Yearly archives: 2004

The Observer – Trouble in Tashkent

The Observer – Trouble in Tashkent (by Nick Cohen)

In the middle of October, Craig Murray, our man in Uzbekistan, delivered a speech which broke with all the established principles of Foreign Office diplomacy. ‘This country,’ the brave and honest ambassador told an audience in Tashkent, ‘has made very disappointing progress in moving away from the dictatorship of the Soviet period … The major political parties are banned; Parliament is not subject to democratic election and checks and balances on the authority of the electorate are lacking. There is worse: we believe there to be between seven and 10,000 people in detention who we would consider as political and/or religious prisoners. In many cases they have been falsely convicted of crimes with which there appears to be no credible evidence they had any connection.’

The state-censored Uzbek media didn’t report his accurate description of life in the dictatorship. Such news is unfit to use. I would guess that until 11 September few outsiders would have cared about Murray’s denunciation of the near 100 per cent conviction rate of the state’s prosecutors and the gangsterism of its post-communist elite. (I would also guess that until 11 September few outsiders would have been able to find Uzbekistan on a map.)

The ‘war’ on terrorism changed all that. I was in Washington in January and saw how events in Uzbekistan pushed delighted conservatives to declare themselves masters of an ‘Empire’. Until then, ‘the American Empire’ was an insult. The Right didn’t accept the Republic could have become any such thing. After Osama bin Laden unwittingly turned America from a superpower into a hyper-power, the men around Bush no longer could or wanted to deny that an empire was what they had. It was the opening of US bases in Uzbekistan which forced them to talk plainly. Here were American troops in a former Soviet Republic in the centre of central Asia and no one – not Russia, not China – could do anything about it. The world was their playground.

Uzbekistan represented a new peak for American imperialism but was also a test of what type of empire the American empire would be. On the level of realpolitik, the thugs in charge of Uzbekistan suited the West well. The President, Islam Karimov, was a Soviet apparatchik who found Muslim fundamentalism a useful justification for repression. Since 1997, his government has pursued a campaign against Muslims who worship outside the state-controlled religion. Some were insurgents dedicated to the most frightening versions of theocracy. But not all.

Alerts from Human Rights Watch give a flavour of how the war against terrorism became a war against democracy. Elena Urlaeva didn’t look like a potential suicide bomber. She was a member of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, who protested outside the Ministry of Justice in Tashkent. She was shipped, Brezhnev style, to a mental hospital and stultified with drugs. Meanwhile, independent doctors have put their careers and more at risk by examining the bodies of prisoners who die in custody. One, the corpse of Muzafar Avazov, had no fingernails and ‘bore burns that could only be caused by immersing him in boiling water’. Neither of the above stories is exceptional.

For most of the time Karimov seems as much mad as vicious. In October, for instance, all the billiard halls in Uzbekistan were closed. The national team was banned from travelling to tournaments and the Uzbek Billiard Federation was abolished. No law was passed against billiards. One day Uzbeks could play billiards and the next they couldn’t. The Associated Press said that the word on the streets of Tashkent had it that some bureaucrat’s son had lost big at the table.

What isn’t banned is glowing accounts of approval for the regime from the West. The state media use them to reinforce Karimov’s power and dispirit his opponents. And it is Britain which is providing the greatest comfort, despite the best efforts of our ambassador.

In May the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development will hold its annual meeting in Tashkent. Clare Short will be in the chair. The charter of the bank, whose capital is provided by European tax payers, stands out from those of other international financial institutions because it instructs the staff to do more good than harm. The bank can only help ‘countries committed to and applying the principles of multi-party democracy, pluralism and market economics’.

The bank will be able to insist on privatisations. The Uzbek elite will go along with market economics as long as it gets its cut. But Uzbekistan won’t accept multi-party democracy without a fight, and the bank’s amoral directors aren’t prepared to start one. What the Economist calls the European Bank for Repression and Dictatorship is as uncomfortable with human freedom as its Uzbek friends. Human Rights Watch and civil-liberties groups from Albania to Tajikistan have begged it to apply pressure. The timid protesters don’t want Europe to cancel the propaganda triumph the conference will bring and stop supplying public money to a government which is little more than a crime gang. They merely want the bank to demand that favours should be conditional on Uzbekistan releasing political prisoners and freeing the press.

Jean Lemierre, the president of the bank, who, by his own charter’s standards, should be looking for other work, has refused. A few days ago he was in Uzbekistan and was quoted by the country’s lackey media as promising a ‘foreign capital inflow to the region’. Short, to her credit, has condemned the huge corruption in Uzbekistan, but has refused to impose conditions in return for aid.

We are 15 months into the ‘war’ and still have no answer to the question: Will the American Empire and its European clients be agents of national liberation or the perpetuators of a status quo which creates mass murderers?

At the moment the European Bank and Clare Short’s Department for International Development are doing precisely what bin Laden would want them to do. Or as Craig Murray said in words which apply as well to Iraq, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as Uzbekistan: ‘Giving people freedom doesn’t mean that anarchy and instability will follow. Indeed, it is repression which risks causing resentment, alienation and social tension.’

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“Americans are not Scots, and John Purnell is not Craig Murray”

American ambassador has praised Uzbekistan for human rights

By Shavkat Turon, writing in OzodOvoz

On December, 10, 2004 the plenipotentiary ambassador of the USA in Uzbekistan John Purnell, talking with journalists of foreign mass media, has told, that Uzbekistan has made considerable progress in sphere of human rights. The correspondent of Ozod Ovoz Shavkat Turon informs from Tashkent.

The praise of the American diplomatic corps head has sounded in hotel Le Meridien in Tashkent on the celebratory action organized by representations of Freedom House and USAID in honor of the World day of human rights. In interview to the correspondents of radio BBC, “Ozodlik”, Deutche Welle and other foreign news agencies John Purnell has told: In comparison with former years Uzbekistan has made considerable progress in sphere of observance of human rights .

The main American diplomat in Uzbekistan has proved the words up to conversation with foreign journalists, during special speech to participants of the celebratory action organized in honor of the World day of human rights.

John Purnell began the story from apart, having told, that by education he is a historian. Therefore I want to address to history , – the ambassador has told and informed, that in the beginning of 80th years he worked as the 2-secretary of the USA embassy in the former USSR, in Moscow. Then the simple Soviet people marked this holiday that came to Pushkin’s monument in Moscow and simply removed the caps. And the Soviet militia arrested them only that they removed the headdresses. Thank God, that now it is not present: nobody pursues people for removal of headdresses , – John Purnell has told.

And after this speech the American ambassador has given interview to foreign mass media and has noted considerable progress in sphere of observance of human rights in Uzbekistan .

The American flattery aside the official Tashkent has been perceived by participants of celebratory action easy. One of the Uzbek human rights activist, invited on the celebratory action, has told, that all world has got used to hypocrisy of the USA concerning the dictatorial regime in Uzbekistan. Americans are not Scots, and John Purnell is not Craig Murray , – has told the Uzbek human rights activist.

Shavkat Turon is pseudonym of the correspondent of Ozod Ovoz in Tashkent

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IRIN News – UZBEKISTAN: Interview with Craig Murray, former UK ambassador

IRIN News – UZBEKISTAN: Interview with Craig Murray, former UK ambassador

ANKARA, 18 Nov 2004 (IRIN) – While a mission from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) is touring Central Asia, Uzbekistan, long criticised by the international community over its poor human rights record and the practice of torture, is cracking down on independent Muslims following the terrorist attacks earlier this year and the situation is not likely to improve, Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Tashkent, told IRIN in an interview on Thursday.

Murray, who served in Central Asia’s most populous country for more than two years, said that the Uzbek government was giving very few economic opportunities to its 25 million odd population, a situation likely to cause more violent reaction to the government’s harsh policies.

QUESTION: Human rights abuses in Uzbekistan have been well documented by international organisations, but what additional information do you have to add to the picture based on your experiences as British ambassador in Tashkent?

ANSWER: I am not sure I can add much to the excellent documentation by groups such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Pen and Forum 18 not to mention the report by Theo van Boven, UN special rapporteur on torture.

I would, however, like to see more work done on the absence of economic freedom. In particular, the system of internal movement control means that those born on state farms – 60 percent of the population – are effectively serfs.

The widespread use by the state of forced child labour in the cotton harvest also should be highlighted further. This is one area [where] I would like to see the UN take a much more active role.

Where I could help on the ground was in interpreting events. For example, the US has praised certain areas of so-called progress in reform, such as the abolition of censorship or the abolition of two counts of the death penalty.

In fact, censorship is total, and while two redundant counts of the death penalty were abolished – genocide and armed aggression against another state, neither of which had ever been used – at the same time the definition of treason was expanded to include a wide range of opposition activity. The net result was that the death penalty was more, not less, active.

Q: Can anything be done by the outside world to challenge the culture of human rights abuse you have referred to on a number of occasions, both while serving as ambassador and since?

A: I think the outside world has a certain leverage because Uzbekistan is party to a great many international treaties and conventions she does not respect – the UN convention against torture being one obvious example.

Furthermore, Uzbekistan is a member of a number of organisations – including the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) – which have basic commitments to values, which Uzbekistan does not respect. Indeed, President [Islam] Karimov openly rejects so-called Western values and democracy, which are in fact universal.

So far only the EBRD has grasped the nettle of dealing with a state which fails to respect its fundamental values, but I feel that is an excellent example. It no longer will lend to Uzbekistan, except in certain highly specialised circumstances.

Q: Do you feel the West’s policy of constructive engagement with Tashkent had produced any positive results or do you feel it has stalled reform?

A: The economy of Uzbekistan is getting worse and repression gets harsher and harsher. I do not see, therefore, how the West can claim engagement has worked. I recall a meeting this year where the US Ambassador said the US had many full-time advisers in Uzbek economic ministries. I said that left two choices – either their advice was not being followed, or they were giving rubbish advice.

With its extraordinary economic policy of clamping down on private economic activity and closing its borders to trade, I think aid from the US, Japan and the ADB in particular has been essential in propping up the Karimov regime.

Equally important has been the fulsome political support for Karimov from all the senior figures in the US administration, from Bush down. To support such a vicious dictatorship can never be right and as the Tashkent regime tortures innocent Muslims, US support for him can only increase hatred for the West in the Islamic world.

Q: The jury is still out on who was responsible for the March bombings in Tashkent and Bokhara, the authorities were quick to label the attacks as the work of religious extremists. Now hundreds of young Uzbeks are being branded Islamic radicals and tried accordingly. What, in your view, was behind the bombings, and are we likely to see more such attacks?

A: Growing poverty, lack of economic opportunity and the absence of any democratic opportunity for change, or even any opportunity to express their views peacefully, has driven many young people to despair in Uzbekistan. This is made worse as many have seen family members unjustly imprisoned and tortured.

We cannot therefore be surprised that some are driven to violence. I condemn violence completely, but a regime as brutal and kleptocratic as Karimov’s will always provoke some violent reaction.

I believe that the March bombings were carried out by young Muslims. But I have researched this carefully – I personally visited all the bomb sites within a couple of hours of the blasts. I have spoken to witnesses and families of both alleged perpetrators and victims. From this I know that the young activists were very heavily penetrated by the Uzbek security services and there is a reason to believe this was an agent provocateur operation – which is probably why ordinary policemen, not political figures, were attacked.

The extreme repression of the Uzbek regime means that often underground radical Islam is the only opposition to Karimov that young people encounter, so it looks to them an attractive option. The west should transfer all the resources it spends on the Karimov regime into promoting a democratic alternative – for example by funding analogue television programming in from powerful transmitters in neighbouring countries, and through very substantial funding and training for the democratic opposition. Otherwise

more violence is inevitable.

Q: Despite its size and resources, Uzbekistan remains one of the poorest of the countries that used to make up the Soviet Union. What are the causes of this poverty and what impact is it having at a grassroots level, particularly in rural areas?

A: Uzbekistan has taken the worst features of the Soviet command economy and ratcheted up the pressure still further to ensure that only a tiny minority of the elite reaps major economic benefits and maintains political control.

Increasing poverty is measurable in poor diet, increasing health problems, decreasing literacy, especially among females, and a sharp decline in ownership of consumer durables. Rural families often have lost all household goods now to buy food. The result is rapid radicalisation of the population. I predict increasing agrarian tension and violence in the next 12 months.

Q: In a recent speech in London you spoke about the alarming levels of heroin now transiting through Uzbekistan, why do you think that is and what are the consequences for the country if the trade is not curbed?

A: Uzbekistan is not just a transit country, but heroin usage is also rapidly increasing. Among young people in Samarkand and Bokhara in particular – on the transit route – it is epidemic. Consequences include increasing crime and HIV. In these towns youth unemployment is about 60 percent (the Uzbek government says 0.5 percent!).

The major problem is that senior members of the regime are personally engaged in narcotics trafficking, rendering useless all the money the West and the UN is spending on equipment and training for Uzbek customs.

Government vehicles and the vehicles shuttling back and forth between the regime and general [Rashid] Dostum [in northern Afghanistan] carry the narcotics – and these vehicles are not stopped by customs. The small amount of interception of private smugglers might be characterised as eliminating the competition.

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“Selling Our Souls for Dross”

Sobaka’s Notebook

by Cali Ruchala

It began ordinarily enough for what’s being billed a merchant’s revolt: a dispute about taxes, about trade, about “contraband.” Only, in Uzbekistan, “contraband” is broadly defined as any product which might sustain a citizen’s life, when the citizen is not related to Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov.

Over the last three years, since I was last in the country, the Uzbek authorities have been receding back to their Bolshevik roots. Ordinary trade – the buying or selling or trading of milk, or clothing, or foodstuffs on a person-to-person basis – has been all but outlawed, with just enough negligence to ensure that their millions of rather wretched citizens somehow find a way to get by. Bazaars were closed in November 2002 to weed out “corruption.” It did no such thing but it ensured that these potential dens of espionage and anti-Karimov activity were suitably smaller and easier to monitor when they were re-opened.

Payments once made in cash are now forced through the state-controlled banking sector. Since the government oversees the flow of money, it often arbitrarily obstructs or delays ordinary transactions as a crude way to fight inflation. It’s not helping. Since August, anecdotal evidence has it (since the official predictions always promise sunshine), prices have gone up by as much as 25% across the board.

In Kokand, they finally had enough. If it had happened in 1984 rather than 2004, the US embassy in Moscow might have released a circular sternly drawing attention to the misery of the Uzbek people under Communism. But since Uzbeks now blanch under our kind of totalitarianism, hardly a word was uttered by our sentinels of freedom and other Yale graduates about the November 1st riots which began in the troublesome Ferghana Valley and soon spread in a wave of looting and hurled stones across the country.

Those stones, to a romantic, might be said to be the first blows that will knock the arrogantly evil Islam Karimov r?gime off its pedestal. Thanks to the almost insane policies of the Americans for the last decade, however, what replaces it will almost certainly be as awful.

Throughout the 1990s, the Americans had very little to do with Uzbekistan. Central Asia was, as the policy wonks and professional freedomologists told us, “in transition”. This was a good enough alibi to shell a parliament with tanks, as Boris Yeltsin did. And so it provided enough political cover for Islam Karimov to outlaw the peaceful opposition and drag his dissidents through the jails or across the borders of the country. The “old opposition,” as they’re even now being called today, is mostly based in Europe now, as none of the countries bordering Uzbekistan feel quite secure enough to harbour their neighbour’s enemies.

Since then, we’ve seen a never-ending comedy of fixed elections, referenda extending the president’s term, and other initiatives invariably supported by an overwhelming majority. The government of Uzbekistan controls the four legal opposition parties, and the head of the Central Election Commission feels smug enough to state that “there is no opposition in Uzbekistan,” and that “the elections will be democratic, irrespective of the opposition’s participation.” The essential contradiction between his two statements notwithstanding, these can be taken as essential truths in Uzbekistan. For like George Orwell’s Oceania, when the government of Uzbekistan says things are true, it makes them true.


The methods by which lies are made true in this proud ally in the War on Terror, this essential cog in the Machine of the Willing, might seem gratuitous, but a lurid description is necessary.

The body of one dissident, Muzafar Avazov, was photographed after he had died in government custody at Jaslyk prison. The Department of Pathology at the University of Glasgow, studying photographs of his body, determined that he had been boiled to death. He had been immersed in a vat of some kind of boiling liquid, and not merely scalded. The pattern of his burns revealed a tidemark scalded onto his body, with heinous burns below.

One could go on, but reputable organizations have entire folios filled with accounts such as this (check out the one about Fatima Mukadirova – Avazov’s mother – who was imprisoned after her son’s story became public). Karimov has declared war against his own impoverished people. That’s bad enough in and of itself, but it’s shocking that the United States is reaping the “benefits” of this closeted murder of an entire nation.

Article IV of the UN Convention Against Torture obliges all signatories to pursue criminal charges against torturers. Uzbekistan is certainly in violation of this, since torture is undeniably a state strategy to keep Karimov and his clan on top. The question is, how much of this information garnered by torture is being passed on to the West, and how seriously are we taking it?

According to rogue British Ambassador Craig Murray, who has been repeatedly lambasted by the Karimov regime for his frank assessments, the information is “useless.” Nevertheless, according to a memo of his which was leaked to the press (in the West: there’s of course no free press in Uzbekistan to speak of), “Tortured dupes are forced to sign confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe – that they and we are fighting the same war against terror.

“This is morally, legally and practically wrong. We are selling our souls for dross.”

For memos and speeches such as this, in October 2004, Murray was suspended from his post. The Uzbek government had presented a list of some 18 accusations against the British ambassador, from seducing virtuous Uzbek visa-seekers to driving his Land Rover down a flight of stairs. It’s a pathetic joke, but what is alarming is that the US or UK would take anything Karimov’s toadies say seriously.

Try as they might, they can’t muddy the issue. According to Murray’s memo, these “confessions” were passed on to Britain’s MI6 by way of the CIA. The Agency had them because they’ve developed a sickeningly cozy relationship with Karimov’s apparatus of repression – just as they had with the Shah of Iran’s SAVAK.

It hardly matters if they’re in the same room, holding down the poor wretch while Karimov’s men work him over, or if they hold the rope that lowers him into the vat of boiling liquid (metaphorically speaking, you understand). If the boys from Langley are walking away all smiles with the product of this industrious labour, we’re not just partners in the terror of this despotic khan, but we’re actually treating confessions made under torture as serious intelligence. The ramifications are tremendous – the naivete, appalling.

And, anyway, as they told us after the horrors of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal were revealed, we’re against this sort of thing, right? I mean, Bush looked in the camera’s red eye and told us he does not condone torture.

So why – according to our chief ally’s ambassador – are we eagerly reading through confessions of no doubt farcical al-Qaeda plots which have been obtained by boiling people alive?


Uzbekistan’s Islamic threat, of course, is now real. Like his lies, Karimov has made them real. His government’s persecution of ordinary Muslims, the “old opposition” and whatever chutes rise out of the mud of his police state has forced dissent underground – down where the real Islamic nasties live. Islamic fundamentalism, which was almost unknown to the vast majority of Uzbeks until a few years ago, is being looked at as a real alternative – a better one, at least, than what Muzafar Avazov had to suffer.

The Karimov r?gime is fond of manipulating the United States by claiming that the Islamic movement in its country is in bed with al-Qaeda. If you listen carefully, however, you’ll also hear them say the same about the “old opposition,” the shattered Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (now stripped down to less than two hundred stragglers marooned in Western Pakistan), and the unknown, mysterious elements responsible for bombings in March and July 2004. Exaggerating the threat, inflating its importance, and conflating it with al-Qaeda has been Karimov’s stock in trade – no less important than his forgery of economic data and restrictions on any form of free enterprise – for security in his increasingly radicalized country. But now the threat is real and, thanks to Karimov, growing by leaps and bounds.

And if we can read any significance in the bombing of the Israeli and American embassies in July, they hate us just as much for what we’ve done to prop up their true adversary.

Meanwhile, Uzbekistan – and not Belarus, which is now America’s favourite post-Soviet whipping boy – is a grotesquerie of economic reform. Collective farms still function – the managers have merely given short-term leases to their tenants, who occupy the social and economic space of sharecroppers in the old American south. Vast sectors of the economy remain in government hands, and what’s been privatized has actually been “privatized” – placed in the trusty but incompetent hands of members of Karimov’s political clan. There is, in fact, not one area in which Uzbekistan has honestly moved forward since independence. This is pretty clear: yet the discontents within Uzbekistan are finding their only receptive audience in the underground.

On December 26th, Uzbeks will be rounded up to vote again, and the official tallies will once again fall completely out of whack with reality. The United States dreads these blasphemies of liberty almost as much as Karimov does. For a few days, they’ll have to issue statements of “concern” about the way Erk, Birlik, and the other parties of the “old opposition” were prevented from participating, about flagrant irregularities, and so on. You can almost hear the testiness in the State Department spokesman’s voice as he assures a few bored reporters that the Department will take this all into consideration when they dole out this year’s aid bonanza – a fantastic hunk of change by regional standards which is being cannibalized at a ferocious pace into Karimov’s private bank accounts.

And anyone who might be impetuous enough (or unpatriotic enough) to remind the sentinels of freedom of these matters later will suffer the fate of Craig Murray.

Uzbeks, unfortunately, already voted – with stones. If they wish to carry it any further, or somehow survive the repression which will inevitably follow, they’ll have to go underground, where others rule.

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The Guardian – UK allies among worst abusers of human rights

The Guardian – UK allies among worst abusers of human rights (by Richard Norton-Taylor)

Buyers of British arms and Britain’s close allies in the “war on terror” are named as being among the worst abusers of human rights in a government report published yesterday.

States identified include Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The US and Russia are also mentioned.

The 310-page annual human rights report published yesterday by the Foreign Office praises the role of Craig Murray, the British ambassador to Tashkent, in speaking out about human rights abuses in Uzbekistan, although Mr Murray has been suspended on full pay and faces a disciplinary hearing for gross misconduct.

The report praised Mr Murray for publicising the case of Fatima Mukadirova, whose son was tortured to death with boiling water in 2002. “We believe this played a significant role in bringing the case to the attention of the international community,” the FO report says.

The foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said yesterday he could not comment on the case.

The report was due to have been released on September 16, but was postponed after the Beslan school massacre in Russia. Mr Straw said yesterday that he delayed the publication “in order to reflect the horror of that attack and the wider implications of terrorist attacks”.

The report now emphasises the threat from terrorists. Mr Straw said that the casualties in Iraq since the end of April last year were the “direct responsibility” of terrorists as well as insurgents.

Yesterday’s report refers to “serious human rights violations”, including torture, by Russian officials in Chechnya. But it also says that “the UK recognises the genuine security problems faced by the Russian government in Chechnya and the north Caucasus”. It refers, too, to “abductions, torture, mine-laying, assassinations and looting carried out by Chechen militants”.

The report says there has been no significant improvement in human rights in Saudi Arabia, where it estimates that the authorities executed 52 people last year. Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest markets for British arms.

The report describes the abuse of Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad as “shameful”. It also reiterates the government’s position that the remaining four British detainees at Guant?namo Bay should be returned to Britain. But it questions statements by the five others who have returned that they were abused there.

Amnesty International yesterday contrasted the report’s strong words condemning torture with what it called the “creeping acceptance” of the practice by the UK.

The government’s failure to fully incorporate the UN convention against torture into British law had left the door open for the authorities to rely on evidence obtained through torture by foreign agents, said Amnesty.

The thinktank Saferworld said it appeared that the government was failing to apply its own stated human rights criteria when licensing arms exports. It pointed to recent signficant arms sales to Indonesia, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Nepal, all criticised in yesterday’s report.

“The report highlights the disparity between the government’s human rights and arms export policy,” said Paul Eavis, director of Saferworld. “The government risks undermining other important human rights work it is has achieved in the international arena unless changes to export controls are made.”

Mr Straw said yesterday that the government kept to EU and national guidelines and its arms export control policy was one of the most transparent and effective in the world.

Key points

?”Torture is abhorrent and illegal and the UK is opposed to [its] use under all circumstances”

?Abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in Iraq is “shameful”

?”There has been no significant improvement in human rights in Saudi Arabia”

?Abuses by law enforcement officials in Russia include torture and racism. Militants in Chechnya carry out torture, abductions, mine-laying and assassinations

? Israel’s policy of targeted assassination is illegal. The Palestinian Authority does not act to stop terrorism with sufficient energy

?Significant problems remain with security forces in Indonesia over the abuse of human rights

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Amnesty International – Uzbekistan: Britain’s ambassador was right to speak out

Amnesty International – Uzbekistan: Britain’s ambassador was right to speak out (by Carlos Reyes-Manzo)

The news that Britain’s ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has been removed from his post after speaking out about torture in Uzbekistan is stunning. I, for one, had allowed myself a small cheer when Mr Murray started denouncing horrifying human rights abuses in Uzbekistan. Here was a diplomat prepared to break with the usual protocol-driven reticence.

According to Amnesty International, people are routinely tortured under Uzbekistan’s authoritarian President Karimov. Mr Murray has been posted to represent British interests in Tashkent. Should he have denounced the fact that his hosts allowed people to be boiled to death? Should he have complained that Uzbek detainees are tortured into false confessions and secretly executed? Or look the other way and keep quiet?

Actually, I suspect most career diplomats would have found a convenient third way. Report it back to London, but keep quiet publicly. His superiors might well have said that Uzbekistan is now a strategically important partner in the “war on terror”. And that we have to accept that Karimov is dealing with an insurgent terrorist threat. Interrogations will be rough, but necessary.

Mr Murray appears to be made of different stuff. His recent complaints have focused on the question of whether the Foreign Office and MI6 are receiving information from torture in Uzbekistan filtered through the FBI. And if so, what would they do with it? This seems to have riled his FCO superiors and brought about his removal. He sees himself now as a “victim of conscience”. Who is the principled party here?

Under international law information extracted from torture is legally inadmissible in a court. The UN’s convention against torture expressly forbids the use of torture “evidence”. It is effectively dirty information and must be discounted. However, in a little-noticed ruling in August, the Court of Appeal decided that while information obtained by torture was inadmissible in UK courts, this was only the case when directly procured by UK agents or in whose procurement UK agents have connived.

Amnesty International denounced this alarming view as “giving a green light to torturers” around the world. I agree. Yet this appears to be the FCO’s current position. If we don’t do it ourselves then information we get from foreign torture chambers is okay.

When I was tortured under Pinochet’s military junta in the 1970s, I looked to countries like Britain to resist the barbarity of Pinochet’s methods. Britain was a safe haven from torture for me and has been my home now for many years. However, I am increasingly distressed at the UK’s apparent new-found “flexibility” over torture.

Let me be clear about torture. It is an abomination. Nobody can describe the pain. Nobody can truly describe the real horror of torture.

I was arrested in front of my wife and two small children in Santiago in 1974 by members of SICAR (Servicio Inteligencia Carabineros). I was blindfolded and taken to a secret detention centre under a car park under the presidential palace, La Moneda. I was tortured there for three months before being transferred to another torture centre known as “La Casa del Terror” (The House of Torture) at no.33 Calle Londres. Three more months of torture followed.

For me, there were two mental stages. The first was shock: I was in shock and my mind was frantically working, getting ready for what was coming. The second stage was acceptance: acceptance that I would die, but die with dignity.

Whether or not I’d given my tormentors information and whether or not that information was truthful, it can only be right that such material never surfaces in a court of law. As a matter of fact, most information beaten out of people in police cells is pure rubbish. People will confess to anything and denounce anybody if pushed to the limits of endurance.

Craig Murray’s fear that the FBI is passing information from torture victims to UK officials is, in my experience, highly likely to be borne out. After surviving torture and time in a Chilean concentration camp, I was exiled to Panama. But I was later picked up by Chilean and Panamanian police and interrogated and beaten all over again. On this occasion, interrogations were also carried out by a CIA agent. If, then, intelligence services collaborated against the “communist threat”, they are doing it now in the “war on terror”.

The huge intelligence failures over Iraq have certainly alerted us to the dire uncertainties attaching to secret “intelligence”. How much more questionable if the information derives from blood-spattered torture victims?

When Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998, I hoped we were at a turning point in the fight against torture. Putting Pinochet on trial was vital, not just to me, but for thousands of survivors of torture still alive in Chile and around the world. Britain had, it seemed, taken a brave step in allowing his arrest and detention. The promise seemed to be: no more immunity for torturers.

Pinochet escaped justice here, but may still be tried in Chile. His London arrest was a marker laid down at the feet of the likes of Uzbekistan’s President Karimov.

On 9 October, the trial of an Afghan warlord suspected of orchestrating torture in Afghanistan opened at the Old Bailey. This is ground-breaking as it tries him for alleged torture in a separate country. It’s a real step forward.

Torture is recognised as an international crime and perpetrators can and should be prosecuted in courts far away from the original scene of the crime.

But, contrast this with the fact that simultaneously people in Britain may currently be detained indefinitely under anti-terrorism measures partly on the basis of blood-stained information. Foreign nationals are even now being held indefinitely without trial at top-security prisons at Belmarsh in South London and Woodhill in Buckinghamshire. They have been “certified” as suspected terrorists by the Home Secretary David Blunkett and the special proceedings to justify these measures are the very ones over which the Court of Appeal gave its green light on the use of “third party” torture material.

The fearful symmetry, then, is contained in the fact that we may be locking people up here based on information tortured out of British nationals in places like Guantanamo Bay.

We are at a fork in the road. We go either with Mr Murray and reject torture in all its forms; or we equivocate, look for justifications, and decide that Donald Rumsfeld has a point when he distinguishes between “abuse” and “torture”.

In the year of Abu Ghraib and international intelligence failures, we need to break with torture forever. Allowing the virus of torture “evidence” into our legal bloodstream is something we must resist. Anything else and the torturers have won.

Carlos Reyes-Manzo now lives with his family in London. He is an award-winning human rights photo-journalist.

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Speech to Chatham House (Royal Institute of International Affairs)

Chatham House – The trouble with Uzbekistan


Speech by Craig Murray

British Ambassador to the Republic of Uzbekistan, 2002-04

Chatham House, Monday 8 November 2004

This speech is issued on the understanding that if any extract is used, the speaker and Chatham House should be credited, preferably with the date of the speech.

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It is most kind of you to come here on an early November evening to hear me talk about a part of the World that, for reasons I will endeavour to explain, merits greater attention than we are apt to give it.

Let me first apologise for the comparative informality of my dress. I had not anticipated being in London just now, and my suits still hang in a wardrobe in Tashkent, vainly awaiting my return. As I expect may become clear as the evening progresses, part of my heart remains there too.

That may sound a touch romantic, but you would need a serious deficit in the soul department not to be touched by the country. It is the land of the Oxus and the Jaxartes, where Alexander the Great was entranced by and married Roxanne and held court for the longest period of stationary rule anywhere in his short life; where the Greek state of Bactria flourished for many centuries after his passing, producing art of rare beauty.

It is the land of Tamburlaine, the wrack of whose mighty monuments still stand and whose tomb is still there, to bring us face to face with the reality of legend. It is the land of the sweet airs and delicious fruits of the Ferghana valley, for which Babur ever pined as he rode off into exile to conquer India and found the Mughal dynasty.

It was also, of course, the very centre of Islamic culture. I had not realised that the scientific advances which I learnt at school were brought by the Moors into Europe, had in fact originated in a great cultural flourishing in Central Asia. The great medic, Avicenna, and the inventor of Algebra and other mathematical advances, both hailed from Uzbekistan, not to mention the astronomy of the Emperor Ulugbek, the elegant remains of whose observatory are for me the most arresting of all the wonders of Samarkand. This same golden period saw great advances in architecture, which spread, throughout the Islamic world. Sadly centuries of earthquake and the almost equally devastating heavy-handed restoration of the Soviet period, disastrously still continued by UNESCO, have left little of the original. But there is still much to thrill the soul.

Samarkand has long held a place in the British poetic imagination that is difficult to explain. A more recent layer of romance was added by the Great Game, of which Bokhara, Khiva and Samarkand are perhaps most redolent to British minds today. To imagine myself in the footsteps of Alexander Burnes, to wander the outside the Ark of Bokhara speculating where lie the decapitated corpses of Stoddart and Connolly, and how to honour them, these were to me great private joys.

The British Embassy itself has its own romance. It was the Kerensky family home, birthplace of Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky, who led Russia from February to October 1917, in that brief dawn of hope when Russia might have entered mainstream European history and economic development. It was he who proclaimed Russia a Republic in September 1917. I used to hold conversations with Uzbek dissidents in my office and wonder what other whispered words those bricks had heard. Somewhere inside the building Kerensky’s brother Nikolai was shot by the Bolsheviks in 1922.

The Uzbeks today are a hard-working people, greatly hospitable to strangers. Sadly they are living in a period of decline; economic decline, decline in standards of living and population decline. You will find that this short lecture is devoid of statistics; partly this is because I never remember them, and partly because there simply are no reliable statistics on Uzbekistan. Government sees statistics as largely an instrument of propaganda.

Furthermore this remains a command economy driven by production targets. These are virtually always met on paper, which is the important thing. The situation in the real world is quite different.

I may quote from the current US State Department background note on Uzbekistan, from which I will be quoting further during this talk, it states, “The government claims that GDP rose 4.1% in 2003; however the US Government does not think it was greater than 0.3%”. The Uzbek government figure is outrageous; the US government figure is not, but still I believe an overestimate. Based on what we know of industrial production, of the cotton crop and prices and with an estimate of other crops, I would say in 2003 GDP fell by approximately 2 per cent.

Figures are made difficult by the fact that much state production, specifically in the important minerals sector and including gold, is a state secret. I would give my 2 per cent calculation a margin of error of 2.5%. So State Department could be right.

You can extend this dispute over true figures beyond GDP to almost any other economic statistic – inflation, incomes, money supply etc. Uzbekistan is largely a state controlled and non-transparent economy where it is easier to feel than to measure what is happening.

But the dispute over statistics is significant. At numerous meetings I have taken issue with the IMF in particular over their willingness to accept compromise statistics much too close to the Uzbek government’s figures. I think I am right in saying that that in 2003, for example, they accepted a GDP growth figure of 2%. But if the IMF keeps, as they do, year on year publishing a figure that is over-optimistic by three or four per cent, after a very few years the cumulative effect is a figure on GDP per capita for Uzbekistan which is profoundly wrong.

Similarly, a World Bank report on comparative living standards in Uzbekistan between regions and over time was of very limited value because it was based entirely on extensive analysis of Uzbek government provided figures. International institutions have a great deal of difficulty in dealing with a member state that practices a policy of deliberate dishonesty.

The combination of state control and lack of transparency makes possible corruption on a grand scale. I have called the Uzbek government a kleptocracy, and I believe that is the correct term. A look at the massive state mining operation is instructive. Uzbekistan is the World’s seventh largest producer of gold. Gold, uranium and other minerals are produced by the Navoi based state kombinat. The sales of the products of this company have no bearing on its revenues. It receives a budgetary allocation from central government. The gold and uranium produced are sold on the international market; the quantity of output and the revenue from sales are both secret. The revenue goes not to the company but to the Ministry of Finance, into the secret bit of the state budget. I am informed by sources in a position to know, and whom I trust, that ten per cent of the sales revenue is diverted into bank accounts under the personal control of President Karimov. This is the principal source of his own fortune.

The bulk of the nomenklatura are kept happy with wealth from what Uzbekistan calls its “White Gold”, cotton. This is grown by state collective farms and sold to state trading companies through which it comes to the international market. While there is corruption at the trading level in particular, here money is spread to the party cadres through a more institutionalised system of transfer pricing. The collective farm obtains very little indeed, and the managers largely take what it does receive. The state trading companies, for example, were last year paying for cotton at 4% – yes 4% – of the farm gate price in neighbouring Kazakhstan, where production has been privatised.

This of course opens the way for great rewards to the state trading companies, whose headquarters are pictures of opulence compared to the squalor of the farms, and whose staff amongst the most pampered of the elite. This transfer pricing also provides the bulk of revenue to state budgets. This pays for the sheets of blue plate glass that now cloak the exterior of crumbling Soviet offices throughout Tashkent.

Sixty per cant of the population of Uzbekistan is based on the State farms. I visited a farm in Kitab, last year, which had 12,000 hectares and 16,000 employees. They were paid 2,000 sum – that’s two dollars – a month each in salary. They also had a small vegetable patch per family, which they lived on.

I visited that farm because I received an appeal for help from a small farmer. In 1995, when there was a brief start to liberalisation, three brothers had leased eleven hectares from the collective farm. The collective now wanted it back. In consequence one brother had been murdered, another was in jail on a charge of selling his apples privately and not to the collective. The third had come to Tashkent to find me. I went down there and found that the collective had chopped down all the brothers’ apple trees and that their 82 year old mother, who tried to defend the farm, had been knocked to the ground and beaten with sticks. She showed me her terrible bruises.

Let me now say something about private farming. Uzbek government propaganda claims there is a vibrant private farming sector. This is not so. There are no property rights in Uzbekistan. Farmers have been able to lease plots, typically eleven hectares, from the state farms on long leases. But they are told what they must grow, on which bits of their land, down to the last half metre. They are told how much of it they must produce, to whom they must sell it and what price they will get for it. They then face a struggle actually to get paid. I visited a collective of small farmers near Samarkand, with whom DFID had previously done work on marketing, which in the event they were not allowed to put into effect. They had been instructed to grow largely wheat in 2003. They had fulfilled and delivered their quota, but been told they would be paid not in money but in fertiliser.

Furthermore they had to collect the fertiliser from a plant in the Ferghana valley, something they could not possibly afford to do. When I last saw them, the prospects looked bleak for the continuation of this private venture.

British American Tobacco is the largest foreign investor in Uzbekistan. They deserve congratulation on their efforts to improve the lot of the farmers who supplied them and to encourage real private enterprise. But they face continual difficulties. They were allowed to pay only 40 per cent of the price of the tobacco to the farmers; sixty per cent had to go to the local authority and the collective farm in theory in return for services to the farmer, in fact largely for peculation. They were trying hard to increase the farmers’ share to 50%.

Following the measures to restrict economic activity still further last year, they were not allowed to pay the farmers in cash, only be bank transfer. This caused great difficulty for the farmers; with physical access to banks a real obstacle. But even worse, as indeed faced by all Uzbek bank customers on a regular basis, they found they could not get their money from the bank.

Banking in Uzbekistan is a state monopoly. The banking system is used to control the money supply by simply refusing, on a regular basis, to allow people to draw out any cash. This hits foreign companies. Cash shortages have several times this year caused a reverse black market – you have to pay a premium in dollars to get sum.

Officially this is to control inflation, but in fact it is part of a series of draconian measures to exert full control over the economy by the ruling elite, operating sometimes through the state, sometimes as state-enforced commercial monopolists.

This started with the closure of bazaars in November 2002, and their subsequent re-opening on a much smaller scale. The informal trading structures, which were endemic to Uzbekistan for centuries, were wiped out with remarkable thoroughness, and tens of thousands thrown out of employment from the trading sector. At the same time the land borders were effectively sealed to trade. This physical blocking of trade remains in force, with in the Ferghana Valley several bridges destroyed to prevent cross-border movement.

In addition to this extraordinary physical isolationism, tariffs were increased and non-tariff barriers introduced in terms of certification and safety procedures and Uzbek language labelling, inter alia. Next there were measures making most cash transactions illegal necessitating commerce to operate through a State banking structure which itself became deliberately obstructive.

The result of this is economic disaster. What private sector activity there was has withered, living standards are in steep decline. Against the background of these restrictions on economic activity, the introduction of sum convertibility became meaningless. There is much anecdotal evidence of living standards in terms, for example, of ownership of household goods.

In this climate it is not perhaps strange that foreign direct investment in Uzbekistan is virtually insignificant. There has been a small amount of recent activity in the gold sector, but it has been announced no further foreign investment will be sought there. There has been some promise of Russian investment in the energy sector.

But the climate for foreign investors is dreadful. In effect there is no respect by the government of Uzbekistan of private property rights or the sanctity of contract. The civil, just as the criminal, courts entirely lack independence and follow government instruction. I know of one British company which one morning found that its 60 per cent share in a joint enterprise with an Uzbek state entity, had been reduced to 30 per cent by a court case they had not been told was happening. Jahn International, a Danish investor, had approximately $1 million simply removed from its bank account as “excess profits”. Another British businessman this year had his assets awarded to an Uzbek former partner, with the Uzbek court refusing to acknowledge British legalised documents showing the partner had sold out and been fully paid up.

The anti-trade measures, the lack of redress, and the petty and continual interference of corrupt officials thriving on massive over-regulation, make Uzbekistan a very poor investment prospect.

So the population of Uzbekistan are poor, and getting poorer. There is, as you might imagine, widespread disillusionment with the government. But just as economically the reinforced Soviet system crushes the hopes of the aspiring, so the political system crushes all who oppose.

There is no democracy in Uzbekistan. President Karimov’s term in office has been repeatedly extended by rigged elections and referenda. This December will see parliamentary elections, but all five so-called political parties are Karimov supporting. The genuine democratic opposition, Erk, Birlik, the Free Farmers etc – none of these were allowed to contest.

But on an everyday basis, there is also no way to protest. There is no freedom of the media, no freedom of religion, no freedom of speech, no freedom of assembly. A regime so harsh to the many, so luxurious for the few, rules only by the harshest of repression. There are not only exit visas, but still the propusk system of internal movement control. Almost all of those born on state farms are condemned to be, in effect, serf labour for life.

Bill Rammell at the FCO instituted a freedom of expression panel. The FCO and NGO’s together meet quarterly to choose ten imprisoned writers worldwide whose cause the FCO will take up. The first two meetings alone chose three Uzbeks. Not a word of dissent appears in the Uzbek media – indeed not one word of my speeches ever did.

Strangely the US Ambassador’s comments were often carried at some length. In Uzbek schools and Universities, pages are still torn from textbooks before they are issued. The Open Society Institute funded a library at the University of Tashkent, from which all the books on Central Asia were mysteriously “stolen” in the night. The OSI itself was, of course, kicked out of Tashkent earlier this year, while strict restrictions were placed on remaining international NGOs.

I am not going today to produce an exhaustive list of human rights offences. I do not think the appalling human rights record of the Uzbek government is in dispute. There remain many thousands of political and religious prisoners, and torture and brutality remain the instruments by which the regime maintains its fierce grip. I came. personally, very close to incidents and victims. When I had dinner with Professor Mirsaidov and other leading dissidents in Samarkand at the end of March 2002, some four hours after I left the house his grandson’s body was dumped on the doorstep.

The lad was eighteen. His knees and elbows had been smashed by blows with a hammer, or perhaps a spade or rifle butt. One hand had been immersed in boiling liquid until the flesh was peeling away from the bone. He had been killed with a blow that caved in the back of his skull.

The professor was sure that he had been killed as a warning to the dissidents for meeting me. I was unsure until a fellow Ambassador with excellent contacts with the Uzbek intelligence services told me it had indeed been a political warning, and had been ordered by the regional hokkim. That gentleman is now Prime Minister of Uzbekistan.

It was in my first few days in Uzbekistan that I was confronted with the pictures of Avazov, with Azimov boiled to death in Jaslyk prison. The University of Glasgow pathology department studied the detailed photos and concluded that this was immersion in, not spattering with, boiling liquid. There was a clear tidemark. The fingernails had also been pulled.

So how should the West react to this regime? There is no doubt that Uzbekistan occupies a vital geo-strategic position. Immediately north of Afghanistan, it borders every Central Asian state. It has almost half the population of Central Asia and the Region’s largest and most effective military forces. It is less than two hours by military jet to Russia, Iran and China, among others.

Uzbekistan is a member of “The coalition of the willing”. It provides the United States with an airbase, garrisoned by thousands of US troops and airmen, which is useful, if no longer central, to operations in Afghanistan. But it is absolutely essential as the easternmost of the ring of so-called lily pads, US airbases surrounding the “Wider Middle East”. It is also a projection of US military force into the centre of a region which will become increasing essential in the next fifty years in satisfying Western demand for oil and gas. In the eyes of a Pentagon hawk, there is every reason to cosy up to Karimov.

There should be no doubt just how cosy this relationship is. Let me quote more from the current State Department briefing paper:

“US/Uzbek relations have flourished in recent years and were given an additional boost by the March 2002 meeting between President Bush and President Karimov in Washington, DC… High-level visits to Uzbekistan have increased since September 11 2001 ‘including that of the US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of State Colin Powell and numerous congressional delegations?.”

“The US has consulted closely with Uzbekistan on regional security issues, and Uzbekistan has been a close ally of the United States at the United Nations… on foreign policy and security issues ranging from Iraq to Cuba, from nuclear proliferation to drugs trafficking… Uzbekistan is a strong supporter of US military reactions in Afghanistan and Iraq and of the global war on terror?” “The United States, in turn, values Uzbekistan as a stable, moderate force in a turbulent region”.

To be fair, the document goes on to list areas where improvement in human rights is needed, but that has not prevented the US from lubricating the relationship with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, including military and political aid, and all the political support they can give Karimov by joint photo calls and glad-handing.

Nowhere will you find a public mention of human rights by that stream of high level US visitors to Uzbekistan, and I don’t believe they were that firm in private either.

We have I think to look behind the language. How can it advance the war on terror to back a totalitarian dictator who terrorises and impoverishes his own people? If Karimov is part of the “Coalition of the willing”, is on “our” side in the war on terror, then that war cannot be the straightforward clash between good and evil which the politicians are selling.

It is, in fact, about something else. It is about the advancement of American military power in areas central to the control of oil and gas, US oil and gas interests are served by backing an unpleasant dictator in Tashkent, willing to give them a dominant position in Central Asia, just as they are served by toppling one in Baghdad.

This is nothing to do with the advancement of democracy. If it were, why has the US government put so much effort into shielding the Uzbek government from criticism in international for a such as the UN Commission for Human Rights in Geneva?

We also need to be sceptical about some of the language on threat. One area of cooperation mentioned was narcotic trafficking. There has been a massive increase in opium and heroin smuggling from Afghanistan in the past three years. A large amount of that drug follows the natural trade route through Uzbekistan and up the river valleys to Russia and eventually the Baltic. (Incidentally, I have been much plagued by Customs and Excise analysts who argue that, because much more is seized in Tajikistan, much more must be going that way. If you think about it, that’s a reason for a drug smuggler to avoid Tajikistan).

There is a tremendous taboo surrounding international efforts to counter drug trafficking in Central Asia. No progress is possible until the real problem is acknowledged, so I will break the taboo. The real problem is participation, at very senior levels indeed, of regime members in the trade. It is not just a question of minor corruption by customs officers.

At Termez on the Uzbek/Afghan border the EU, the UK and the US have all put money into customs training and state of the art search areas and equipment, including gizmos that can x-ray whole containers. But while the border is hard to cross, and UN emergency relief supplies are routinely held up for days or weeks, fleets of cars with black windows and of trucks are waved through, shuttling between the Uzbek regime and General Dostum.

Customs never stop the vehicles that have the heroin. We should face the fact. So what of Karimov’s claim to be holding out against terrorism? There has been little or no historical tradition of militant Islam in Uzbekistan. The extremism of teaching by the new mosques and schools introduced in the early 1990s from Saudi Arabia is, from my talks with people directly involved, much exaggerated. No doubt there was a threat from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan as a would-be insurgency in the margins of the Tajik civil war and thereafter supporting the Taliban. But they had no history of terrorist style operations. Certainly in Tashkent it is accepted by virtually everyone that the 1999 bombings were the work of the regime or of warring factions within it. Following the decimation and dispersal of the IMU in Uzbekistan, the remnants appear to have reorganised in a more classical terrorist structure.

However it appears that the March bombings in Tashkent were not co-ordinated or even expected by the surviving IMU leadership. They seem to have been the work of predominantly young Uzbeks with a desperate hatred of the regime. There is however compelling evidence that the groups which carried out these terrible acts had been heavily penetrated by the Uzbek security services, to the extent that it is hard to believe they could not have been pre-empted and their may be reason to suspect an agent-provocateur operation. The July bombings at the Israeli and US Embassies perhaps are more classical terrorist attacks with input from an external leadership. In particular, because there is no news on the subject on the Uzbek state media, awareness of the Palestine issue in Uzbekistan even among activists is almost non-existent.

But the key point must be that the despair caused by the deepening poverty and lack of religious and political freedoms, worsened by the lack of any democratic means to express that despair, is what creates the violence.

If the US believes that backing Karimov is producing stability in the region, which is a remarkably short-term view. Uzbeks know they are miserable and getting poorer, and their government is deeply repressive and, increasingly, hated. They are being offered no liberal, democratic alternative. Indeed Karimov’s propaganda tells them that the system they have now is freedom and democracy, and they don’t think much of it.

The only opposition to Karimov they often encounter is the underground Mosque movement or Hizb-ut-Tehrir. And terrible torture and persecution increasingly radicalise these groups. The system is building up towards inevitable violent confrontation. That could be five or seven years away, but I have no doubt that as things stand at present we are heading for a catastrophic model of regime change. And thanks to US support for Karimov, the result is likely to be anti-Western. The targeting of the US and Israeli Embassies in Uzbekistan shows that we are creating a whole new race of people who hate the West.

Young Uzbeks are attracted to radical Islam because we are giving them no viable alternative to Karimov. Supporting Karimov is creating, not combating, Islamic fundamentalism. I strongly commend to you this Human Rights Watch publication, Creating Enemies of the State, which documents the brutalising of a society.

What can we do? Stop digging. The policy of engagement is plainly not producing results and we should treat the Karimov regimes as pariahs. There is measurably less freedom, and measurably more brutality, under Karimov than under Lukashenko or Mugabe, and we should be looking to sanctions on members of the regime and their ill-gotten assets.

Rather than military aid to Karimov, we should put major resources into assisting the democratic forces in Uzbekistan, notably the parties that have combined to form the Democratic Forum. We should at least fund a newspaper for the expression of a wide range of Uzbek views. We could also put substantive resources into much greater transmission into Uzbekistan by broadcast media.

Finally, we should break off our relationships with the Uzbek intelligence services. I have no doubt that we are receiving information that has been obtained under torture. Where you are receiving such information systematically, under an established procedure, I also believe that you are acting illegally. This is complicity under Article IV of the UN Convention against torture.

It has been argued that it would be irresponsible to ignore useful intelligence in the War Against Terror. I have two responses – firstly I deny this material is useful. It is provided by the Uzbek regime with the object of exaggerating their role in the War on Terror, the strength of the IMU and the linkage of the threat against them to Al-Qaida and Osama Bin Laden.

I was genuinely surprised when I first learnt that this information was taken seriously and regarded as valuable by the British intelligence services. I still find that strange, and fear that it shows a preference for highly coloured material which exaggerates the threat – a tendency which the Butler report shows was much in evidence in our acceptance of a lot of nonsense on Weapons of Mass Destruction.

But what worries me most – what absolutely terrifies me – is the thought that such poor intelligence material, endorsed by someone in the last gasps of agony, given credence by some gung-ho Whitehall Warrior – can be used to keep some poor soul locked up in Belmarsh Prison. Without trial or charge, without any idea what he is accused of, day on day, week upon week, year by weary year.

And what I was seeing was only about Uzbekistan. There is great international concern at the use of torture worldwide in the War on Terror, not just in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay but including the transport of detainees worldwide by the US authorities, delivered to governments which torture, in plain contravention of Article V of the UN Convention.

Many of my colleagues in other countries must also be seeing intelligence obtained under torture.

The US State Department briefing says that torture is used as “A routine investigative technique” by the Uzbek security services. Theo van Boven, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, found it to be “Widespread and systemic”. Nobody in the British government has attempted to argue to me that the information we receive from the Uzbek sources was not obtained under torture. Rather they argue that we did not encourage or instigate the torture, so are not complicit.

That might be a valid argument – and I repeat might – if we stumbled on the material in the street, or got handed some as a one off. But it is not sustainable where we regularly receive such material through an established system. That must make us complicit.

The difficulty is, that to refuse the Uzbek and other torture material would be to create an exception to the UK/US intelligence sharing agreement, which we are anxious to keep whole.

During all of this, I sometimes have to pinch myself to make sure it is not a nightmare. Is the British government really insisting on its right to receive material obtained under torture? Similarly, in the Katherine Gunn case, were we really going along with US plans to bug Security Council members inside the United Nations?

I associate support for human rights, and opposition to torture, with fundamental British values. Surely we have to stand up to the US and say that under George Bush the CIA is involved in things we cannot go along with.

Just as we cannot go along with US policy in Central Asia. This is a throwback to the US policy of support for dictators in Central America in the 1970s. The situation is redolent with ironies. In supporting Karimov, George Bush is helping prop up the remnants of Soviet totalitarianism.

I have talked of how Uzbek state farm labourers are bonded to their farms effectively as serfs. I should add that for months at harvest time workers in all sectors are conscripted into the cotton fields. Schools and educational institutions are closed down. Children from eight years old are dragooned into the fields, working 16 hour days, sometimes sleeping in the open, working sometimes in freezing conditions. Is it not an irony that a US administration of the party of Abraham Lincoln is supporting a regime founded on cotton slavery?

Every crunch of bone at the smash of a limb, every female scream of terror, every second of dreadful, of unimaginable anguish in the torture chambers of the US-backed Karimov regime, just as every block in Sharon’s wall, just as every bomb that falls tonight on a home

in Fallujah, will fuel the fires of hatred across the Islamic world. And while no act of random terrorist violence is ever justified, is in truth evil, we must nonetheless say that myopic US foreign policy under President Bush reinforces hatred across the Muslim World.

That was certainly my daily perception in Tashkent, and my aim there was to distance the UK and articulate a distinctive British policy based on support for human rights and the rule of international law.

It was worth a try.

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Uzbeks Protest at British Envoy’s Sacking

Published in The Scotsman

About a dozen people protested in the Uzbek capital today at the sacking of the British ambassador – an outspoken critic of the human rights situation in the Central Asian nation.

The protesters gathered outside the British Embassy in Tashkent, holding signs that read: “Uzbek people love our friend Murray,” “Don’t give up Mr Craig Murray, fight for democracy and freedom in Uzbekistan.”

“We are here to defend Craig Murray who has been betrayed by the British government,” said one of the demonstrators.

Public protests are rare in the tightly controlled former Soviet state.

The Foreign Office sacked Mr Murray two weeks ago, saying he had lost the confidence of senior officials and colleagues.

He had harshly criticised Uzbekistan’s government for widespread human rights abuses, including putting more than 6,000 political prisoners in squalid jails where dozens of people have reportedly died from torture.

He recently accused British and US intelligence services of using information collected from people tortured by Uzbekistan’s security services.

The Foreign Office denied the claims and said Mr Murray’s removal was not related to the allegations.

Daniel Grzenda, the embassy’s third political secretary, said officials visited the protesters today and told them that “the embassy respects their right to picket and will note the messages and pass them to London.”

The Central Asian country emerged as a key US ally after the 9/11 attacks in the United States, and hosts hundreds of American troops supporting operations in neighbouring Afghanistan.

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The Observer – There is no case for torture, ever

The Observer – There is no case for torture – ever (by Nick Cohen)

The troubles of Craig Murray, the sacked British Ambassador to Uzbekistan, appear at first glance to be a shocking exception to the rules of public life. When was the last time you heard of a case of a diplomat accused of drunken orgies and sexual blackmail after he had discomforted his masters in Whitehall? You don’t have to be Michael Moore to wonder if the Foreign Office needed to revert to the unparalleled tactic of tipping wheelbarrow loads of dirt over Murray to bury his bad news that Britain was in the market for information extracted by torturers.

Murray’s allegation is shocking because, say what you like about England, it has shunned torture for centuries. If you look a bit closer, however, you find that torture is no longer as exceptional as it once was. With many a sigh and expression of regret the Government is reaching an arrangement with torturers, and not only in Uzbekistan. English judges have accepted that confessions beaten out of suspects can be used for the first time since the 1630s. The only reaction, the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, could manage to their extraordinary decision was the Peck sniffian bleat that he had the ‘awful feeling’ that learning to live with torture ‘is probably the right conclusion.’ As with so many other descents into barbarism, the judges and ministers make each step on the downward path appear eminently reasonable.

However strenuously the wishful thinkers of Western liberalism deny there is much to worry about, Islamism remains a psychopathic and totalitarian creed which sanctions the indiscriminate murder of countless victims. Reasonable governments know that the battle must be joined and that they must work to prevent crimes beyond the imagination of the world before 11 September.

But how should the security services react? Take the example of Murray’s Uzbekistan. It is caught in the same vice as many Muslim countries. On one side is a repressive government. On the other is an opposition some of whose members are turning to Islamism. You might have thought MI6 would be watching. Right and left fantasise about the spies’ reach and power: they either uncover deadly subversives or target every ‘freedom’ movement according to political taste. Both parties are united by the assumption that the security services have a competence bordering on the omniscient. What else is the near-universally believed charge that Blair lied about Iraq based on but the delusory notion that John Scarlett of the Joint Intelligence Committee and Sir Richard Dearlove of MI6 knew that Saddam had disarmed and were silenced?

In fact MI6 doesn’t have one spy in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan or any of the other dangerous central Asian republics. It’s a small organisation which employs about 2000 people, many of them support staff. Even if it did have the resources to put men in Tashkent, what could they do? Roam Uzbekistan breaking into houses and interrogating suspects? In the circumstances it seems a reasonable step for the Foreign Office to take information from the oppressive governments of central Asia and the Middle East, even if there is a danger that it has been extracted by torturers. And it would be reasonable if, say, a plot by Uzbek exiles in London was treated simply as a tip-off which led to searches, surveillance and all the other normal means for collecting evidence which would stand up in a British court. If torture was involved, it would be somewhere far back down the line in a foreign country of which we knew little. The integrity of the case brought against the suspects in Britain wouldn’t be threatened.

What is now threatening the integrity of the criminal justice system is the internment of foreign terrorist suspects without trial or knowledge of the charges against them. Their claim that their detention is illegal was rejected by the Court of Appeal in August and is cur rently being considered by the Law Lords. Most media attention has been on the main argument by human rights groups that the law is discriminatory because it allows foreigners to be detained indefinitely while British citizens enjoy full civil rights. This is one of the many occasions when liberals should be careful of what they wish for.

The Government could very easily become a model of impartiality by interning British citizens alongside the alleged enemy aliens. David Blunkett has dropped strong hints that he would want to do just that if there was an Islamist attack on Britain, and I doubt if he would be stopped by a wave of public revulsion.

Far less attention has been given to the ruling by two of the three judges on the Court of Appeal that it was fine to hold men on the basis of evidence extracted by torture. No one can actually say that this happened because, contrary to all the principles of English justice, they aren’t allowed to know what they are meant to have done. But their lawyers suspect that they have been jailed because of confessions from inmates at Guantanamo Bay who have been threatened with dogs, stripped and kept in solitary confinement. Their allegation goes way beyond the charge that the security services followed up leads from brutal foreign agencies. It suggests that people are being held indefinitely in British jails because a naked man beset by dogs named him to placate his tormentors.

So what, snapped the Court of Appeal. There is no other way, blubbed Lord Falconer.

Their accommodation with torture is astonishing on many levels. The first is its hypocrisy. The court said that the British state was still forbidden from conniving in or procuring torture. If its agents reached for the cosh or the electric flex, they would be breaking the law. But if evidence extracted by foreign torturers was now admissible, why should the gloves be kept on British hardmen? Why should our boys be held back simply because of their British citizenship?

The Court of Appeal had no coherent answer, and the nonchalance with which it endorsed foreign torturers showed how feeble national traditions have become. Until the war of terror, it was inconceivable that an English court would accept that a man could be jailed on the basis of torture, albeit torture conducted by shifty foreigners. The English didn’t do torture. Uniquely in medieval Christendom, the English common law forbad the extraction of evidence under duress.

The exception to the benign rule was the Court of Star Chamber, which was allowed to torture the king’s enemies. Its barbaric practices were one cause of the civil war. Such was the hatred it aroused that ‘Star Chamber justice’ remains a contemptuous condemnation of arbitrary power to this day.

Writing at the high point of liberal Victorian self-confidence Lord Macaulay said that Star Chamber was an aberration which, ‘after the lapse of more than two centuries,’ was still ‘held in deep abhorrence by the nation’. It ‘displayed a rapacity, a violence, a malignant energy, which had been unknown to any former age’. I’m not sure if the English can be quite as self-confident about the decency of the national tradition today. It’s not that Star Chamber is back, rather that, as with so many other services, torture has been out-sourced to the third world where bothersome regulation is less intrusive.

What is dispiriting about the degeneracy of the Government and the Court of Appeal is that the old lessons have to be learned once again. The reasons why first England and then the civilised world rejected torture were practical as well as moral. Most people break under torture. Most people say whatever they have to say to stop the pain. When names are suggested to them, they agree. If the torturer wants to implicate the innocent or invent imaginary plots, he usually gets what he wants from his victim.

If the Law Lords doubt the wisdom of centuries and are considering upholding the Court of Appeal’s verdict, may I suggest a small experiment? If they give me a law officer, the Lord Chancellor perhaps, or the Director of Public Prosecutions, and a couple of heavies, and leave us alone in a locked room, I think I can guarantee that within a week he will have revealed that the entire senior judiciary are members of al-Qaeda.

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Daily Telegraph – The envoy silenced after telling undiplomatic truths

Daily Telegraph – The envoy silenced after telling undiplomatic truths (by Robin Gedye)

It is clear when you meet Craig Murray, suspended as ambassador to Uzbekistan for speaking out on human rights, that he is not the Foreign Office type.

He opens the door to the top-floor flat in London Docklands, where he is staying, in an orange T-shirt, loose-fit jeans and trainers.

He went to grammar school and Dundee University and, as he points out, cannot pronounce his Rs. But then, how could the FO refuse a candidate who came in the top three in his year when he took the Civil Service entrance exams in 1984.?

“I always felt a little uncomfortable in the Foreign Office,” suggests Mr Murray with uncharacteristically diplomatic understatement.

As he speaks, Nadira Alieva, a 23-year-old Uzbek teacher and his girlfriend, flits through the room, her brown hair artfully backcombed, in tight jeans and a T-shirt that reads: “Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go to London.”

Mr Murray continued: “I applied to scores of firms when I left university. What I wanted was to work in sales in the distillery industry but I didn’t receive a single reply. It was only when I passed the Civil Service exams that I decided on the Foreign Office.”

Mr Murray’s brains ensured a rapid rise. Deputy high commissioner in Ghana, first secretary in Warsaw, second secretary in Lagos and, in August 2002 at the age of 43, Uzbekistan as the youngest serving British ambassador.

Two years later he has been hauled back to London and suspended on full pay after “losing the confidence of his colleagues” in one of the most embarrassing scandals to hit the august corridors of Her Majesty’s diplomatic corps for many years. He faces a disciplinary inquiry and, almost inevitably, dismissal.

His crime is hard to pin down. Was it his telegrams to London which spoke in undiplomatic terms of torture and corruption, or was it his friendly press relations?

“While still in Tashkent I’d get two or three requests a week for interviews,” Mr Murray explained. “And as is the rule, I routinely passed them on to London for clearance.

“Their response was always to tell the journalist, ‘Mr Murray does not want to do interviews’, which annoyed me because I really wanted to speak about the atrocities.” Whatever else he has done, Mr Murray is a man of principle who felt compelled to detail the human rights abuses he saw in a country which, shortly before he arrived, had become America’s New Best Friend in Asia.

Run by Islam Karimov, a post-Soviet apparatchik with a Stalinist mindset, Uzbekistan happens to border Afghanistan and was willing – for a large injection of United States money – to provide Washington with one of the region’s largest air bases. Two months into his new posting, Mr Murray delivered a speech at the opening of new offices for the human rights organisation Freedom House that changed the tone of relations between London and Tashkent fundamentally and marked the beginning of the end of his career.

His mistake was to tell a stunned audience of diplomats, aid workers and Uzbek officials what they already knew. “Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy, nor does it appear to be moving in the direction of democracy.

“The major political parties are banned; parliament is not subject to democratic election; and checks and balances on the authority of the executive are lacking,” he said.

One of those present said the tension in the room could have been cut with a knife.

Unfortunately for Mr Murray, the repercussions extended far beyond Uzbekistan’s frontiers. In the Foreign Office there was total confusion. The speech had been authorised but clearly no one had realised that it would cause such offence.

While the official line insisted that Mr Murray “accurately reflects our concerns”, there was a sudden awareness that London had a problem. Other incidents followed. Mr Murray spoke in public of the absence of reform and freedom of speech and about repression. The British embassy, seen as a backwater under its previous ambassador, became a magnet for dissidents.

“They turned up at my door with broken teeth and burns from torture. Some would spend the night in my home. On one occasion the grandson of a dissident I had met was murdered within hours of my speaking to his grandfather. They left his body on the doorstep. His hands and knees had been smashed with a hammer. It was a warning not to speak to me,” he said.

“Very little can prepare you for the brutality and viciousness of the Karimov regime. Most diplomats isolate themselves from it.”

In August 2003, Mr Murray was called in to the Foreign Office on his way back to Tashkent after his summer holidays and confronted with a list of 18 charges of misconduct. These included accusations of drunkenness, womanising and “unpatriotic behaviour”. He was asked to resign and refused.

Specifically, the charges claimed that he had seduced visa applicants in return for entry stamps to Britain, travelled through Tashkent to visit drinking dens in the official car “with the flag up” and driven an embassy Land Rover down a flight of steps to a picnic area In fact, Mr Murray cannot even drive.

All charges, bar one – that he was guilty of talking about the charges laid against him – were dropped through lack of evidence and Mr Murray was allowed to return to work. But far from silencing him, the attempt to blacken his name provided endless headlines. “I am stunned by their incompetence,” said Mr Murray. “If they had pulled me out immediately it would have been in the papers for a couple of days and that’s it.”

Instead there were protests outside the British embassy and 15 British businessmen signed a letter to Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, supporting Mr Murray.

While in London awaiting the outcome of the charges against him Mr Murray had a nervous breakdown and was admitted to St Thomas’s Hospital and put on suicide watch for 10 days. It was shortly after Dr David Kelly had died and there were fears that the official hounding of Mr Murray might see another fatality.

No sooner had Mr Murray returned to Tashkent, however, than the awkward memos to London resumed.

He was warned that he was being “unpatriotic” and newspapers started printing stories querying his sanity.

Clearly, someone was briefing against him. Close associates believe that if not the Foreign Office, it would have been MI6 – Mr Murray, after all, was jeopardising a strategic military outpost.

How could America continue to pay President Karimov $295 million per year if he was a major human rights offender? It couldn’t, and funding was cut earlier this year because of human rights abuses.

British officials suggest that behind it all lies Downing Street, pressured by the Bush administration to silence the diplomatic embarrassment.

When Mr Murray fired off a memorandum to the Foreign Office last July suggesting that Britain’s intelligence services were wrong to use information gleaned from torture victims, his masters threw caution aside. It was clearly time to silence him. He was stripped of his security clearance, making him ineffective as an ambassador.

Yet even this proved insufficient as Mr Murray continued to speak out. Last week, the memo was leaked to the Financial Times.

Because of the leak and a linked appearance on Radio 4’s Today, Mr Murray was suspended from his post.

As he watches the rain sweeping up the Thames, Mr Murray might perhaps take comfort in the memory of Sir Henry Wotton, the British diplomat and poet who died in 1639 and who ruined his own career as James I’s envoy to Venice by suggesting that an ambassador “is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country”.

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The Guardian – How can Britain stoop so low?

The Guardian – How can Britain stoop so low? (Press Review)

Michael Portillo Sunday Times, October 17

“‘We are selling our souls for dross.’ So wrote Craig Murray, ambassador to Uzbekistan, referring to the fact that Britain and the United States are accepting intelligence extracted from suspects under torture. Mr Murray is offended on moral grounds that the western democracies are in the market for information beaten out of prisoners. He also believes that we are being bamboozled, because terrified captives will say whatever their interrogators demand and then the nasty regime in Tashkent spices it up to make us believe that it is on the front line against al-Qaida.

“The reaction of the Foreign Office has been to defend the UK’s practice, saying that it would be irresponsible to disregard leads obtained under duress, and to dismiss Mr Murray as ambassador. How has Britain come to stoop so low? One of the things that defined us as a nation was our abhorrence of brutality. How can it be then we also encourage foreign governments to mistreat prisoners?”

Financial Times Editorial, October 16

“The Tashkent tyranny of President Islam Karimov is one of the worst in the world, with more than 5,000 political prisoners and capable of boiling men to death. Its value as a forward US base for Afghanistan operations has given it the confidence to sell a long-running campaign against internal dissidents as part of the campaign against al-Qaida. That is a confidence trick the west appears willing to fall for.

“The moral and legal case against torture should not need further argument. Unhappily, it needs to be continually restated in opposition not only to what goes on in such places as Uzbekistan, but in US-run facilities such as Guant?namo, Abu Ghraib in Iraq and Bagram in Afghanistan. As for the Foreign Office, if it sends a principled person to advance an unprincipled policy it is not only incompetent but riding for a fall – and deservedly so.”

Independent Editorial, October 16

“Over two years in Uzbekistan, Mr Murray had been outspoken about the abuse of human rights in that former Soviet republic. He might have got away with this hardly controversial view – indeed, he says he had cleared all his public speeches with the Foreign Office – had he not gone on to query the extent to which the US and Britain were turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in states such as Uzbekistan for the sake of the ‘war on terror’. Implicating a third country, let alone a close ally, is a bigger offence than merely criticising your own.

“Earlier this year, the Foreign Office produced a new mission statement, which placed combating global terrorism and weapons of mass destruction at the top of its priorities, followed by protection from illegal immigration, drug trafficking and international crime. Human rights occupied the sixth of eight places. Craig Murray was working to the old agenda. Good for him.”

Times Editorial, October 16

“As laudable as Mr Murray’s motives were, his methods were self-indulgent. As ambassador he had unique access to [the Uzbek] regime via channels closed even to the most assiduous journalists, and his duty was to use them to advance Britain’s interests, especially in security and trade, as well as those of Uzbekistan’s oppressed dissidents and moderate Muslims.

“He described himself this week as a ‘victim of conscience’. If so, the right time to salve his conscience, and the most effective time from the point of view of those he seeks to help, would have been at a post-resignation press conference. Mr Murray is guilty of naivety.”

Daily Express Editorial, October 16

“Craig Murray has accused MI6 of using information obtained by the Uzbek government through torture: the Foreign Office has responded by claiming Mr Murray arranged visas in exchange for sex with women. Mr Murray fiercely denies the claims.

“This is no way for Britain to be conducting her foreign affairs in public: both parties should pipe down. But what is most depressing is this: Mr Murray emerges as far more credible than the Foreign Office. What a sad decline in our country if we can even imagine that one of the great departments of state is capable of telling a lie.”

Daily Telegraph Editorial, October 16

“Compromises must be made during wars, of course. In the face of the Soviet menace, we propped up a number of brutal tyrants, telling ourselves, ‘He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he’s our son-of-a-bitch.’ In this case, though, it is far from clear that such an attitude serves western interests. The fact is that there is virtually no religious fundamentalism in Uzbekistan. The traveller to central Asia sees beards or headscarves rarely, and hears few calls to prayer.

“But President Karimov’s claim that he is besieged by Muslim fanatics may eventually prove self- fulfilling. If they are offered no other outlet for their hatred of the regime, Uzbeks may indeed turn to fundamentalism. The quickest way to finish off the extremists in central Asia would be to encourage the development of property rights and political pluralism. What a pity that saying so should be a sacking offence.”

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The Guardian – Former envoy drags Straw into torture row

The Guardian – Former envoy drags Straw into torture row (by Nick Paton Walsh)

The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has accused the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, of personally agreeing to the use of intelligence from the Uzbek government that had been obtained under torture.

Mr Murray claimed last night that Mr Straw had considered a complaint made by him in March 2003 about the Foreign Office’s use of intelligence from the Uzbek government that had been obtained through torture.

Mr Murray said: “I was called back [from Tashkent to London] to a meeting to discuss [the complaint] in March 2003 and I was told that Jack Straw had considered the issue … specifically and had decided it [the use of the information] should continue.”

Mr Murray was dismissed as Britain’s ambassador in Tashkent on Wednesday night after a 15-month dispute. He has vowed to take legal action.

Sir Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, said the claims raised “substantive issues, namely the use of material obtained under torture”. He said Mr Straw should give an explanation to the Commons.

Mr Murray, who says his opposition to the Foreign Office’s acceptance of such information led to his dismissal, has made a series of formal complaints to the Foreign Office since March 2003.

The latest, written in July, was leaked this week to the Financial Times. He wrote: “Tortured dupes are forced to sign confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe – that they and we are fighting the same war against terror … This is morally, legally and practically wrong.”

He told the Guardian: “No one [at the Foreign Office] has made a serious denial to me that information received from the Uzbeks was probably obtained under torture.”

He added that senior officials “have put it to me that even if information was obtained under torture it was legitimate in the context of the war on terrorism”.

“What worries me most about what has happened is that it sends a signal within the Foreign Office that you cannot argue from a liberal or human rights viewpoint on the war on terror without severe damage to your career.”

Mr Murray’s security clearance was withdrawn this week. Yet on Thursday he said he attended a meeting with his security vetting officer in which he and a union official were shown a report on his clearance which “carried a clear and unequivocal recommendation that my vetting be continued. There aren’t any issues around my security clearance. That was just a ruse to keep me in the country.”

The bitter battle with the Foreign Office began in July last year when Mr Murray was told to resign over 18 disciplinary charges. These ranged from being drunk at work to issuing visas to local women in exchange for sex. The charges were later dismissed.

Mr Murray has since had a nervous breakdown and says doctors have told him the stress partly caused him to have a near-fatal pulmonary embolism. This has led to the serious medical condition of pulmonary hypertension.

He said: “I have no doubt the extraordinary experience of the last year when the Foreign Office confronted me with these false charges, demanded I did not speak to anyone about it and demanded my resignation, has both damaged my health now and will shorten my life expectancy.”

He said he would sue for damage to his health and declined to put a figure on the damages, but said the loss of 15 years’ more earnings alone would come to ?750,000.

He continued his attack on the foreign secretary, saying that Foreign Office documents he had obtained under the Data Protection Act showed that Mr Straw was “regularly briefed on the progress of … the disciplinary charges against me and the demand that I resign my post”.

The Foreign Office declined to comment specifically on the allegations against Mr Straw and said it could not comment on other issues because of the prospect of legal proceedings.

Craig Murray

? Born in 1958

? After grammar school he attended the University of Dundee where he met his wife, Fiona

? He took the Foreign Office entrance exams in 1984 after a period as a student union leader. He passed the exams easily and served initially in the Foreign Office’s African department in 1985

? His first posting the following year was as second secretary to the Nigerian embassy before moving back to London in 1990

? In 1994 he was appointed first secretary in Warsaw where he spent three years. In 1998 he was made deputy head of the African department (equatorial)

? The following year he moved as deputy high commissioner in Accra, Ghana, where he spent three years. During this tenure he helped negotiate a peace deal in Sierra Leone for which he claims to have been offered – but turned down – an honour.

? In August 2002 he moved to Tashkent as ambassador to Uzbekistan. Since February he has been separated from his wife and in a relationship with a 23-year-old Uzbek woman

? He has two children and his personal interests include eccentric ties, single malt whisky and reading. His favourite band is Status Quo

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The Guardian – Undiplomatic truths

The Guardian – Undiplomatic truths (Leader)

Foreign Office mandarins may well be irritated by the undiplomatic behaviour of Craig Murray, who has been formally removed as British ambassador to Uzbekistan. But he has raised a vital issue that lies at the heart of the “war on terror” and this country’s role in it. Mr Murray’s complaint, unrelated to questions about his professional performance, private life and health, is that MI6 has been using bogus intelligence obtained under torture by a government with a dire human rights record. His objections, raised in an internal FCO memo and amplified in media interviews yesterday, is that this practice should be eschewed on moral, legal and practical grounds.

Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic of 26 million people, has found its strategic importance greatly enhanced by the way the world has changed since 9/11. President Islam Karimov now plays host to a US base that is crucial to military operations in neighbouring Afghanistan. But violence has also come to his own backyard, with bomb blasts and shoot-outs in Tashkent and near the Silk Road city of Bukhara. Uzbek officials insist they are fighting militants linked to al-Qaida. Foreigners point to poverty and the imprisonment of dissident Muslims angered by a crackdown on those who worship outside state-run mosques. Every year about 200 people are executed in Uzbekistan, with the killings carried out in secret and families denied a last meeting with convicted relatives. Amnesty International receives regular and credible allegations of unfair trials, ill-treatment and torture – described as “endemic” by a UN envoy – often to extract confessions. The information – “dross,” says this renegade diplomat- is passed to the US, and thence to UK intelligence and security bodies.

Mr Murray’s complaint fits into a broader and worrying pattern that is visible both at home and abroad. The Guant?namo Bay and Abu Ghreib prison scandals have done much to tarnish the legitimate effort to prevent terrorist atrocities. The law lords are due to rule shortly on the highly controversial question of whether British courts may use evidence extracted under torture as long as British agents are not complicit in the abuse. It is only three weeks since Sir Ivor Roberts, the British ambassador to Italy, described George Bush as al-Qaida’s best recruiting sergeant, though his remarks were made in private. The more junior Mr Murray has been bolder in speaking out publicly. His career prospects – and an eventual knighthood – are now looking distinctly uncertain. But he has performed a valuable public service by following the dictates of his conscience.

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BBC Radio 4 – Today Programme – Ambassador speaks out

BBC Radio 4 Today Programme – Ambassador speaks out (by Sanchia Berg)

Click here to hear the interview with John Humphries

The British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray has spoken to the Today Programme after he was ordered back to London by the Foreign Office.

Craig Murray took up his post in Uzbekistan in 2002. Then aged 43, he was the youngest serving British ambassador. He had served previously as a senior diplomat in Africa and Poland,as well as in London.

From his very first speech, in the Uzbek capital Tashkent, Craig Murray was drawing attention to human rights abuses. In autumn that year, he accused his Uzbek hosts of “boiling people alive” to extract confessions. He says his criticism of human rights was endorsed by Foreign Office in London.

Uzbekistan, a former Soviet republic, is still ruled by the man who was First Secretary of the Communist Party. There is no effective freedom of speech, no functioning democracy, according to human rights groups.

But in summer 2003, it was reported that efforts were under way to remove Craig Murray. It was suggested his criticism of the Uzbek regime had antagonised the American government. They’ve described Uzbekistan as a key ally in the war against terror. Radical islamic groups are active in the state: Uzbek nationals have been captured fighting in neighbouring Afghanistan. There is a US military base there and the US provides aid.

Craig Murray says he has no evidence the Americans influenced the Foreign Office. He says senior officials summoned him back to London, presented him with allegations about “unambassadorial behaviour” and gave him a week to resign. He had a breakdown, the allegations were later dropped, and he returned to his post after an extended convalescence.

But after one of his internal telegrams to London was leaked this week, the Foreign Office announced his recall, saying that he longer had the confidence of ministers and colleagues. Craig Murray insists he did not leak the telegram. He says though he was removed because of his comments in such internal correspondence.

He’d criticised the security services for making use of intelligence provided by the Uzbek government -which had been forwarded to the CIA and then to MI6. He said the intelligence was obtained by torture and was “dross”. To use it would be “morally legally and practically wrong”. He claims his removal shows that dissent is no longer tolerated within the Foreign Office – that it is being “politicised”.

The Foreign Office said in a statement that Mr Murray had been withdrawn not on disciplinary, but on operational grounds, and the charge of politicisation of the Foreign Office and the suppression of open discussion is completely without foundation.

The statement said: “He has been withdrawn as ambassador in Tashkent for operational reasons. It is no longer possible for him to perform effectively the full range of duties required in the conduct of our relations with Uzbekistan. In order for him to be able to do this, he has to be seen to be working in close co-operation with and enjoy the full confidence of colleagues and ministers. That is no longer the case.”

Mr Murray remains a member of the diplomatic service and will be allocated new duties “in due course”, said the Foreign Office.

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Spies “lap up” info from torture

By Peter Graff ? Reuters

British spies “lap up” information gathered through torture, hurting Britain’s ability to fight for human rights, the ambassador to Uzbekistan has said in a leaked memo obtained by Reuters.

In the memo, ambassador Craig Murray complained to superiors in London that British officials were “selling their souls for dross” — accepting bogus confessions tortured out of detainees and designed to trick Washington and London into supporting Uzbekistan’s harsh policies and giving it military aid.

Reuters obtained the secret July memo on Monday from a source who requested anonymity. Excerpts from it also appeared in the Financial Times on Monday.

“We receive intelligence obtained under torture from the Uzbek Security Services, via the U.S. We should stop,” Murray wrote. “This is morally, legally and practically wrong.

The practice “fatally undermines our moral standing. It obviates my efforts to get the Uzbek government to stop torture; they are fully aware our intelligence community laps up the results.”

A spokeswoman for the foreign office declined to comment on the memo itself but said: “Britain never uses torture to get information.”

But she added: “We recognise there is a need for intelligence on counterterrorism to protect the safety of British nationals. It would be irresponsible to rule this information out of hand.”

Uzbekistan, an ex-Soviet republic in central Asia, has become an ally of the United States since the September 11 attacks, offering air bases for warplanes flying over Afghanistan. It denies it systematically practises torture.

Its government has battled Islamist guerrillas, some of whom were based in Afghanistan. But human rights groups say Uzbekistan has exaggerated the threat to win Western support and justify draconian policies, including torture.

Murray said he had raised his concern in London and was briefed by Foreign Office officials that it was “not illegal for Britain to obtain and use intelligence obtained through torture” as long as the information was not used as evidence in trials.

He was also briefed by an official from British intelligence who told him that spies found “some of the material very useful indeed with a direct bearing on the war on terror”.

But Murray said the material was disinformation designed to trick the United States and Britain into giving aid.


“Tortured dupes are forced to sign up to confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the U.S. and the UK to believe: that they and we are fighting the same war against terror.

“I repeat that this material is useless — we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful,” he wrote.

“The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.”

Murray said Britain’s own spy agency lacked the knowledge to evaluate the material, which it received from the American CIA.

“MI6 have no operative within a thousand miles of me and certainly no expertise that can come close to my own in making this assessment,” he wrote.

He described meeting an old man who was forced to watch his sons being tortured until he signed a confession admitting links to Osama bin Laden. “Tears were streaming down his face. I have no doubt they had as much connection with bin Laden as I do.”

Britain has never denied that its spies use information that may have been obtained through torture abroad. In fact, the government has argued that it should be allowed to use such information in tribunals determining whether foreign terrorism suspects can be held without charge.

The High Court upheld that practice, which is now before a panel of the House of Lords sitting as Britain’s highest court.

The Foreign Office spokeswoman said Britain’s policy toward Uzbekistan is “political engagement”. “We are pushing Uzbekistan to fully implement a plan of action to stop torture.”

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The Guardian – The envoy who said too much

The Guardian – The envoy who said too much (by Nick Paton Walsh)

Six hours after Jamal Mirsaidov met with the British ambassador, the limp and mutilated corpse of his grandson was dumped on his doorstep. The body was battered and one arm appeared to have been immersed in boiling fluid until the skin had begun to peel off. Mirsaidov is a literature professor in the ancient city of Samarkand. His mistake had been to write a letter to Tony Blair and George Bush alerting them to the daily torture meted out to dissidents in Uzbekistan, their new ally in the war on terror.

Mirsaidov and the ambassador, Craig Murray, doubt the letter was ever delivered but Murray ensured his message was. And though the local prosecutor concluded that the 18-year-old had died of a drug overdose, Murray is convinced he paid the ultimate price for his grandfather’s dissent. “The professor has no doubt at all that his grandson was murdered in response to my visit. I wrestle with my conscience greatly over whether I caused that boy’s horrible death.”

Murray has paid a more direct price for his decision to step out of the bubble of isolation and immunity in which most diplomats live and challenge such abuses. His distinctly undiplomatic assessment of Uzbekistan’s human rights record propelled him into a lengthy battle with the Foreign Office. He was subjected to a humiliating disciplinary investigation, had his personal life publicly shredded and suffered a string of health problems. He became the rogue ambassador. Not so much Our Man in Tashkent as Our Uzbekistan Problem.

Last weekend, in an exclusive interview with the Guardian and Channel 4 News, he spoke for the first time about his turbulent year. “I had a period under psychiatric care as an in-patient for depression last autumn. I’ve gone through the break-up of my marriage. In November, I suffered a pulmonary embolism and very nearly died. It is most unlikely that I will be an ambassador again after I leave [my post here], I think for the very reason you are interviewing me now. An aura of controversy is not one that is useful to the diplomatic corps.”

Twelve months ago Murray was a British ambassador in a place few people had heard of, with an eccentric collection of Wallace and Gromit and Dennis the Menace ties, and some unconventional views. He had arrived in Tashkent – at 43 one of Britain’s youngest ambassadors – after a distinguished spell in Africa where he helped expose the Sandline affair and broker a peace deal in Sierra Leone. He had turned down three honours from the Queen for his work, considering letters after his name “not his thing”. He liked a drink in some of the capital’s vibrant – and sometimes lascivious – bars, but it was his attitude to the Uzbekistan regime’s slim grasp of human rights that marked him out from fellow diplomats.

Murray was determined not to let the regime’s abuses be drowned out by the country’s newfound strategic importance. Uzbekistan had allowed the Pentagon to hire a vital military base in the southern town of Kharshi to aid the hunt for Osama bin Laden in neighbouring Afghanistan. In return, Tashkent got about half a billion dollars in aid a year. Some of the aid itself highlighted American double standards. In 2002, $79 million went to the Uzbekistani security forces and law enforcement (in 2002, the US aid budget to Uzbekistan was $220 million in total) – the same people whom the State Department accused of “using torture as a routine investigation technique”.

Murray has plenty of first-hand evidence of the Uzbekistani’s “routine methods”. Sitting in the plush living room of his ambassadorial residence, he tells me: “People come to me very often after being tortured. Normally this includes homosexual and heterosexual rape of close relatives in front of the victim; rape with objects such as broken bottles; asphyxiation; pulling out of fingernails; smashing of limbs with blunt objects; and use of boiling liquids including complete immersion of the body. This is not uncommon. Thousands of people a year suffer from this torture at the hands of the authorities.”

As Murray saw apparently innocent Muslims being sentenced to death after confessions extracted by torture and show trials, he became furious at the “conspiracy of silence” practised by his fellow diplomats. “I tried to find out whether anyone had made a policy decision to [say nothing]”, he says. “But certainly within the British government no minister had ever said such a thing. I was determined to blow the lid on [the conspiracy of silence].”

In October 2002, Murray made a speech to his fellow diplomats and Uzbekistani officials at a human rights conference in Tashkent in which he became the first western official for four years to state publicly that “Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy”, and to highlight the “prevalence of torture in Uzbekistani prisons” in a system where “brutality is inherent”. Highlighting a case in which two men were boiled to death, he added: “All of us know that this is not an isolated incident.”

The Foreign Office cleared the speech, but not without an acrimonious struggle over its content. During the dispute he panned one of his superiors in the FCO’s eastern department, for questioning whether the number of political prisoners in Uzbekistan had increased. According to a British official familiar with the correspondence, he wrote: “I understand that you might find this fact politically inconvenient. If you wish me to omit it, then say so. But don’t pretend it isn’t true.” He attacked his superior for his “sadly cautious and above all completely unimaginative” censures, and attacked the “classic public school and Oxbridge influenced FCO house style”, as “ponderous, self-important and ineffective”.

The speech began to take on a life of its own. Kofi Annan raised its contents during a meeting with Uzbekistani president Islam Karimov. It became a serious thorn in Tashkent’s – and Washington’s – side. Murray’s confrontational style pressed it further into the flesh. In the build-up to the Iraq war, he could not contain his fury at the “double standards” being practised by Washington. He wrote to his superiors in London on the day in which he watched Bush talk of “dismantling the apparatus of terror” and “removing the torture and rape rooms” in Iraq, pointing out that “when it comes to the Karimov regime, systematic torture and rape appear to be treated as peccadilloes, not to effect the relationship and to be downplayed in the international fora … I hope that once the present crisis is over we will make plain to the US, at senior level, our serious concern over their policy in Uzbekistan.”

The email got him called back to London for a carpeting on March 8. In that same tense month, his personal life became more complicated when he met Nadira Alieva, an attractive, 23-year-old English teacher with a passion for the dancefloor, in a Tashkent bar. They soon began an affair.

Over the coming months, another, quite unrelated, drama unfolded in the embassy. Chris Hirst, the embassy’s third secretary, was accused by the local authorities of attacking local Uzbekistanis on the capital’s streets often accompanied by his baseball bat and rottweiler. The authorities had been pushed into making formal complaints against Hirst. While he was out of town, a complaint got through to Murray and he had him immediately sent back to London. Subsequently Hirst resigned.

Life quietened down over the next few months until Murray was about to go on holiday in July. While the ambassador was in the FCO’s King Charles Street headquarters, en route to Canada, one of his locally hired staff rang to say she and several others had been fired on orders from London. Murray stormed around the FCO, outraged, and they were reinstated before he flew out.

Yet three weeks into his break, he received an email from London calling him back. On August 21, he sat in an office as the personnel department outlined 18 disciplinary charges. Most were not supported by any evidence and others were petty. He was accused of “hiring dolly birds for above the usual rate” to work in the visa department, which had, he insists, an all-male staff. Yet he was also accused of having sex in his office with local girls in exchange for visas to the UK. The FCO said he had a week in which to resign. He was not allowed to discuss the charges with anyone or he would face prosecution – and maybe jail – under the Official Secrets Act. Bemused by where these accusations had come from, he slowly began to unravel at the Kafka-esque ultimatum before him.

On September 2 he had a breakdown, collapsing while having a medical check in Tashkent. He was flown back to London and put on suicide watch in St Thomas’s hospital. He told friends he had lost the use of his muscles. He said he felt powerful people were concocting allegations against him and he was not even allowed to call witnesses to defend himself. Murray refused to resign, and the pressure continued. In September, the FCO sent out a senior official, Tony Crombie, who was instructed to interview only staff in the Tashkent embassy as part of an investigation into the charges. Some staff dismissed the charges as nonsense, while others provided meagre support for claims that Murray had at times appeared a little “worse for wear” in the mornings.

Crombie returned to London saying there was no case to answer over 16 of the 18 charges. Crombie said there was information that might require two of the charges to be investigated – that he was “drunk at work” and had misused the embassy Range Rover.

Murray was allowed to return to Tashkent after extensive health checks, and the Foreign Office continued to deny there was any investigation. Yet once he arrived home after his six-hour business-class flight, he began to feel severe back pains. Forty-eight hours later, he was air ambulanced out of Tashkent with a serious pulmonary embolism in his lung. Again he found himself in St Thomas’s Hospital, having narrowly escaped death.

In January, once his health was restored, Murray was officially exonerated by the Foreign Office. Yet was told he was guilty of telling other people about the case, and got a written warning. “It was basically a warning saying, ‘Step out of line again and you will be sacked,'” says a source who saw it.

But Murray’s troubles were not over yet. In February, the Mail on Sunday revealed his relationship with Alieva. Fiona, his wife, who friends say was aware of the affair, could not stomach the public humiliation and left Tashkent. She is now separated from Murray, and has taken his 10-year-old daughter, Emily, with her back to London.

Today, Murray lives alone, bar visits from Alieva, in a small but palatial residence in Tashkent. His many bedrooms are empty and his pool largely unused – Murray can’t swim. The crackle of his guards’ walkie-talkies occasionally interrupts the polite trickle of the garden’s water feature.

It is a lonely end to a once promising, if unexpected, career. “I had always wanted to be a whisky salesman,” says Murray. Yet, in 1984, he sat the civil service entrance exams, which he passed with flying colours. In Africa, he befriended Kofi Annan, and the state-school educated, Dundee University graduate, rose rapidly in the Foreign Office.

Twenty years later, his disillusionment is complete, the Foreign Office having refused his request to stay on another year, and asking him to leave Tashkent in November 2005 as scheduled. He believes a paper-shuffling job in the bowels of King Charles Street awaits. “I think obviously on a purely human level,” he says, “if something like this happens to anyone inside an organisation that you’ve worked in for 20 years, you’re never going to feel the same trust.”

Murray is in no doubt, friends say, that the FCO investigation was aimed at discrediting him because of the unwanted attention his public comments was bringing to Uzbekistani human-rights abuses. Recipients of US aid have to have their human-rights record vetted by the State Department before they can receive funding. Murray’s comments were highlighting medieval abuses the US wanted to turn a blind eye to. Things have changed since Murray’s first poked his head above the diplomatic parapet: on Tuesday the US State Department declared that Uzbekistan’s human rights record meant it could no longer be certified as fit to receive aid.

Murray says he has begun to fear for his own safety. He says he would like bullet-proof glass for his home’s windows, but the FCO has yet to find the funds for this. At the same time, he receives regular security warnings from London about specific threats to his life. “I’m not thinking a sniper is going to get us at any minute,” he says, “but in this part of the world there is nowhere you are safe from threats.” Asked to respond to this article, the FCO declined to comment on the personal circumstances of its staff, or security matters.

Nevertheless his work – a sort of diplomatic outreach service – goes on, driven by what Murray calls “a deep personal commitment”. He has turned down a lucrative human rights job in New York because he does not want to desert people who he believes rely on his presence for protection. One of them is Alieva, who was rounded up by the police in the days after a series of bombings and shootings in March which were blamed on al-Qaida. Her alleged involvement in the blasts seems laughable, given she is a 23-year-old with a greater affinity to Beyonc? than Bin Laden. Yet she claims the police beat her and threatened to rape her, trying to extort money for her release. Alieva says she was spared only by a phonecall to Murray. “She was on crutches for a fortnight,” Murray says. “I am just glad I managed to get there before anything worse could have happened. Her safety is one of my biggest worries.”

Murray describes the Uzbekistan regime as “kleptocratic”. Tashkent has begun shutting down private businesses, ensuring all economic activity – from the cotton picked by child labour to the gold mines – lines the presidential elite’s pockets. The borders have been closed. Import duty is at 70%. In a bid to suppress inflation and prevent businesses growing, the government has stopped printing money, made it illegal to buy things with dollars, and limited the amount of the local currency in circulation. British American Tobacco, the largest foreign employer in the country, cannot find enough sums to pay its staff and is apparently considering withdrawing from the country.

The refuge for survivors of self-immolation in Samarkand testifies to the extremes of despair Uzbekistan’s poverty inspires. It provides emergency burns treatments and a place to hide while the wounds heal. Most of its 130 clients last year were women subjected to domestic violence and rape, often at the hands of their new in-laws. Others were escapees or deportees from the slave trade to Russia, the Middle East and South East Asia. I accompany Murray as he hands the director $1,000 in British Embassy cash as an FCO donation to keep the shelter running. “It’s very hard to imagine being so desperate to want to kill yourself in that way,” he says. “For these women it’s the end of the world, and there is nothing left for them.”

The FCO insists Murray represents its point of view, yet is remarkably nervous about this interview, contacting Murray and myself several times on the day before we meet. Its concern is understandable: Murray is not discreet. As he himself admits: “There is no point in having cocktail-party relationships with a fascist regime.” He says he advocates a new style of ambassadorship, one that is more down to earth and less stuffy. “You don’t have to be a pompous old fart to be an ambassador.”

Yet this lack of discretion also applies to his personal life. Murray’s great sin, in the eyes of the FCO, may be that he chose to live the life of a typical expat in the former Soviet Union. He is an unashamed socialiser, almost keen to let me know that he cares little how much I see of his colourful personal life. On Friday night, he takes me to the Rande-vue bar beneath one of Samarkand’s hotels. We begin in the Bohar restaurant, where a series of dancing girls in traditional costume, then in cowboy outfits, parade on stage, while Murray drinks a couple of neat whiskies. Then we move on to the Jazz Bar in the Meridian hotel, where workers for Halliburton, servicing the US base at Kharshi come to unwind in the company of local girls. “I joined the Foreign Office, not a monastery,” Murray explains. “I have no intention of living like a monk – not that I have anything against monks. It has been put to me that this is perhaps not what ambassadors do…”

At the Foreign Office there are some who feel Murray should have drawn a line under his battle with London, quietly returning to work, stiff upper lip intact. One FCO official suggested in his correspondence with Murray, that the ambassador should have just called the abuses “horrid”, sat down, and then toed the line. Murray replied: “As you may know I have a slight speech impediment and cannot call anything ‘howwid’.”

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UK Embassy Bash Falls Foul of Uzbek Secret Police

The – Guardian – UK Embassy Bash Falls Foul of Uzbek Secret Police: It is an event more usually associated with cocktails, canapes and polite laughter. But in Uzbekistan, the annual party held by the British embassy in honour of the Queen’s birthday has been the object of dark threats from the secret police.

Furious with the efforts of the British ambassador, Craig Murray, to highlight human rights abuses in the country, the Uzbek security services have warned everyone from government officials to local musicians not to attend.

A source close to the embassy said: “Prominent Uzbeks were invited to attend. But they have been getting phone calls from the secret police telling them it would be bad for their health to be there.”

At least 20 Uzbek guests rang the embassy to say they would come anyway. The callers said the Uzbek security services, or SNB, had made the majority of threats.

The Uzbek government then summoned a host of prominent musicians to the prime minister’s office for a meeting on Monday. “They were told they would be banned from performing in public or in the media if they played at the party,” said the source.

The renowned Uzbek folk singer Sherali, who has already been banned by the government, was top of the bill at the party.

“What are they going to do?” asked the source. “Ban him twice?”

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The Guardian – Uzbek mother who publicised ‘boiling’ torture of son gets hard labour

The Guardian – Uzbek mother who publicised ‘boiling’ torture of son gets hard labour

(by Nick Paton Walsh)

The elderly mother of a religious prisoner allegedly boiled to death by Uzbekistan’s secret police has been sentenced to six years in a maximum security jail after she made public her son’s torture.

Fatima Mukhadirova, 63, a former market vegetable seller, is the mother of Muzafar Avazov, who died in the notorious Jaslik high security jail in 2002. She was convicted of attempting to “overthrow the constitutional order”.

An Uzbek judge yesterday said she had “set up an underground cell of women propagating the ideas of [banned Islamic fundamentalist group] Hizbut Tahrir”. The secret police had found “incriminating” pamphlets in her flat, a common occurrence in arrests of group members.

The British ambassador to Tashkent, Craig Murray, last night told the Guardian: “This is appalling. She took photographs of her son’s corpse which she gave to the British embassy. The Foreign Office sent them to the University of Glasgow pathology department. Their forensic report said the body had clearly been immersed [in boiling water] because of the tide marks around the upper torso.” He said that Ms Mukhadirova’s continuing campaign seemed to explain why she had been targeted by the authorities. She now had a sentence of hard labour. “The chances of her surviving that are very limited,” he said.

Uzbek prison authorities maintain that Mr Avazov died after inmates spilled hot tea on him. But the forensic report said that his teeth had been smashed and his fingernails torn out. His body was covered in burns.

Mirzakayum Avazov, Ms Mukhadirova’s youngest son, said: “My mother was simply trying to defend her sons and looked for justice. She only wanted those guilty of Muzafar’s death to be punished.”

Mr Murray’s persistent protests over the country’s human rights record contributed towards a recent Foreign Office investigation into his conduct. Uzbekistan has provided the US and UK with an essential military base for operations in neighbouring Afghanistan, and receives more than $100m (?53m) a year in American aid, for being an ally in the “war on terror”. Many believed that No 10 felt that Mr Murray’s remarks drew unnecessary attention to the moral flaws in an important logistical alliance.

The US state department recently indicated that Uzbekistan’s human rights record was so bad that American aid would have to cease.

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Gay Times – Our man in Tashkent

Gay Times – Our man in Tashkent (by Richard Smith)

Richard Smith reports on the case of Ruslan Sharipov, the gay human rights campaigner imprisoned for criticising the Uzbekistan regime ? and the British ambassador the US had removed from his post after he spoke out against the dictator who’s America’s new ally in their “war against terror”

You could say that Ruslan Sharipov is lucky. At least he hasn’t been boiled to death. That’s one of the Uzbekistani security services favourite ways of dealing with people they don’t like. And they really don’t like Ruslan Sharipov. This journalist and human rights activist has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Uzbeki regime. There’s quite a lot to complain about over there. The former Soviet republic in central Asia is one of the most repressive states in the world. It’s a one-man show run by this spectacularly grubby little dictator, Islam Karimov. His politics are usually described as “Neo-fascist”. At least by those who are being honest. He’s turned the place into a police state. Uzbekistan is a secular Muslim country that doesn’t allow freedom of worship ? or of speech, or of assembly or of the press. Torture is routinely used as an investigation technique. Critics of the regime are imprisoned, locked up in mental institutions or just “disappear”. There are elections. But only parties and candidates Karimov approves of can stand. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe thinks they’re so obviously fraudulent that they don’t even bother sending election monitors anymore. Here’s the delightful Mr Karimov on the delicate art of politics: “I’m prepared to rip off the heads of 200 people, to sacrifice their lives, in order to save peace and calm in the republic. If my child chose such a path, I myself would rip off his head.”

In 2001 Ruslan Sharipov published a series of articles denouncing state repression of Muslims and began investigating the deaths of a number of political and religious activists. Sharipov also started a human rights group ? they’re banned in Uzbekistan ? which took on police corruption and human rights abuses. He’s currently serving four years in prison for his trouble. He’s not alone. Over 7,ooo of his fellow citizens are in jail because of their political or religious beliefs.

The authorities found it pretty easy to put Ruslan away. He’s gay and he’s out and homosexuality is still illegal over there. So they arrested him for that – along with some other charges that were more made-up than a drag queen’s face about how he was running this ring of teenage rent boys.

His life trajectory since those first articles appeared would have given Franz Kafka nightmares. He started getting little visits from the National Security Services. They “advised” him he should stop criticising the police and the president. His house was broken into repeatedly and he was beaten up three times within the space of twelve months. In August 2001, they accused of him belonging to a terrorist group and took him in for “questioning”. On May 26th last year, they arrested him under Article 120 of the Uzbeki Criminal Code ? “the satisfaction of a sexual urge by a man with a man”. The next day he was charged with inappropriate behaviour (ie sex) with minors and of managing prostitutes ? which he denied.

He never stood a chance. The Uzbekistani legal system has a conviction rate of close to 100%. Things started to go from bad to worse. Thinking that the oxygen of publicity might generate enough international outrage to save him, Ruslan asked for an open trial. The judge ordered it to be conducted in secret. His mother and his lawyer began getting threats. His supporters were harassed by the police with abusive phone calls and late-night visits. But the case against him started to collapse. The alleged “victims” became hysterical during cross-examination and there was no evidence to support the allegations. Even a heavily intimidated jury would find it hard to wave this one through…

But on August 8th proceedings took a dramatic turn. Ruslan Sharipov announced in court that he was changing his plea to guilty. He said he wanted to dismiss his legal team and asked that his mother, the key witness, be removed from the courtroom. Then he offered to ask for forgiveness from President Karimov and to retract all the articles he’d written that were critical of his regime. On August 13th, Ruslan was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison.

It was only later, when he managed to smuggle a letter out of prison, that people discovered what had prompted this “change of heart”. His interrogators had got him to plead guilty by torturing him and threatening him with rape and murder. “They put a gas mask on my head and sprayed an unknown substance into my throat, after which I could hardly breathe,” Sharipov wrote. “They 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.” Sharipov was told that if he didn’t “confess” his brother, mother and lawyer would also be tortured. “I was clearly told that if I would write any further appeals or complaints, I would commit suicide, that is I would ‘kill myself’.” This was no empty threat. Several prominent critics of the regime have “committed suicide” when they were in custody or prison.

Sharipov’s lawyer, Surat Ikramov, fought to arrange an appeal hearing. One night as he was driving home his car was hijacked by four masked men. They beat him so badly that two ribs were broken and he lost consciousness. Ikramov had organised a peaceful protest outside parliament the following day. Police placed all known protestors under house-arrest.

At the appeal hearing in September, Sharipov arrived with serious facial injuries and broken glasses. The police said the van taking him to court had crashed – but only he’d been injured. The charges of “inappropriate behaviour” were dropped and the sentence reduced by one year. Fearing for his safety, Ruslav requested that he serve his time in Tashkent Prison, and not a penal colony. His interrogators had told him there were men in the latter who’d happily finish him off.

In a second letter smuggled out of prison, Sharipov wrote that now he really did regret making criticisms of the Uzbeki regime: “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 go through this hellish nightmare yourself, in which no one will help you and no one will hear you.”

So who will hear Ruslan Sharipov’s cries? And who will speak up for him? Faced with intimidation, imprisonment, torture, rape, murder and being boiled alive, you can understand why so few of his fellow compatriots are willing to speak out about the sorry state of affairs in this most sorry of states. In October 2002, just months after he’d taken office, Britain’s ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray delivered a speech at the opening of the offices of Freedom House in Tashkent. Protocol dictates that you’re supposed to be, erm, diplomatic at these things. But Murray was so incensed at what he’d witnessed all around him that he just let rip. “Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy, nor does it appear to be moving in the direction of democracy,” he told the assembled meeting of the great, the good and the unspeakable. “The major political parties are banned; parliament is not subject to democratic election and checks and balances on the authority of the executive are lacking. There is worse ? we believe there to be between 7,000 and 10,000 people in detention whom we would consider as political and/or religious prisoners. In many cases they have been falsely convicted of crimes with which there appears to be no credible evidence they had any connection.

“But let us make this point ? no government has the right to use the war against terrorism as an excuse for the persecution of those with a deep personal commitment to the Islamic religion and who pursue their views by peaceful means. Sadly the vast majority of those wrongly imprisoned in Uzbekistan fall into this category.”

The US ambassador, John Herbst was also present. He was livid. When the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, brought up Murray’s speech in a meeting with President Karimov soon after, he was livid too. But then emperor’s never like it when someone points out that they’re naked. Murray was also sending fat dossiers to the UK documenting Uzbeki human rights violations. As the war against Iraq loomed, his communiqu?s became increasingly incensed. He was baffled by Britain’s official silence on Karimov’s crimes. They were every bit as appalling as those in Iraq that were being used to justify the war. But Britain and America weren’t invading Uzbekistan ? thank god ? they were bankrolling it.

When Murray went on holiday last August an official investigator was sent to Tashkent. He claimed he’d unearthed allegations of “ambassadorial indiscretions”: Murray had sex in his office with female visa applicants, supported the visa application of the daughter of a friend, drove a Land Rover down a flight of steps and regularly went out drinking heavily until late in the embassy car.

Murray was called back to London from holiday and threatened with demotion or the sack. Rumours were circulated in diplomatic circles that he was losing his mind. Unsurprisingly, Craig Murray was soon being treated for clinical depression. He’s likened his case to that of the weapons’ inspector Dr David Kelly (“But I have every intention of staying alive.”) One Foreign Office source said the pressure on him was “partly exercised on the orders of No 10? He was told the next time he stepped away from the American line, he would lose his post.”

It’s funny, isn’t it? How in their fight against the “axis of evil” our glorious leaders are more than happy to make some rather evil allies. Karimov has been ever such a big help in the “war on terror”, you see? Uzbekistan is the United State’s new “strategic ally”. Two days before the start of the war against neighbouring Afghanistan, US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld met with Karimov in Tashkent and agreed to open its air space to US military aircraft, to share intelligence and to permanently lend the US a military base at Khanabad. America immediately dropped Uzbekistan from its list of “states of concern”. The World Bank announced that Uzbekistan would now get some massive loans and debt relief. In return, Uzbekistan agreed to privatisation schemes and to open up its oil and gas reserves to foreign (ie US) exploitation. US arms sales to Uzbekistan are now worth over $4 million a year (Britain has granted Uzbekistan an “open-ended export licence” for arms sales ? another shining example of New Labour’s unethical foreign policy). In 2002, Uzbekistan got $500 million in US aid. $79m of this was earmarked for “law enforcement and security services”. Or ? if you need it translated from Doublespeak ? for torture. The State Department’s official line is that they “value Uzbekistan as a stable, moderate [sic] force in a turbulent region.” Now where have we heard that one before?

Poor Craig Murray. He was operating under the belief that he was representing a country that had noble ideals about human rights, that championed freedom, justice and democracy, and the freedom to speak out when your country has done something you don’t agree with.

Eventually, last November, the Foreign Office backed down and allowed Murray to resume his post ? after he’d had medical clearance for a stress-related illness. The man who’d dared to speak up for those who can’t speak out had got away with a mighty big bang on the ear.

Meanwhile Ruslan Sharipov is still rotting away in prison, waiting to be boiled.

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