Uzbekistan has never been a fan of free speech — but Tashkent is now literally equating debate to terrorism.
Ozodlik, the Uzbek service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, has reported that two academics who wrote a manual on how to foster debating skills among young people are facing suspicions of terrorism and pursuing the overthrow of the government.
According to Ozodlik’s anonymously sourced report, Eleni Duras and Dilfuza Kurolova are under investigation for authoring or disseminating material liable to present a threat to public order.
None of the people involved in the story responded to EurasiaNet.org’s queries for clarification.
Published three years ago with the support of the United Nations Development Program, the Guide to Debating aimed to develop oratorical skills among young people — a common practice in universities worldwide.
The manual has now been withdrawn from educational institutions and copies have been burned, according to RFE/RL’s source.
The two authors — both respected academics — and Bahodir Ayupov, the head of the UNDP’s Social Innovation and Volunteering in Uzbekistan project, have reportedly been called in for interrogation by prosecutors and intelligence agents from the National Security Service.
Kurolova is a law graduate and MA student at the OSCE Academy in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, according to her LinkedIn professional profile. She is also a member of the OSCE-backed Central Asian Youth Networking forum, which brings together young people from around the region to promote understanding of topical issues.
Central Asian Youth Networking’s annual meeting last year discussed security challenges and included debate on civil society’s role in promoting human rights and freedoms. The topic is likely to have been viewed with suspicion by Uzbekistan’s paranoid and authoritarian government.
Duras is a lecturer at Tashkent’s University of World Economy and Diplomacy, where she runs a course called Oratorical Art and is head of the Dilemma debating club at the university’s Kelajak Ilmi (Education of the Future) International Business School, according to the institution’s website. RFE/RL reports that the club has now shut down.
The first debating school in Uzbekistan was opened by the Open Society Foundations (under whose auspices EurasiaNet.org also operates), which was closed down in Uzbekistan in 2004 after the government revoked its registration.
Last year Uzbekistan shut down the country’s only university course in political science, sparking criticism that Tashkent was seeking to stifle academic debate.