Uzbekistan: Karimova Libel Trial Delivers More Scandals; MPs Demand EU Probe
More drama from the Karimov family libel trial in Paris -- and sensational allegations that the European Union may be propping up the dictatorial first family of Uzbekistan-- with a soundtrack from UN agencies. The trial began investigating whether journalists can even safely call President Islam Karimov "a dictator" but has turned into a forum about the EU's financing of charitable programs in Uzbekistan closely associated with the regime. Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva is seeking €30,000 in damages.
Augustin Scalbert, the French reporter for the website rue98.com accused of libel over a piece about Karimova-Tillyaeva's participation in an AIDS fund-raiser last year, believes he can simply plead the truth defense. For the court hearing which opened last month, the respondent summoned human rights activist Nadejda Atayeva, head of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, and Mutabar Tajibayeva, leader of the civic group Fiery Hearts from Andijan. They supplied plenty of evidence of suppression of independent media, harassment and jailing of human rights activists, forced child labor in the cotton industry, and torture and imprisonment of thousands of Muslims accused of extremism.
Also at stake in the trial was a claim that President Karimov's daughter had spent large amounts for a charity event in February 2010 organized at Versailles Palace, and had even paid a fee -- the allegation was €230,000 -- to secure the attendance of Italian supermodel and actress Monica Bellucci.
Most surprisingly, documents that were supposed to help establish the credibility of Karimova-Tillyaeva have only served to raise troubling questions about the EU's financial relationship to the oppressive Uzbek regime -- and how their money for charitable causes in Uzbekistan is actually being spent.
At the trial, Karimova-Tillyaeva's lawyer, Antoine Germain, produced a statement "to whom it may concern" sent by Europa House in Uzbekistan, the EU's program office, regarding his client, in which the EU confirms that it has allocated €3.7 million.
Atayeva, who has been blogging from the courtoom, says the move has backfired as it has only raised more questions as to why the EU is dealing with Karimova-Tillyaeva at all. The statement, signed by Pierre-Paul Antheunissens, EU coordinator in Tashkent, says "we would like to especially note the role of the National Centre for Social Adaptation of Children [NCSAC], established and operating at the personal initiative of its Director, Mrs. Lola Karimova," and reveals that the EU has already awarded the Centre a grant in 2008 through its Institution Building and Partnership Programme (IBPP) and has been working with the NCSAC on a project to mainstream children with disabilities:
The project has been approved by the European Union for funding under the Action Programme 2010 with a budget of 3.7 mln. euros and is due to start later this year.
Another journalist, Anaelle Verzaux, who gave testimony at the trial, presented a list of cost estimates for the Versailles Palace event, which allegedly contains an item for the fee for Bellucci, first reported by bakchich.info. While reportedly Verzaux turned over documentation of this claim to the court, it has not yet been publicized or confirmed.
As Atayeva and other NGOs activists have pointed out, the Uzbek government itself controls and often creates the "non-governmental organizations," which is why they are called government-organized NGOs or "GONGOs". According to a 2004 Cabinet of Ministers' decree, the Women's Committee, essentially a state agency headed by the deputy prime minister, is to approve the NCSAC’s program "in consultation with the Ministry of Economics and the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection" -- so the government essentially runs it.
Meanwhile, the EU hasn't blinked at the accusations, and has blandly asserted that the €3.7 million was not given to Karimova-Tillyaeva's charity, but was the total budget for a program conducted as part of the bilateral cooperation between the EU and Uzbekistan, which had not been dispersed yet, uznews.net reported
In fact, Catherine Ray, spokesperson for the EC's development department said that no grant was yet given to the NCSAC, and that an open tender will be held to enable the EU to select organizations competitively. To be sure, the wording in the Europa House letter is ambiguous as to whether the €3.7 million was for an entire sectoral program or just for one organization, but it does make clear that there is already a partnership with Karimova-Tillyaeva. Uznews.net provided a link to the Europa House's website regarding the NCSAC as a joint project of €3.7 million -- but that page has been taken down.
We found that the Google cache still retains the document, however, and while the grant mechanism is ambiguous, the relationship with the Centre is unmistakable:
Inclusive Education (€3.7 million):
The overall goal of this new programmme is the phasing out of the Special School systems. The key partner/main beneficiary is the Republican Centre for Social Adapation of Children.
It would seem the EU has some explaining to do. German MPs think so, too -- members of the Green Party and the Free Democrats, have called on the EU to stop the payment of the €3.7 million, says uznews.net
"The authoritarian rule of President Karimov and his family clan should not be occurring with the financial support of the EU," Michael Link, a member of the Free Democratic Party, was quoted as saying by uznews.net. Viola von Cramon-Taubadel, a member of the Green Party asked for an inquiry into the funds and says she believes they should be recalled.
In addition to unwittingly exposing the dubious relations between the EU and the secretive and abusive Uzbek regime, attorneys for the president's daughter have also produced character references from UN agencies in defense of her litigation -- and wound up scandalizing observers with the impliciations of support for an unaccountable regime GONGO.
UNICEF, the children's agency, and UNESCO, where Karimova-Tillyaeva serves as ambassador for her country, have praised her charitable work. In a letter dated April 19, Jorge Ivan Espinal, head of the UNESCO office in Tashkent, expresses gratitude to the National Centre for its "significant contribution to education and the social protection of children with disabilities in Uzbekistan." Jean-Michel Delmotte, UNICEF representative in Tashkent, said UNICEF "expressed deep respect" for the Center's contribution and said it had cooperated with Karimova-Tillyaeva’s Center since 2005, running several projects for disabled children and orphans.