Yelena Urlaeva, an activist being held in a psychiatric institution, speaking in a video appeal posted on March 2, 2017. (Photo: YouTube screengrab)
For almost two weeks, one of Uzbekistan’s best-known human rights activists has been forcibly confined to a psychiatric institution in Tashkent, prompting deepening alarm among her supporters.
Yelena Urlaeva, who has fearlessly documented cases of rights abuses in Uzbekistan for decades, was detained by police on March 1 and checked into a hospital against her will, according to her own video testimony. fergana.ru, which has published a petition on its website calling for Urlaeva’s release, reported earlier in the week that the activist has been visited in hospital by representatives from the US Embassy, among others.
Photographer Timur Karpov managed to take a photograph of Urlaeva, which was posted on fergana.ru on March 9, but he was not admitted to see her.
“He was not allowed to see the patient with the excuse that the only days on which visits are permitted are Wednesday and Saturday,” a doctor was quoted as saying by the website.
The renewed harassment against Urlaeva comes as the authorities elsewhere display signs of wishing to soften their ruthless authoritarian rule.
The US Embassy had registered its satisfaction with the recent release from jail of Muhammad Bekjanov, a journalist who served 18 years in jail on likely trumped up charges, and Jamshid Karimov, a journalist, relative of the late president and government critic who had been held in a psychiatric clinic for more than a decade. But that progress has been compromised by Urlaeva’s plight and that of Azam Farmonov, another activist languishing in jail, the embassy noted.
Uzbek Poet Jamol Kamolov, who wrote an appeal to the president criticising the burgeoning personality cult devoted to the late leader Islam Karimov. (Photo: Facebook account, Otamurod Rahmon)
One of Uzbekistan’s best-known poets has made a bold statement criticizing what he sees as the creeping post-mortem cult of personality devoted to the late leader, Islam Karimov.
In a Facebook appeal addressed to the new president, Jamol Kamolov dwelled on the recent adoption of an official resolution recognizing Karimov as the founder of the nation who “liberated the motherland from totalitarianism.”
“For a person who ruled the country for just 25 years and, as you called him, was ‘the builder of the democratic foundations of the state,’ it seems rather excessive to be naming museums, parks, colleges and streets after him, and to be putting up monuments in his honor,” Kamolov wrote.
Kamolov was particularly concerned by proposals to name the airport after Karimov.
“Our state has a millennium of history behind it. On this land we have had many states and rulers. We had the great Amir Timur (Tamerlane). So it is by rights his name that should given to the international airport,” he wrote.
Kamolov, 79, holds the honorific title of People’s Poet of Uzbekistan, which lends his words a certain implied authority, although they clearly go against the official line. His best known works are collected in the the anthologies “Poems” (1982) and “World of Hope” (1988). In addition to writing poetry, Kamolov has also translated numerous foreign classic works of literature, including some by William Shakespeare and Bertolt Brecht, into Uzbek. In 2014, he rendered the Koran into a poeticized Uzbek translation, but that work was not published over objections of the state religious committee.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev and his Turkmen counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov posing for a photograph at a horse-breeding center outside Turkmenistan's capital, Ashgabat. (Photo: Turkmenistan government website)
The president of Uzbekistan’s maiden foreign trip, to Turkmenistan, may prove a valuable exercise in building bridges — well, inaugurating them at least.
For his first visit since becoming leader of his country, Shavkat Mirziyoyev decided on March 6 to pay a visit on his neighbors to the south — a fresh indication that Uzbekistan may seek to revive its often shaky regional relationships at the expense of broader geopolitical alliances.
In line with custom, the trip was marked by a flurry of document-signing.
Mirziyoyev and his Turkmen counterpart, Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, inked an agreement on economic cooperation in 2018-2020 and a memorandum of understanding on the need to develop railway infrastructure, among other documents.
Turning from word to deed, the two leaders traveled to the northeastern Lebap province on March 7 to attend the ceremonial inauguration of the 1.75 kilometer Turkmenabat-Farap railway and road bridge, which straddles the Amu-Dary River and could conceivably enable greater cross-border traffic. Until now, trains crossing the river coursing along Turkmenistan’s side of the border did so using a bridge built in 1901.
According to a Turkmen state media account, the leaders stood at the banks of the river and watched as traffic traversed the newly opened bridges — trains arrived from Uzbekistan, and in the other direction, trucks carried textiles, fertilizers and other goods.
Ambitious visions on transportation appear to have dominated the visit.
A political journalist in Uzbekistan who has languished behind bars for 18 years has been released in a development that has elicited elated responses from rights activists.
Muhammad Bekjanov, the 63-year old brother of prominent exiled opposition leader Muhammad Solih, was abducted from his home in Ukraine in 1999 and jailed for 15 years on what his supporters say were trumped-up charges of threatening the constitutional order. His sentence was extended by five years in 2012 on the grounds that he had violated unspecified prison rules.
News of Bekjanov’s release was broken by his relatives and Umida Niyazova, head of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights.
“I am sure that this decision was made at the very top of the Uzbek leadership, and it was the right one,” Niyazova wrote on her Facebook account.
New York-based Human Rights Watch researcher Steve Swerdlow welcomed Bekjanov’s release, while noting that much more remained to be done by Uzbek authorities to address the country’s blemished rights record.
“This is a husband and a father who was literally ripped out of the arms of his family, kidnapped from another country, tortured in the most horrific ways, including psychological, and kept locked away for 18 years simply for doing his job as a journalist,” Swerdlow said in a statement.
Bekjanov was not released by virtue of any reprieve but rather because he had served his original sentence in full, and then some.
“We welcome his release, although it is important to note that he was only released following the arbitrary extension of his prison term in 2012 on wholly absurd grounds and fully served out his extended term. In this case Bekjanov left prison at the end of his term,” Swerdlow said.
When Uzbekistan suddenly decided this week to deny permission for an airline from Tajikistan to land in its capital, it might have been safe to expect an outcry.
Privately owned Somon Air was due to carry a couple dozen paying passengers for the February 20 flight to Tashkent — the first along this route in 25 years — when it learned permission had been revoked.
Tajikstan’s Asia-Plus reported on January 21 that Uzbek authorities fired off an incensed letter laying all the blame at the feet of the Tajiks.
The letter argued that Somon Air had filed a request to effect charter flights and not regular scheduled flights. It also claimed it only received the official paperwork authorizing the route on February 19, one day before the flight. That gave the insufficient time to adopt a decision, as the matter had to be considered by security services and air defense officials, the Uzbek letter stated.
And finally, the Uzbek authorities said Somon Air still had no branch office in Tashkent and that the sale of tickets was accordingly not possible.
This is high bunkum even by the normally lofty standards of Central Asian officialdom.
A date for the Somon Air maiden flight had been set weeks ago and widely advertised by media in both countries, which makes nonsense of the implication that Uzbek oversight bodies were somehow caught by surprise. As to the sale of tickets, Somon Air has a website through which that can be done, so even this is unconvincing grounds for rescinding permission to operate. In any event, it is unclear how Somon Air’s commercial strategy is supposed to be of any interest to Uzbek authorities.
The first regular scheduled flight between Uzbekistan and Dushanbe in 25 years was unexpectedly nixed on February 20 in an embarrassing anticlimax after weeks of anticipation.
Privately owned Tajik carrier Somon Air said in a statement of apology to its customers that the flight was cancelled on the instructions of the airport in the Uzbek capital, Tashkent.
It is not clear what lies behind the cancellation of the flight and this threatens to descend into an all-too familiar round of mutual accusations.
State-run carrier Uzbekistan Airlines has blamed Somon Air for the impasse.
“Somon Air did not submit form “R,” which lists all the requisite conditions for completing an international flight. That is the main reason for this flight being cancelled,” a spokesperson for the airline told EurasiaNet.org.
The company promised a full explanation would be posted on its website by the end of the day, but that statement failed to materialize by the promised time.
An estimated 26 passengers had been due to travel on the flight.
Tajik news website Asia-Plus reported that disappointed customers were reimbursed or given tickets for the flight from the Tajikistan capital, Dushanbe, to Khujand. In the absence of a direct link to Tashkent, many people in Tajikistan traveling to Uzbekistan typically make their way to the northern city of Khujand and then cross the border overland.
It had all started so promisingly.
A trial flight between Dushanbe, and Tashkent was carried out on January 10. A total of 56 people, including Somon Air representatives, journalists and regular passengers, flew on that occasion. The travelers were met with a great fanfare at Tashkent airport.
Any musician or singer in Uzbekistan hoping to make a living on their stage has had for years to contend with the all-important parastatal Uzbeknavo performance agency. Dancers, meanwhile, obtained their performing licenses from an analogous body called Uzbekraks.
Media have reported this week that these two entities are by presidential decree now to be dissolved and merged into a single body, Uzbekkoncert, which will operate under the aegis of the Culture Ministry.
The new organization will oversee around 2,500 solo and group acts. Authorities have said this entity will be a more effective mechanism for developing the performance industry.
Historically, Uzbeknavo has been used in large part as a stick to wield over artists to keep them in line. Denial of licenses typically represents the death of any jobbing musician’s career as it deprives them of the right to make a living performing at public venues and most certainly on television or the radio.
In the best-publicized instance of licenses being revoked, perceptions of moral failings or suspect political views have usually been at play. Officials are also wont to voice concern at what they see as alien and culturally inappropriate fads.
Prior to the announcement that Uzbeknavo was to be dissolved, its head, Murod Madjidov, was switched out in favor of Kabul Yuldashev, about whom little public information is available. Yuldashev, 49, who was previously deputy head of Uzbeknavo, will now preside over the Uzbekkoncert merger.
Olim Sulaimanov, an Uzbek businessman who came to prominence last year after posting a video online alleging he had been harassed for bribes by tax officials. (Olim Sulaimanov Facebook account)
Things are going from bad to worse for Uzbekistan’s anticorruption whistleblower with a court ordering his confinement to a pretrial detention facility pending criminal hearings into corruption.
Olim Sulaimanov, who came to prominence last year after posting a video online alleging he had been harassed for bribes by tax officials, appeared in Mirzo Ulugbek district court in Tashkent on February 15 following a surprise summons from investigators earlier this month.
Sulaimanov had said hearings were due to take place last week, but that his lawyer, Amriddin Abdullayev, could not be reached, possibly as a result of pressure from the authorities. The businessman arrived in court with Abdullayev and his 17-year old son Egamberdy Sulaimanov in the middle of the afternoon. Two representatives from the US Embassy also came to the court building but were denied entry to the hearing.
The judge made no ruling during the preliminary hearing, postponing arguments until February 20, but nonetheless appears to have ordered that Sulaimanov be placed in custody at a Tashkent city police precinct holding facility, Egamberdy Sulaimanov told EurasiaNet.org.
“I was not allowed to enter the courtroom and neither were employees of the US Embassy. When the hearing ended, only the lawyer, Abdullayev, emerged and he told me that my father had been temporarily detained and was being transferred to the Tashkent city police pretrial detention facility,” the son said.
The founder of Uzbekistan’s first privately run bank has been released from jail after 19 years of a sentence that was, rights advocates say, arbitrarily extended.
RFE/RL’s Uzbek service, Ozodlik, cited a relative of Rustam Usmanov as saying he was released on February 13.
“We met him at Zhaslyk prison and brought him to Tashkent. His state of health is poor and he is now receiving treatment. But he is in good spirit and he thanks [President Shavkat] Mirziyoyev,” the family member told Ozodlik.
Usmanov, 69, was convicted of fraud in 1998 and sentenced to 14 years in jail. His sentence was due to expire in 2012, but was extended by another five years.
He is best known for setting up Rustambank in the early 1990s, but earlier, in 1987, he set up a cooperative company producing honey. Usmanov then branched out into breeding and selling earthworms. Those enterprises turned him into a dollar millionaire and so, in 1992, he opened the country’s first private lender with a registered capital of $1.2 million.
The business success put him in close proximity with the country’s ruling elite, from President Islam Karimov himself to erstwhile Interior Minister Zokir Almatov.
But Usmanov distinguished himself for his lack of deference to authority, as he detailed in his 1995 book “Interrupted Flight.” Opposition news website eltuz.com published extracts from the book in December 2015 that outlined his philosophy.
Uzbek entrepreneur Olim Sulaimanov speaking in a Facebook video address posted on February 11 in which he speaks about his latest run-ins with prosecutors. (Source: Facebook screenshot)
An entrepreneur in Uzbekistan who made a splash last year after appearing on national television to complain about the excesses of corrupt officials has himself now been targeted with fresh criminal investigations.
Back in November, Olim Sulaimanov provoked a sensation with his appearance on the TV show Business Club, where he explained how employees with a branch of the anti-finance crime department of the Prosecutor General’s Office in Tashkent had tried to extort money from him. The businessman named names and figures in his description of how tax officials were targeting his company.
Now, investigators are getting their own back. Earlier this month, Sulaimanov was summoned to appear in Mirzo Ulugbek district court in Tashkent to hear a case filed against him by Tashkent prosecutors on charges of fraud and slander.
As before, Sulaimanov has made full use of social media to document his situation.
“I was stunned when on February 1 I got a phone call from a judge called Kamolov and he summoned me to court the next day as an accused party. Actually, the Tashkent city court is currently considering my appeal [in an unrelated case] and the return of 203 million sum ($57,000) confiscated from my accounts. It turns out that I am involved in two cases at the same time,” he told EurasiaNet.org.
The entrepreneur suggested that some strange developments indicate the authorities are trying to apply pressure, as is customary. Sulaimanov said he did not attend a hearing eventually set for February 8 as his lawyer, Amriddin Abdullayev, informed him he was outside the city and therefore unable to come to court. Sulaimanov hinted that the lawyer had come under pressure.