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.
One strongman president, however, remained unsurprisingly silent. Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov has always pooh-poohed the suggestion of any such union, practically since neighboring Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev floated the idea in 1994.
Now Karimov, however obliquely, has responded to Putin. Uzbekistan, he has made it clear, is going it alone. And it’s no surprise: The country’s ruling elite depends heavily on a tightly controlled economy, which allow them to profit from natural resources like cotton and gas.
Speaking on state television December 7 to mark Constitution Day, Karimov – who maintains chilly relations with all his neighbors – said he saw no need for “integration processes.” Groups that promote them are designed to take away Uzbekistan’s hard-earned sovereignty and put the country in Moscow’s yoke, he implied. Ironically, given his chilling human rights record, he deplored the Soviet Union’s past repressions.
From his speech (translated and published by BBC Monitoring):
So while questions can be asked about the gullibility of human rights activists and the perfidy of exile political operatives as the semi-official uzmetronom.com is doing today, and as Inside the Cocoon has noted, what’s more likely is that the story is concocted by Uzbek intelligence to discredit everything but itself.
When I first saw Elena Urlaeva's story of the tragic suicide of Gulsumoy Abdujalilova, a young Uzbek student, on the Google group Human Rights in Central Asia, I was immediately struck by a tell-tale feature that has been a hallmark of stories involving exiled opposition movements and the secret police who try to infiltrate them since the Soviet era.
Under the initially reported scenario, Abdujalilova returned in November to her native Andijan Province on a visit home from studying abroad in Germany, after which she was picked up the police.
Perplexed by what might have caused security services to single out Abdujalilova, some speculated that she may have come to the attention of authorities through her Facebook account, which identified her as a supporter of the People's Movement of Uzbekistan (PMU). The movement was formed in May from a number of foreign-based Uzbek political and rights organizations and has unambiguously stated its goal as being the downfall of President Islam Karimov's regime.
The Human Rights Alliance reports that a young woman who returned home to Andijan province after studying abroad in Germany has committed suicide after being tortured in custody, according to uznews.net.
Gulsumoy Abdujalilova was found dead on December 4 in Kurgantepa district of Andijan province after being tortured for four days in police detention, Elena Urlaeva, leader of the Alliance told reporters, citing a statement from Gulsumoy's sister, Mohlara.
Mohlara says that officers of the Uzbek Interior Ministry detained her sister in November when Gulsumoy returned home from Germany, where she had been studying. She said that police demanded that she give false testimony against Muhammad Salih, exiled leader of the opposition Erk Party in Europe.
Upon learning of the unlawful detention, Urlaeva began calling the Interior Ministry's hotline and kept in touch with Mohlara, until Gulsumoy was released and returned home. They agreed that Gulsumoy would call the next day to give an account of her beatings in police custody. Urlaeva urged her to get a doctor's examination and record her injuries.
But before they could follow up, Gulsumoy took some tablets and died. Human rights advocates are concerned that she may have also been raped by police. She left a suicide note, in which she said that "police were trying to force her to murder several opposition members." No more details about the suicide note are available.
Urlaeva believes that Gulsumoy could have been referencing members of the Popular Movement of Uzbekistan (PMU) but was unable to find out anything more, as Mohlara has now stopped taking her phone calls.
The Human Rights Alliance is calling for an investigation and publication of the findings, and also demanding answers about the allegations of plans for assassination of opposition members abroad.
Among the many lurid stories on the British tabloid Daily Mail this weekend you might have missed this "phenomenal" deal: Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva and her husband Timur Tillyaev were able to purchase a £30 million mansion in Geneva from real estate tycoon Andrew Rosenfeld, a controversial new advisor to British Labour Party leader Ed Milliband, now leader of the opposition.
Rosenfeld paid £9million for the house four years earlier.
Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Tashkent claimed the deal "stank," because the money came from a brutal regime that "stole" from its people, says the Daily Mail.
The revelation adds to an existing controversy in the UK over the appointment of Rosenfeld, an admitted tax exile, following a £1million donation to the Labour Party, making him the party's biggest backer.
Much of Lola Karimova and her husband’s income comes from the Abu Sahiy company which controls the majority of Uzbek imports and is believed to have a turnover of £250,000 a day. The couple have been accused of orchestrating criminal action against commercial rivals.
Ms Karimova’s £30million property purchase was reported in the Swiss press last year as an example of the ‘meteorite’ which had hit local property prices as a result of an influx of money from central Asia.
The British daily The Independent has an intriguing story about a special undercover investigation: some public relations firms would be eager to accept lucrative lobbying contracts from the government of Uzbekistan, despite its horrible reputation for torture, imprisonment of dissidents, and forced child labor.
Journalists from The Independent's Bureau of Investigative Reporting posed as agents of the fictitious "Azimov Group" of British and East European investors in cotton textiles who said they had been tasked by Uzbekistan to help clean up its image.
The journalists said that out of 10 London firms, two refused to do business, several others didn't reply, and five, including Bell Pottinger appeared "keen to work" for a "£1m-plus" fee.
In the film clip accompanying the article, we hear the disguised reporter saying that the Uzbek president wasn't happy about his own Wikipedia entry or the one for Uzbekistan: what could the firm do to help? A representative of Bell Pottinger spoke of "all sorts of dark arts" that could be deployed such as Google-bombing to change the order of search results. Such firms also create fictitious blogs, manipulate parliamentarians, and -- as the agent cautioned -- do things that they couldn't put in their written presentation because if it "got out" it would be "embarrassing."
Says The Independent regarding the investigative reporters' account:
Their claims – which were secretly recorded – will add to mounting concerns that an absence of regulation has made London the global centre for "reputation laundering", where lobbyists work behind the scenes on behalf of the world's most controversial regimes.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged to tackle lobbying which he says has "tainted our politics for too long."
The state media never discusses struggles for power and changes in the leadership, so outsiders are left guessing at clues.
But a string of other dismissals indicate the prime minister's power base may be eroding, says NBCA. These include Rovshan Muhiddinov, a former advisor to President Islam Karimov who coordinated the powerful security agencies; Tursunkhon Khudoibergenov, the emergencies minister; and Muhiddin Kiyomov, Uzbekistan’s deputy chief prosecutor, all of whom were reported to have been arrested last month. Khudoibergenov was later said to be freed after signing a pledge not to leave town, Inside the Cocoon noted, citing uzmetronom.com.
Other recent high-level dismissals include Deputy Prime Minister Botir Hojaev and Fergana regional governor Hamid Nematov.
In a shocking departure from its usual docile behavior, Uzbekistan's rubber-stamp parliament took Mirziyoyev to task in July for his cabinet's performance, EurasiaNet reported. That was seen not as a democratic surge from the legislature but rather orchestrated "from on high". Those fired also seem to be figures who were Mirziyoyev's allies.
No other news service, including the semi-official uzmetronom.com which often gets government leaks, seems to have the story NBCA has published:
"It’s possible Mirziyoev will be removed," a high-ranking official in government who wished to remain anonymous said. "He knows too much, and over his many years in office, he’s promoted many of his own supporters."