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.