President Islam Karimov made a state visit to Turkmenistan October 20-21, extolling the two nations’ common "ancient and glorious history" and similar positions on global issues. Weeks before Karimov’s visit, despite various staged friendship festivals in the area, Turkmen residents who had already been resettled once before were ordered to move even further away from the Turkmen-Uzbek border due to security concerns.
The lack of transparency in both the Turkmen and Uzbek governments as well as state control of the media meant that little authentic news was available about the meeting, EurasiaNet noted. Local experts suggested that with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev coming immediately afterward, the talks were likely about regional energy issues and specifically, Turkmenistan’s gas exports. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan cooperate with Kazakhstan on a pipeline to China which began operation last December. The two Central Asian leaders may want to reach a common position on pricing to give themselves more bargaining power with the Kremlin, Anna Walker, a Central Asia analyst at Control Risks, a consulting firm told EurasiaNet.
An Uzbek delegation led by First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdulaziz Kamilov and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs Sodiq Safaev visited Washington from October 13-15, and there, the main topic was the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan. In a speech at the Atlantic Council, Safaev said the NDN would serve as important infrastructure not only for Afghanistan, but for development of the whole region. He said "good will is here on both sides, the point is logistics," an allusion to the hold-ups plaguing the route. The NDN is dependent on companies that are state-controlled in Uzbekistan. Robert Blake, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, earlier made the claims for the NDN as a stimulus for Central Asia's overall development in a speech in Tashkent in July. Human rights groups have been concerned that preoccupation with the exigencies of the NDN have caused the U.S. to pull its punches on human rights problems.
Yet in an interview with Voice of America before the delegation's visit, Blake warned that the arrest of Voice of America correspondent Abdumalik Boboyev could harm Uzbekistan's interests. No U.S. statements were made publicly about the ongoing problem of exploitation of children in the cotton industry, however, although the U.S. Department of Labor has included Uzbek cotton on a list of products made by forced labor.
The journalists found guilty in libel trials this month are appealing the sentences, although they were spared jail time after U.S. and other international protests. Vladimir Berezovsky, a Russian journalist and editor of the site vesti.uz, was sentenced for "insult of the Uzbek people" but then pardoned under an amnesty. Berezovsky believes that quiet Russian protests to the Uzbek government helped alleviate his punishment. VOA correspondent Boboyev was also found guilty of similar charges and fined $11,000 and is appealing the sentence. U.S. diplomats raised his case both publicly and privately at meetings of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and with a U.S. trade delegation that visited Washington last week. The journalists are not sanguine about their prospects for exoneration, as a colleague similarly tried for insulting "the Uzbek people," Umida Akhmedova, unsuccessfully appealed her sentence earlier this year.
In January, Boboyev and other reporters had been summoned and warned of consequences for their "tendentious" work. These journalists were lucky they had foreign connections and attention to mitigate their sentences; according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, seven others are imprisoned, including Dilmorod Sayid, a reporter and human rights activist sentenced to 12.5 years in prison in February on trumped-up extortion charges, have languished for years as they are not as well known. The Paris-based watchdog Reporters without Borders released its annual assessment of press freedom this week, ranking Uzbekistan 163rd out of 178 countries.
A week after Kyrgyzstan's "whistle-clean" elections, unruly mobs are preventing justice from being served in cases related to the June violence, EurasiaNet reports. More than 150 lawyers defending ethnic Uzbeks say they can no longer defend their clients because people purporting to be relatives of plaintiffs have beaten them and their clients. Three ethnic Uzbek defendants were hospitalized following beatings by the mob.
Members have been named to the international commission headed by Finnish MP Kimmo Kiljunen which will conduct an inquiry into the June violence AKIpress.org reported. Kiljunen, the Special Representative on Central Asia for the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, enlisted a number of prominent former UN special rapporteurs and the former UN under-secretary general for legal affairs. He also brought in three other prestigious experts including Judge Brigitte Orbett of France; Rein Mullerson, former first deputy foreign minister of Estonia and now president of Tallinn University's Law Academy; and Dr. Valery Tishkov, director of Russia's Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, former minister of nationalities. Kiljunen says he has been assured that southern Kyrgyzstan’s law-enforcers will cooperate with their mission; nevertheless concerns have been expressed as to whether the mayor of Osh will obstruct the inquiry.
Human rights groups continue to find children forced to work in the cotton fields as the weather is still good and Uzbekistan has a bumper crop this year. In Angor District in Surkhandarya, farmers who have failed to fulfill their state quotas have put to work adults, including women on maternity leave and pensioners, as well as school-children even at night, gathering cotton by the light of a tractor, a listener reported to Radio Ozodlik. Most troubling, there are increased reports this year of beatings of adults who are unable to meet targets. In the Bahmal District in Jizzakh province, teachers say the local district head, Akmal Abdullayev, has beaten teachers to force them to pick cotton, uznews.net reported. The regional administration has denied the allegation. According to the teachers’ reports, Abdullayev scolded them at a meeting, even knocking over two teachers and kicking them, then forcing them to kiss the shoes of a local prosecutor and a police officer. When they refused, the teachers were reportedly subjected to more kicks.
With conditions like these in the cotton industry, human rights groups were indignant at the British Embassy in Tashkent last week lending official support to the fashion week organized by Gulnara Karimova, President Karimov's daughter. Ambassador Rupert Joy, the United Kingdom’s envoy to Tashkent and Steve McNulty, director of the British Council, were scored by the independent newspaper uznews.net with the headline, “British Diplomats Toadying to Uzbek Dictator's Daughter.” British ex-envoy Craig Murray condemned the UK support, saying that providing prestige and endorsement to Karimova covered up such issues as the exploitation of children in the cotton fields. Murray said the world mark-up for cotton from the low wages given to cotton-pickers in Uzbekistan is 3,000 percent. Uzbekistan said that some $500 million in contracts was made from the international cotton fair in Tashkent last week.
Catherine A. Fitzpatrick compiles the Uzbekistan weekly roundup for EurasiaNet. She is also editor of EurasiaNet's Choihona blog. To subscribe to Uzbekistan News Briefs, a weekly digest of international and regional press, write firstname.lastname@example.org