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.