In an interview with Richard Solash of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Miklos Marschall, the deputy managing director of Transparency International, says that countries that were performing poorly in the past tended to stay in the low rankings: "corruption is so endemic that that is almost the system. So it's not a deviation from the system, it is the system."
The Arab Spring uprisings show that people are losing patience with their corrupt systems, says Marschall. That "should send an important message to some governments in Central Asia and some other places that corruption can lead to regime changes," he said.
Marschall is rather bleak on the prospects for these countries.
"The really, I would say, dark situation [is] in countries like Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, where there is hardly any accountability whatsoever. The governing elites have practically no accountability," he says. "There is no political opposition. There is no civil society. There is no free press. So these are basically almost closed societies, and that's why there is no improvement."
That's a bit harsh, as in Uzbekistan, there is a small, hardy core of human rights defenders and independent journalists who do get the word out, and political opposition groups in exile do have some resonance inside the country, although it is difficult to measure.
That's the provocative theory that is beginning to circulate, fueled by the Uzbekistan government's refusal to disclose basic information about an alleged attack, and some pointed questions being asked in Tajikistan about who has benefited and who has suffered from a rail bridge explosion near the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border. When the bridge was blown up on November 17, the Uzbekistan authorities called it a "terrorist act" and most observers, not least this blog, speculated that it might be Islamists trying to scuttle U.S.-Uzbek cooperation over the war effort in Afghanistan. Initial reports about the area affected suggested that it could have been on a line renovated by the U.S. for use in its Northern Distribution Network, by which the U.S. and NATO ship military cargo overland through Central Asia to Afghanistan.
But since then, Uzbekistan has said nothing more about the incident. And it's emerged that while the U.S. military traffic to Afghanistan wasn't affected by the blast, shipping to neighboring Tajikistan -- with which Uzbekistan has chronically bad relations -- has been. A Tajikistan rail official complained that: "with the Uzbek railroad’s capacities, they should have been able to repair the bridge within a day. The Tajik railroad had offered to provide any assistance free of charge to speed up the restoration of traffic on the ... line, but had no response from Uzbek authorities, and no indication when repairs would be completed."
Perhaps this belongs to the department of "if you can't beat them, join them" -- the prime minister of Uzbekistan seems to have a Facebook page. (It could be a spoofed page, but it appears authentic.)
On Facebook, Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev (if it's really him) doesn't just have an automatically-generated public figure page or a fan page that somebody made -- it's his individual page. He has 1,787 friends.
Although Uzbekistan has been trying to control the Internet to prevent any imitation of the Arab Spring, the number of web users has doubled to more than 7.7 million in the last year. The government has even encouraged an ersatz Facebook social network called Muloqot that promises data-scraping by the secret police instead of just by a private company.
From the Facebook page, you can see that Mirziyoyev is inspired by Nicolas Sarkozy, Lee Myung-bak, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin and last but not least -- or maybe last and therefore least? -- Islam Karimov.
Under activities, Mirziyoyev has other pages he likes by Leon Panetta, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, MTS Uzbekistan -- and Karimov and Obama again among others.
For his religion, he puts "100 percent Islam," and for his political views he posts "conservative" which comes with a picture of the 18th century Irish statesman and Whig Edmund Burke. What does that mean, exactly, this "like" of a Western conservative? Burke supported the American revolution, but opposed the French revolution.
Mirziyoyev doesn't seem to control the comments on his wall very much -- under his last uploaded photo, which shows him flanked by Lukashenka and other regional leaders, a friend writes, "Except Medvedev, this is a nice shashlyk of gansters!"
Elena Urlaeva and Abdujalil Boymatov with signs calling for President Karimov's resignation in 2003.
Just as Uzbek authorities are reportedly releasing one political prisoner unlawfully held in a psychiatric hospital -- he happens to be President Islam Karimov's nephew -- they are busy threatening a human rights activist with forced psychiatric confinement, a practice still lingering in Uzbekistan from the Soviet era.
Elena Urlaeva of the Human Rights Alliance received a notice last week from Tashkent Psychiatric Clinic No. 2 that her case was being transferred to a court with a request for compulsory psychiatric treatment because she had supposedly violated the terms of her out-patient status, uznews.net reports.
Urlaeva says she was last put in a psychiatric hospital in 2005, after which the court pronounced her unfit to stand trial but then released her. Earlier in 2003, she was examined independently by Russian doctors who certified that she was sane.
The government seemed to drop the psychiatric angle for some years, so Urlaeva has been trying to understand why this notice has been contrived now. There's some speculation that perhaps it's a response to her recent involvement in cases in the city of Yangiyul in Tashkent region, where Urlaeva says she has discovered corrupt and violent police and prosecutors.
Bakhtiyor Hamrayev, a member of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, reported that members of his group saw Karimov back in his native city of Jizzak on November 6. After years of being subjected to psychotropic drug treatment in confinement, his psychiatric health has suffered. Three years ago, when his wife visited him, she found him mentally ill, Elena Urlayeva of the Human Rights Aliance told uznews.net
Jamshid Karimov had been held in a psychiatric hospital for five years in retaliation for his critical reporting for various web sites. Authorities initially obtained a court-ordered confinement for a period of six months, but then Karimov continued to be held without any psychiatric exam or court review. His case has been repeatedly raised with Uzbek authorities, including during Karimov's trip to Brussels last year to meet with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso.
As a result of a NATO attack that killed as many as 28 Pakistani soldiers today, the Pakistani government has closed off NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. From Reuters:
Hours after the raid, NATO supply trucks and fuel tankers bound for Afghanistan were stopped at Jamrud town in the Khyber tribal region near the city of Peshawar, officials said.
The border crossing at Chaman in southwestern Baluchistan province was also closed, Frontier Corps officials said.
A meeting of the cabinet's defence committee convened by Gilani "decided to close with immediate effect NATO/ISAF logistics supply lines," according to a statement issued by Gilani's office.
It's not clear how long Pakistan will cut off NATO supplies, but they did it for ten days after another NATO attack killed three Pakistani soldiers last year.
According to the latest data from Reuters, NATO supplies into Afghanistan are roughly divided into thirds: a third goes overland via Pakistan, a third by air and a third overland via the Northern Distribution Network through Central Asia, primarily Uzbekistan. The U.S. had already been trying to increase their share of cargo shipped via the northern route, worried about the reliability of Pakistan. And now with the Pakistan route cut off indefinitely, that will put immediately more pressure on the northern route and Uzbekistan.
Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov at annual meeting of Asian Development Bank, 2010.
Dmitry Tikhonov, a human rights defender in the city of Angren, has appealed to Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov to stop breaking the law and end the exploitation of children in the cotton harvest, cottoncampaign.org reported, citing the independent website uznews.net.
“I addressed my demands to Rustam Azimov because he is personally responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Cabinet of Ministers’ Resolution No.207 of 12th September 2008,” Tikhonov told uznews.net.
Earlier this year at the start of the cotton harvest, Angren authorities posted flyers around the city stating that the use of forced child labour was against the law, uznews.net reported.
But the leaflet also carried a propaganda twist — it denounced the “mendacious insinuations and misinformation” of foreign media about allegations of widespread forced labour.
In fact, through the efforts of monitors this season, once again massive use of forced child labour has been documented throughout Uzbekistan.
The flyer carried a threat — “any attempts to force children to work, whether by threatening reprisals against the children themselves or their parents, will be dealt with in accordance with the laws of Uzbekistan.”
Parents said the flyer was too little, too late. By the time it was posted, their kids were already out in the fields.
Now 270 freight cars have piled up on the Termez-Kurgan Tyube line destined to Tajikistan, interfering with the railroad’s expedition work, Uzbek rail workers said. They proposed to their Tajik counterparts transferring cars through the international crossing at Kudukli in the center of Tajikistan, for delivery to the south of the country.
According to a report from the independent Tajik news service Asia-Plus, Vladimir Sobkalov, a Tajik rail official, said his rail company had suffered major losses organizing a pick-up from Dushanbe of all the passengers stranded by the blast.
Sobkalov rejected the proposal of his Uzbek colleagues to send the freight to the center of Tajikistan, saying the Tajik rail did not have the capacity to accept freight in Dushanbe and then re-route it to the south, as this would incur major costs for trucking the loads through mountain passes.
He also said that for the last six days, Tajikistan has not heard any further news from Uzbekistan about the details of the explosion. Officials cordoned off the area and police were not letting anyone through. Nothing more was learned about the extent of damage to the bridge.
The saga of Uzbekistan's allegedly arrested Emergency Services Minister Tursinkhon Khudaibergenov has taken an interesting turn, with his assistant telling Radio Free Europe’s Uzbek language service, Radio Ozodlik, that no such thing has happened (via Central Asian news).
"I heard about this message on the [Uzmetronom] website. However, it doesn't represent the facts. The minister is in Angren on the instructions of the prime minister," Khudaibergenov’s assistant, Dilshod Inomov, is quoted as telling Ozodlik.
Inomov insists that Uzmetronom's information is not valid as it not an official site. This is a curious observation, since Uzbekistan’s government websites have never been too big on publicizing the jailing of acting officials.
Meanwhile, Uzmetronom is sticking to its story, insisting that although investigators have not secured an arrest warrant, Khudaibergenov has been made to sign a written undertaking to limit his movements.
"Experts believe that Khudaibergenov has avoided arrest with the influential support of backers in the presidential administration and the government, who have apparently persuaded the president that this is absolutely indispensable in his line of duty," the site says. If anything, this turns of events throws the outside observer into only more confusion about how much individual public figures in Uzbekistan are able to defy the system.
Uzbekistan-focused media have reported in recent days on what appears to be a wave of arrests among high-placed government officials.
Reporting on what might be the most high-profile casualty to date, the Tashkent-based Uzmetronom said on November 22 that President Islam Karimov's law enforcement adviser, Ravshan Mukhiddinov, has been arrested as part of a corruption probe. At almost exactly the same time, deputy General Prosecutor Mukhiddin Kiyemov tendered his resignation, although nothing more of his fate is known, Uzmetronom said.
Prior to acting as Karimov's adviser, Mukhiddinov served as justice minister from January 2008 to June 2011.
This alleged arrest follows a November 21 report by the opposition Uznews.net portal that former Emergency Services Minister Tursinkhon Khudaibergenov has been charged with abuse of office and embezzlement of state funds.
It is unclear whether there are any links between the two cases. Going by the Uznews report, Khudaibergenov has long been in the crosshairs for his allegedly rampant corruption: "He has pulled strings for friends who were keen to leave the country ... and he gave jobs with financial responsibility to his cronies. The price of such patronage, witnesses say, was between $5,000 and $10,000.”
As ever, in the absence of official information, even the most basic facts cannot be established beyond doubt. Therefore, expect speculation on whether this is indeed part of a broader fight against graft or, in fact, just another episode of intrigue and skullduggery at Karimov's court.