Uzbekistan: British Embassy Staffer Fined by Court for Contact with Activists
A press secretary for the British Embassy in Uzbekistan has been fined $1,600 for meeting with Uzbek human rights advocates, fergananews.com, an independent Central Asian website reported yesterday.
Leonid Kudryavtsev, a citizen of Uzbekistan who has served for some time as an employee of the UK Embassy press and public liaison office, was charged under the Uzbek administrative code for "violation of procedure for organizations, conducting meetings, rallies, streets actions or demonstrations," punishable by fines or up to 15 days of arrest.
Judge S. N. Ashermatov of the Mirzo-Ulugbek District Court, the same judge who found guilty Abdumalik Boboyev, the Voice of America correspondent, also found Kudryavtsev guilty.
Kudryavtsev said that he learned of the case against him on June 9 when he was summoned for interrogation. The police used a pretext for the summons which they have used in other cases -- a supposed letter from irate citizens complaining about someone's behavior. In this case, Konstantin Stepanov and Olga Krasnova, who are described as two local human rights defenders, sent a statement to both the interior and foreign ministries.
For a number of years at the Embassy of Great Britain, L. Kudryavtsev, who is the curator and contact person for those persons who pass themselves off as human rights defenders, has utilized them for the purposes of creating a certain semblance of human rights activity
"Curator" is a Soviet-era term used to describe the role of a KGB officer who manages an informant or spy, so the writers may be trying to imply that any British staff who contacts human rights activists they don't like must be involved in intelligence -- a common theme of the Uzbek regime. And these two purported activists have figured in many other provocations before, picketing critical former UK ambassador Craig Murray and protesting against other human rights groups, as neweurasia.net reports.
The accusatory letter goes into detail with sarcasm-laden claims about Elena Urlayeva, a prominent Tashkent-based human rights advocate who is often in the news for her protests about political prisoners or for monitoring child labor in the cotton industry. She is claimed to be involved in "hooligan activity" and "assemblages disguised as trainings" at the Embassy with Kudryavtsev and another Embassy staffer, Richard Pike, head of the Embassy's press section; she is also described fantastically as "hysterical and pronounced unfit by a court."
Essentially, the Embassy of Great Britain, through the efforts of Kudryavtsev, is being used as a secret study and training camp where all sorts of extremist elements gather, including Urlayeva, and there, in our view, they are trained and prepared for certain actions.
The letter also picks up the theme of Urlayeva's supposed intriguing with Russian media, which has long been a sore point for the Uzbek government, and has led to charges a against Russian-speaking human rights activists
Kudryavtsev told fergananews.com that the Embassy does in fact meet with Tashkent human rights advocates and has held two such meetings in the past year which were strictly educational in nature, fergananews.com reported:
We explain to local human rights defenders the basics about many local laws and international covenants ratified by Uzbekistan. These are activities of the Embassy, and I take part in them exclusively as a representative of the department on the press and public liaison, so it is surprising that I am on trial.
Kudryavtsev's attorney, Sergei Mayorov, who has also defended Human Rights Watch, Boboyev and photographer Umida Akhmedova, told fergananews.com that the trial was conducted under basic standards for due process, although some activists, including Urlayeva, were blocked from entry. An Uzbek state television crew filmed the proceedings.
In his capacity as a press officer, Kudryavtsev has performed many duties besides meeting with activists, including writing press releases, presiding at an awards contest and touring local businesses in Ferghana Valley with British Ambassador Rupert Joy (see photo above).
Why is the Uzbek regime going after a vulnerable member of the British staff who can't claim diplomatic immunity, because he is an Uzbek citizen? The authorities are always trying to block access to the foreign diplomatic community by the local independent human rights groups and this is one way they "send a message."
Perhaps this peculiar harassment of Kudryavtsev is in some way related to possible retaliation for recent retreats by the EU on support for President Islam Karimov's daughter. As we know from Wikileaks, Karimov has shown before that when Western governments put human rights pressure on him, he whacks back.
Yet the British in Tashkent, if anything, have been so cooperative with the Uzbek dictatorship that Ambassador Joy was happy to support Gulnara Karimova, the dictator's daughter, in a charity bash -- the sort of event that eventually led to uncomfortable disclosures at the libel trial in Paris and caused the EU to backpedal. Ultimately, the fact that this case was allowed to reach the point of a conviction and a fine means that the British in Tashkent were unable or unwilling to stop it with their diplomatic clout.
Minister for Europe David Lidington at the British foreign office made this statement on July 15:
I was very concerned to hear that a locally-engaged member of staff at our Embassy in Tashkent was found guilty at a court hearing on 15 July of organising meetings without obtaining the permission of the Uzbek authorities. We believe the meetings in question – which were routine contacts on Embassy premises with civil society – were carried out entirely in accordance with international and Uzbek law. They were also entirely in line with President Karimov’s expressed wish to create an improved awareness of human rights in Uzbekistan. We have raised our serious concerns about the case with the Uzbek authorities.