhmedova as an absurd and flagrant violation of free expression that is all the more disturbing for having unleashed an all-out campaign of nationalist and conservative hysteria.

Two months after being summoned for the first time to a Tashkent police station, Akhmedova was officially notified on 23 January that the authorities had completed their investigation and would soon try her in connection with her work showing women and poverty in Uzbekistan. She is accused of slandering and insulting the Uzkbek people under articles 139 and 140 of the criminal code – charges that carry a maximum sentence of three years in jail.

The authorities have focused on her documentary “The Burden of Virginity” and a collection of 100 photos called “Woman and Man: From Dawn till Night.” Showing individuals and scenes from daily life, the book was published in 2007 with support from the Swiss embassy’s gender equality programme.

“This is the first time in Uzbekistan that a documentary filmmaker is going to be tried for films and photographs which, furthermore, are about subjects that are not political but social and ethnographic,” freelance journalist Aleksey Volosevich wrote in a recent article.

The prosecution case file includes the supposedly “scientific” analysis of Akhmedova’s photographs that a group of “experts” released on 13 January. In Soviet-era prose, the report accuses her of presenting a deliberately distorted picture of Uzbekistan that emphasizes the negative aspects.

Reporters Without Borders is amazed by the absurdity and bad faith of the report’s arguments: “Ninety percent of the photos were taken in isolated and under-developed Uzbek villages (…) Why does she not show nice places, modern buildings or prosperous villages?” At another point, Akhmedova is accused of “trying to portray Uzbek women as victims (…) giving the impression that Uzbekistan does nothing but housework (…) describing Uzbeks as barbarians.”

The persecution of Akhmedova was taken to a new stage by the “Current Affair” talk-show on the main public TV station two evenings ago. After screening extracts from her documentary, the programme showed guests denigrating her work and calling for her to be given the severest sentence for “offending the national traditions and sentiments of the Uzbek people.” Quoting President Islam Karimov at length, participants also described her work as part of “an information war waged against the country.”

Since Uzbekistan gained independence in 1991, a nationalist rhetoric glorifying an identity based on myths and traditions has been used instead of a communist discourse to legitimise President Karimov’s autocratic regime.

No discussion of the country’s social problems is permitted and the regime seems to be using Akhmedova as a scapegoat to whip up paranoia and perhaps to appease a conservative and religious segment of the population which is itself persecuted. By branding Akhmedova as agent of destabilisation in foreign pay, the authorities are making it clear that any debate about Uzbek society is unthinkable.

Nonetheless, civil society exasperation with the repeated attacks on civil liberties has begun to make itself felt in an unprecedented manner for a country that is such a police state (see this RFE/RL report on the reactions to journalist Khayrullo Khamidov’s arrest). In Akhmedova’s case, a broad campaign of support is under way and a petition has been launched on her behalf that has been relayed by the Ferghana.ru news agency, Radio Free Europe and many international NGOs.

The International Association of Art Critics has appealed to the Uzbek authorities to acquit Akhmedova while art critics in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have even issued a scathing alternative report disputing the findings of the official “expert” report and ironically calling for its authors to be tried for “lack of professionalism, incompetence (…) and ignorance, liable to discredit the Uzbek justice system.”

In a recent charm offensive targeted at the international community, President Karimov said he was determined to promote democratisation and went to so far as to criticise the “compliant” parliament and the “tame” press. It is time for him to turn these words into actions.

Photographs © Umida Akhmedova

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Craig Murray and John Pilger on the “War on Terror”

Last July, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said this, and I quote: “It’s important for us all to remember here in Australia that Afghanistan has been a training ground for terrorists worldwide, a training ground also for terrorists in South-East-Asia, reminding us of the reasons that we are in the field of combat and reaffirming our resolve to remain committed to that cause.”

There is no truth in this statement. It is the equivalent of his predecessor John Howard’s lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Shortly before Kevin Rudd made that statement, American planes bombed a wedding party in Afghanistan. At least sixty people were blown to bits, including the bride and groom and many children. That’s the fifth wedding party attacked, in our name.

The prime minister was standing outside a church on a Sunday morning when he made his statement. No reporter challenged him. No one said the war was a fraud: that it began as an American vendetta following 9/11, in which not a single Afghan was involved. No one put it to Kevin Rudd that our perceived enemy in Afghanistan were introverted tribesmen who had no quarrel with Australia and didn’t give a damn about south-east Asia and just wanted the foreign soldiers out of their country. Above all, no one said: “Prime Minister, There is no war on terror. It’s a hoax. But there is a war of terror waged by governments, including the Australian government, in our name.” That wedding party, Prime Minister, was blown to bits by one of the latest smart weapons, such as the Hellfire bomb that sucks the air out of the lungs. In our name.

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