Uzbekistan, and German Disgrace

On 14 May the German Presidency of the EU will push hard again to persuade the EU to lift the limited sanctions imposed on Uzbekistan after the massacre of at least 700 demonstrators at Andijan two years ago.

Not only has Uzbekistan not agreed to the international inquiry the EU demanded, but since Andijan there have been thousands of new political arrests, including of many high profile human rights defenders I worked with. Here is a report from Human Rights Watch on the sentencing of their activist and interpreter Umida Niyazova.

Uzbekistan; Rights Defender Sentenced to Seven Years

EU Should Demand Release Before Sanctions Decision

(New York, May 1, 2007) ‘ The sentencing of Umida Niazova, an Uzbek human rights defender, should compel the European Union to make the release of rights defenders a necessary precondition for any further easing of sanctions against Uzbekistan, Human Rights Watch said today. Niazova is the translator for Human Rights Watch’s Tashkent office.

Niazova was sentenced on May 1 to seven years of imprisonment on politically-motivated charges by the Sergeli District Court in Tashkent. She was convicted of illegal border crossing, smuggling, and distributing material causing public disorder by using financial support from foreign governments (articles 223, part 1; 246, part 1 and 244/1, part 3 v of the Uzbek criminal code).

‘The Uzbek authorities are punishing Umida Niazova because she worked for groups that expose human rights abuses and they want to send a chilling message to others like her,’ said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. ‘Uzbekistan should immediately release Niazova and at least 14 other human rights activists wrongfully detained.’

Human Rights Watch also called on Uzbekistan’s other key partners, including Russia, to use their influence with the Uzbek government to insist on the release of imprisoned defenders.

A Human Rights Watch representative who monitored the trial said that at the May 1 hearing Niazova told the court that she had worked for 10 years in human rights, and that it was normal to criticize the authorities.

‘This is the idea of a democracy,’ Niazova told the court. ‘If we want to build civil society, criticism of the authorities must be allowed.’

Niazova also expressed hope for a mild verdict because her 2-year-old son had just started to talk. Niazova remained calm during the sentencing.

Niazova’s family was allowed into the courtroom, but representatives of the German and US embassies were denied entry.

‘There is already a German present,’ said Judge Nizam Rustamov, referring to the Human Rights Watch representative, who is a German citizen.

Before her arrest, Niazova was a regular contributor to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and other news agencies. She also worked with such international nongovernmental organizations as Freedom House and Internews.

Niazova is one of 15 human rights defenders imprisoned by Uzbek authorities on politically motivated charges as part of its brutal crackdown on civil society unleashed in the aftermath of the May 2005 massacre in Andijan, in which security forces killed hundreds of mostly unarmed protesters as they fled a demonstration.

EU sanctions on Uzbekistan ‘ put in place in November 2005 in response to the Uzbek government’s refusal to allow an independent, international inquiry into the massacre ‘ are to be reviewed on May 14 at a meeting of the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council. One of the assessment criteria for reconsidering the sanctions is ‘willingness to adhere to the principles of respect for human rights, rule of law and fundamental freedoms.’ But the European Union never made the release of Uzbekistan’s human rights defenders a condition for easing the sanctions, choosing instead to focus on establishing a ‘structured human rights dialogue’ with the Uzbek government.

The European Union, led by the German presidency, has also made no public statements about Niazova or any of the other imprisoned human rights defenders, nor has it called for their release.

‘Niazova’s sentence is first and foremost a disgrace for the Uzbek government, but it’s a disgrace for the EU too,’ said Cartner. ‘The EU now needs to make absolutely clear there will be no consideration of easing any sanctions until Niazova and the 14 other imprisoned defenders are released.’

Other imprisoned Uzbek human rights defenders are: Gulbahor Turaeva, Saidjahon Zainabitdinov, Mutabar Tojibaeva, Nosim Isakov, Norboi Kholjigitov, Abdusattor Irzaev, Habibulla Okpulatov, Azam Formonov, Alisher Karamatov, Mamarajab Nazarov, Dilmurad Mukhiddinov, Rasul Khudainasarov, Bobumurod Mavlanov, and Ulugbek Kattabekov.

I won’t here detail again the horrors of Uzbek jails, but I shudder at poor Umida spending years in one. Nor should we forget Sanjar Unmarov or any of the thousands of political prisoners also jailed.

Deutsche Welt has, like all foreign news organisations in Uzbekistan, been closed down and its Uzbek correspondent has fled the country. Germany maintains an airbase in Uzbekistan, at Termez, and maintains a close alliance with the Uzbek regime. The German Foreign Minister is a close protege of the “retired” ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Schroeder is the highly paid Chairman of Nord Stream, the 51% owned Gazprom subsidiary building a $8 billion pipeline to bring more Russian and Central Asian gas to Europe. Schroeder pushed the scheme through as Chancellor then moved instantly to head it on retirement. Schroeder is very close to Alisher Usmanov, chairman of Gazprom Invest Holdings. Usmanov, an Uzbek and major Russian oligarch, engineeered Gazprom’s takeover of the Uzbek gas reserves in the last two years. Usmanov is the closest political ally of Karimov and his daughter, Gulnara. Gulnara received a bribe of $88million from Gazprom Invest Holdings in return for the contacts.

The EU sanctions on Uzbekistan include a travel ban on senior Uzbek officials directly implicated in the Andijan massacre. Germany fought successfully to keep Karimov and his family off the list. The top name on the list was Almatov, then Uzbek Interior Minister. On the very first day of the ban, he was allowed in to Germany for medical treatment – which took place privately in a hospital in Gerhard Schroeder’s home town, under a doctor who is a personal friend of Schroeder.

Uzbekistan ranks with North Korea and Burma as the worst totalitarian state on earth. You would hope that Germans, with their history, would be wary of open support for a country maintaining death camps for thousands of political prisoners. But in fact the German government does not give a bollocks about human rights.

This is a flyer for a protest at the Uzbek Embassy to mark the second anniversary of the Andijan massacre. These protests tend to be small events as we this country do not have many links with Uzbekistan. But that is why it is important to go, to show that there is nowhere so obscure that torture, murder and mass political imprisonment will pass unprotested. Please pass the info on.

Protest dedicated to the second anniversary of Andijan massacre is scheduled for Saturday, May 12 from 12pm till 2pm.

Address: Embassy of Uzbekistan, 41 Holland Pk, London, W11 3RP

Demands: International inquiry of Andijan events, freedom to political and religious prisoners.

Please do come to support us and bring your friends along.

Many thanks for your attention and I do hope to see you.