Daily Archives: May 14, 2005

Uzbek forces open fire on protesters

Transcript of an interview from AM – a radio programme by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Reporter: Rafael Epstein

ELIZABETH JACKSON: There’s been a new wave of popular discontent, violence and repression in Uzbekistan, one of Washington’s key allies in Central Asia.

Government forces in the country have opened fire on thousands of people demonstrating in the city of Andijan.

The trouble began when a group of armed men stormed the city’s prison and freed hundreds of inmates.

Our Europe Correspondent Rafael Epstein reports.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Thousands of people were on the streets of Andijan in Uzbekistan’s east. Though it’s hard for anyone outside the country to really know what’s going on.

But it does seem soldiers spent several hours firing on a crowd of at least 2,000. As many as a dozen people were reported killed.

The troops sealed off the city after thousands of prisoners, including 23 men accused of Islamic extremism, were freed from the town’s jail, along with up to 4,000 other prisoners.

The Uzbek President Islam Karimov was said to be heading to the city, but he hasn’t appeared there.

For the President’s critics it’s a popular uprising.

For the President, they’re dangerous radicals fuelled by Islamic fundamentalism.

That’s a claim dismissed by the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray.

CRAIG MURRAY: That’s complete nonsense. The Uzbek Government routinely accuses any of its opponents of being Muslim extremists in order to discredit them. Andijan has long been a centre of democratic opposition to the Uzbek Government.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Craig Murray left the British diplomatic service after what he says was his Government’s failure to see Uzbekistan for what it is ? a repressive regime, torturing and killing anyone asking for basic human rights, while allies like the UK and the US turn a blind eye because hundreds of American soldiers use an Uzbek airbase with good access to countries like Iran and Afghanistan.

CRAIG MURRAY: I strongly suspect that the Uzbek Government will resort to extreme violence. This is a Government which is by no means concerned at shedding the blood of its citizens.

(sound of Uzbek television)

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: President Karimov watching yet another parade and display of nationalist fervour.

He rules a country accused of accepting subjects for torture on behalf of Western countries. He receives hundreds of millions of dollar in aid from the US, some in the form of military support, to help in the war on terror.

But is that war on terror an excuse for simple and brutal repression?

The UN says the state employs systemic torture on its opponents.

Media control is so tight it’s thought few in the country outside of the city of Andijan would even know there was a clash for hours between protesters and Government troops.

Opposition politician Atanazar Arifov spoke to ABC TV’s a few months ago.

(sound of Atanazar Arifov speaking)

He says the suppression of the secular democratic opposition is one of the conditions which leads to the evolution and spreading of religious extremism.

Craig Murray says the US preaches freedom while supporting a brutal dictatorship.

CRAIG MURRAY: The elections held on the 26th of December from which the opposition were banned, were held the same day as the Ukrainian rerun. We had Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice all over our television screens demanding democracy in the Ukraine. Whereas the United States was remarkably silent on the regime banning the opposition from even competing in the Uzbek elections. And I think now you won’t be hearing any great calls for democracy in Uzbekistan coming from the US.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: This is Rafael Epstein reporting for Saturday AM.

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Vicious crackdown in Uzbekistan

The Guardian – Uzbek regime clamps down as unrest flares: Uzbekistan was in a state of ferment last night after bloody clashes in Andijan in the volatile Ferghana valley.

The government of the central Asian state shut down foreign broadcasts and tightened security at important buildings in an attempt to stop the unrest in the eastern valley from spreading.

Neighbouring Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan – which all share part of the restive valley – closed their borders as the tide of popular discontent sweeping through the former Soviet region flared into violence.

Yesterday’s clashes in Andijan were sparked by the arrest of 23 Muslim businessmen, facing what human rights organisations claimed were trumped-up charges of religious extremism.

The defendants, who were freed in a storming of the Andijan jail, were accused of having links to the outlawed Hizb-ut-Tahrir party.

This radical Islamist group, whose purported heartland is in the Ferghana valley, is accused of mounting attacks in Uzbekistan that killed more than 50 people last year, allegations the group denies.

Yevgeny Primakov, a former Russian prime minister, told Interfax news agency: “The events in the Ferghana valley pose a great danger to stability in the region. It is critical not to allow a split between the north and the south of Uzbekistan.”

Uzbek authorities have been displaying more signs of nervousness and intolerance. They cracked down on media and dissidents after Georgia’s “rose revolution” in 2003 that ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze. Many foreign non-governmental organisations were banned.

Up to 6,000 political dissidents are in jail, and the government, suspicious of both religious groups and business, has closed down private enterprises.

Allison Gill, Human Rights Watch’s representative in Tashkent, said protests had arisen more often owing to economic issues and government interference than in response to political or religious grievances.

She said the 23 men arrested in Andijan were subscribers to the Akramiya religious ideology. The movement gives Muslims a set of rules for life – including requirements to strive for success and give tithes to the poor.

“Akramism is compromised mostly of successful businessmen – like the 23 in jail,” Ms Gill said, adding that rights monitors were aware of 50 arrests over suspected links to Akramism this year.

Protests about the trial began 10 days ago when the men’s employees gave out leaflets. “It looks like last night the employees whose jobs were threatened went to free the defendants.”

She doubted that much of Uzbekistan would learn of the unrest but said she would not be surprised if it spread to other towns. Uzbekistan’s poor human rights record has received little publicity since the US recruited the country as an ally in its “war on terror” in October 2001 – setting up a military base in the southern town of Khanabad to aid operations in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of aid flowed in, with critics accusing the US of turning a blind eye to the torture record of the regime of the president, Islam Karimov.

The White House last night urged restraint but added that some of the prisoners who had been freed were from a “terrorist organisation”. They did not elaborate, and the US embassy in Tashent could not say who they were referring to.

“We don’t know who they are talking about,” said Ms Gill. “The use of the word terrorist is unjustified and plays into Uzbek government policy by justifying torture by calling it anti-terrorist measures.”

One leading critic of the abuses, the former British ambassador to Tashkent Craig Murray, highlighted a case in which one prisoner was apparently boiled alive.

Mr Murray believes that his publicising of the abuses eventually cost him his job. He said that the unrest would spread, but it would take time. Of the news blackout, he said: “I have spoken to three people in Tashkent who have no idea about Andijan.”

‘ Russian prosecutors said yesterday that the oil billionaire and Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, due to hear a verdict on fraud and tax evasion charges on Monday, would face further charges of money-laundering. A member of his legal team described the charges as “a direct and blatant attempt to exert pressure on the judges”.

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