Earlier this year I led the delegation of MEPs to Uzbekistan. We were given one of the best and most honest briefings I have ever received from a British diplomat (Tony Blair’s new friend, October 28). Our ambassador, Craig Murray, believed he should speak out when he was convinced of human rights abuses. He was right to do so, even if that meant treading on local and transatlantic toes.
My experience is that the Uzbek government does listen to criticism, firmly and fairly made. They made it clear we could visit any place and meet any people we chose. So we were able to see grim prison conditions and to hear from human rights NGOs. But two days after our return, Ruslan Sharipov, a journalist critical of the government, was arrested and imprisoned on the grounds of his sexuality and we are still aware of political prisoners and a muzzled press.
Now we hear of turmoil at the British embassy in Tashkent and the ambassador being put under enormous pressure, and then summoned home for “treatment”. In the parliament last week, I issued a habeas corpus challenge to the British government. I repeat the challenge I made to the foreign secretary: restore a good man to his post. The gainers will be the Uzbek people, but also the good name of British diplomacy.
John Bowis MEP