In an unusual but indirect acknowledgement of responsibility for torture of prisoners, Uzbekistan’s Interior Ministry has admitted that police officers under its supervision beat and raped two women in pre-trial detention, Radio Ozodlik, the Uzbek Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported, citing Uzbek human rights groups.
Rayhon Soatova, an Uzbek woman arrested in 2009 along with her two sisters and sentenced in 2010 to seven years for assault in a domestic altercation, was raped by as many as a dozen police officers, human rights defenders reported at the time. Later, Soatova gave birth prematurely to a daughter in prison and continued to claim police were responsible.
While an Uzbek prosecutor finally opened an investigation, officials first suspected Rayhon’s male acquaintances and relatives, collecting DNA samples from them and only later law-enforcers. Abdusumat Soatov, Rayhon’s brother, continued to insist on a probe. Ultimately, police said the DNA analysis was “inconclusive” for a trial and charges against 12 policemen were dropped. Yet, say human rights activists, authorities tacitly admitted they were at fault. Rayhon was moved from a labor colony where conditions are stricter, to a work settlement for the remainder of her sentence.
A second case involved Muhayyo Odilova of Kokand, whose father was the former head of the Interior Ministry of Ferghana region, who was arrested on fraud charges. A corrections official first admitted that Odilova was raped by a police officer while in custody. Then during a parliamentary hearing in November, Deputy Interior Minister Abdukarim Shodiev acknowledged that Odilova was raped in 2006 by a police officer, the Human Rights Alliance reported, citing unnamed sources. The hearing was evidently not covered by the state media or confirmed by independent press.
Where is war most likely to break out in 2012? Between Georgia and Russia? Armenia and Azerbaijan? Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (or Tajikistan and itself)? News is thin this week between (non-Orthodox) Christmas and New Year's, so analysts and pundits are coming out with their predictions for 2012, and a lot of them touch on the possibility for conflict in the Caucasus and Central Asia.
The International Crisis Group's Louise Arbour, writing in Foreign Policy, lists Central Asia as one of "Next Year's Wars":
Tajikistan, for example, now faces a growing security threat from both local and external insurgencies, something it has almost zero capacity to contain. Adding to the country's woes, relations with neighboring Uzbekistan are at an all-time low, with their long-running water dispute no closer to resolution and occasionally deadly border incidents threatening to spark deeper violence.
She also mentions the U.S.'s tight relationship with Uzbekistan (though it's not clear how that would spark a war next year) and the regional divide in Kyrgyzstan.
And on the Caspian Intelligence blog, Alex Jackson is making guarded predictions for 2012 for the Caucasus. In Georgia, he says there is a greater risk of violence as next year's elections approach:
A road in far western Kazakhstan, an underappreciated part of the Northern Distribution Network
The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued a report (pdf) last week on relations with Central Asia and the war in Afghanistan. And while there is little new in there for close watchers of the region, it does have some new numbers about the traffic through the Northern Distribution Network that suggest that Uzbekistan is less important than it was a year ago:
Since 2009, the United States has steadily increased traffic on the NDN, a major logistical accomplishment that has resulted in a series of commercial air and ground routes that supply NATO and U.S. operations in Afghanistan. Close to 75 percent of ground sustainment cargo is now shipped via the NDN. According to U.S. Transportation Command, an estimated 40 percent of all cargo transits the NDN, 31 percent is shipped by air, and the remaining 29 percent goes through Pakistan.
The NDN comprises three principal land routes: one stretching from the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti, through Baku, Azerbaijan, across the Caspian Sea, and into Central Asia; one from the Latvian port of Riga through Russia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan; and a final route that originates in Latvia and travels through Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and passes into Afghanistan via Tajikistan. An estimated 70 percent of cargo transiting the NDN enters at Uzbekistan’s Hairaton Gate.
(This was written before Pakistan cut off U.S. and NATO traffic.) Last November, a Pentagon official testified that 98 percent of NDN traffic went through Uzbekistan. And that figure has been frequently cited to show how Uzbekistan's president, Islam Karimov, effectively had the U.S. over a barrel: we can't cross him or he'd cut off transit, and then we would be really out of luck.
A local Uzbek government official has apparently ordered the closure of stores displaying and selling lingerie, offended by the view -- and thinking of the children.
The Kremlin-sponsored web site and television channel Russia Today (rt.com) writes yesterday:
Women in the Uzbek Capital Tashkent will have to buy their underwear ‘under the counter’ from now on. Local media say Otabek Sadykov took a walk through a local market and was shocked by the sight of bras and panties on sale. He immediately issued an order putting a stop to the display of women’s lingerie in shops.
The story may have come from semi-official uzmetronom.com, a Russian-language Tashkent-based site which often leaks from government sources and covers various scandals of the day.
According to information from our readers, in Sergeli district of Tashkent, all shops selling underwear are closed, and it has disappeared from the shelves of specialized departments in other stores. Now underwear is being sold underground. According to merchants who were forced into the underground, the ban on the sale of underwear in the district was imposed by the new khokim (the head of the local administration).
The article goes on to speculate sarcastically that next, recommendations from the commission on spirituality and education will be issued to regulate even the design of underwear and when, where, and how it can be worn -- and purchased only with a husband or wife or close relative present.
Family in Samarkand cooks outside in 2009, as gas pressure always drops at the first cold weather.
Residents of Uzbekistan's Andijan region have been freezing as the temperature drops and authorities have cut off gas service, the independent news site uznews.net reports.
Gas pressure has plummeted so drastically that even special pumps designed to extract better flows in the winter aren't working.
Residents have told uznews.net that since Monday, not only has gas service for consumers been cut off, factories are also experiencing a shortfall. Electricity to residences has also been turned off periodically for increasingly longer times.
Local authorities are blaming the energy shut-down on "technical problems due to the fall of air temperature," says uznews.net
The thermometer is not expected to rise above freezing until this weekend, local forecasters say.
Officials in the Ferghana region warned consumers three months ago to expect problems with gas supplies, suggesting they stock up on firewood. Some loads of coal were also delivered as an alternative.
Earlier this fall, some homes and factories found their gas was shut off in Tashkent and other regions for alleged non-payment.
Members of the European Parliament voted this morning 603-8 to send the textile protocol to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) between the European Union and Uzbekistan back to the European Commission.
In the text of the resolution, the European parliamentarians "[s]trongly condemn the use of forced child labour in Uzbekistan" and "[u]rge the Uzbek President Islam Karimov to allow an ILO monitoring mission into the country to address the issue of forced child labour practice."
The MEPs further specify support for the ILO's request for "a high-level tripartite observer mission that would have full freedom of movement and timely access to all locations and relevant parties, including in the cotton fields, in order to assess the implementation of the ILO Convention."
Finally, evidently mindful of how such missions to closed societies run by authoritarian regimes can be manipulated and sidetracked, the parliamentarians spell out further conditions:
Concludes that Parliament will only consider the consent if the ILO observers, have been granted access by the Uzbek authorities to undertake close and unhindered monitoring and have confirmed that concrete reforms have been implemented and yielded substantial results in such a way that the practice of forced labour and child labour is effectively in the process of being eradicated at national, viloyat and local level.
Remember that bridge that was mysteriously incapacitated in southern Uzbekistan a month ago? That’s right, the one many suspect the Uzbeks purposely disabled to prevent train traffic from reaching Tajikistan, but was perfectly placed to ensure that Uzbekistan’s lucrative business of supplying NATO troops in Afghanistan could continue unimpeded (and without competition).
Uzbekistan’s blockade poses the risk of a humanitarian crisis in southern Tajikistan, says the head of the United Nations World Food Program mission there, Alzira Ferreira. In addition to hindering run-of-the-mill shipments, the obstruction is even preventing international food aid from reaching the country’s most needy, she told RFE/RL:
Ferreira said there are 23 trains with food stocks organized by the WFP waiting to make the last part of their journey into Tajikistan.
The WFP regularly provides aid to some 500,000 people and 2,000 schools located mainly in Tajikistan's southern Khatlon region.
Ferreira said food prices in Tajikistan are rising due to the shortages caused by the blockade of rail traffic and an increasing number of Tajiks are unable to afford basic goods.
The public relations tussle over Tajikistan's ambitious Rogun dam project has now shifted to Europe, where politicians are being unwittingly dragged into the war of words with Uzbekistan.
Tashkent's vehement opposition to Rogun is no secret. The Uzbek government argues that construction of the hydropower plant will deprive it of irrigation water for valuable cotton and vegetable crops. It also says that building such a large dam is tempting fate in a seismically active region.
It is one thing saying that kind of thing oneself, but quite another if one can get an international expert or politician to sign up to the opinion.
And so, enter German European Parliament member Elisabeth Jeggle.
As quoted by regional portal CA-News and several Uzbek news outlets (via Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry), Jeggle took a decidedly anti-Rogun stance while speaking with a group of Uzbek environmentalists in Brussels on November 29.
"Instead of planning large-scale projects, Tajikistan should pay more attention to the upgrading of water and energy infrastructures, so as to avoid loss of water at the expense of neighboring countries, and fully implement alternative environmentally friendly projects without infringing the rights and interests of states in the region," CA-News quotes Jeggle as saying.
A pretty candid slap-down, one might think, but Tajik media is now gleefully reporting that Jeggle has taken exception to how her remarks were reported.
Human rights defender Elena Urlaeva checked hospitals, mosques, marketplaces, and a school, in search of a student claimed to have committed suicide, but found no trace.
Human rights activists looking for more information about the case of an Uzbek student said to have committed suicide after allegedly being detained and tortured in Andijan region have been forced to conclude that the case was likely fabricated.
Yet they remain perplexed about the motivation for such a social-media concoction, and wonder whether it was Uzbek intelligence, the opposition, or simply Internet pranksters who made up the compelling story of Gulsumoy Abdujalilova, an Uzbek woman studying abroad in Germany who became a Facebook friend of the Popular Movement of Uzbekistan, then supposedly met a tragic end.
Elena Urlaeva, the Tashkent-based leader of the Human Rights Alliance, traveled again to the town of Kurgantepa in Andijan region on Monday, in order to investigate further leads on the story after a fruitless trip to gain information from police on Saturday.
In an account circulated Tuesday on email, Urlaeva writes that she took up the investigation of the story of Gulsumoy Abdujalilova because she had been approached by people claiming to be her relatives who had asked her to help.
Using an address mentioned on an opposition website said to be Abdujalilova's home, Urlaeva traveled to Hamsa Street, but discovered that no family by that name existed at no. 49. She found a taxi driver who said he had lived on the street for 40 years, and together they walked around the nearby streets making inquiries, and also went to find the chairman of the mahalla (neighborhood). He told them that the police had also come looking for Gulsumoy, but said that he knew of no such family, and nor of any such deaths in the mahalla.
Prosecutor's Office, Kurgantep, Andijan region, Uzbekistan December 2011
The saga continues of the strange story of the Uzbek student who allegedly committed suicide after returning from study in Germany and reportedly suffering detention and torture by police in Andijan region. Human rights activists and reporters continue to speculate whether the case really happened as originally reported, whether it was maybe a concoction by an opposition group to discredit the Uzbek government, or whether a possible scheme by Uzbek intelligence to smear the opposition.
Elena Urlaeva, the Tashkent-based leader of the Human Rights Alliance, who originally reported the story, traveled again to the Kurgantepa district of Andijan region and has spent the last two days trying to track down the story of the alleged suicide, Gulsumoy Abdujalilova, and to lodge an inquiry to the police and prosecutor's office about the case. Here's an excerpt of the account of her trip sent via email today:
My driver told me that he had a brother who works in the Interior Ministry of Andijan region, so I asked him to find out the address of the relatives of Gulsumoy Abdujalilova. After some time I received a reply that there were no such people in Andijan region and that some woman had already been asking about this family.
Along the route to Kurgantepa district, I asked many people about Gulsumoy Abdujalilova and her family, but it's a large district stretching many kilometers along the border with Kyrgyzstan, and without an address, my search became more complicated.
On December 10, I went to the prosecutor's office of the Kurgantepa district in order to submit a statement about how Gulsumoy Abdujalilova was driven to suicide, but the prosecutor did not let me in; the guard said the prosecutor is not in his office on Saturday.