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.
A government commission has been formed to investigate the explosion on the Termez-Kurgan-Tyube rail line, "for the purposes of determining the reasons and conditions for the crime committed," according to Uzbekistan's state newspapers and the pro-government site gazeta.uz. There were no casualties according to official reports.
The explosion too place in the south of Surkhandarya region, near the Uzbek-Afghan border and not from from the border with Tajikistan.
The semi-official website uzmetronom.com, which often gets leaks from Uzbekistan's power ministries, says an official announcement of the explosion only appeared in the government and parliament newspapers today.
Uzmetronom.com didn't have much more to add to the official announcement, except that the Interior Ministry held an emergency session on the 17th and that their main version of events is that it was a terrorist act.
The Russian daily news service regnum.ru also waited two days to report the Russian Railways announcement of November 17 that tickets would not be sold from Galaba to Amuzang because the line was closed, and also that tickets on the Moscow-Kulyab line would not be sold for Amuzang and Kulyab because "the supports for the rail bridge had been destroyed."
An explosion on a railroad on the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border was a "terrorist act," according to local media, via RIA Novosti (in Russian). The explosion apparently happened on the line between Termez, at the southern tip of Uzbekistan, and Kurgan-Tyube in Tajikistan, between the Galaba and Amuzang stations. I can't find either of those stations on any map, but the stretch of that route that's inside Uzbekistan is pretty short, and hugs the Amu Darya river, the border between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. The explosion took place the night of November 17, there were no injuries and local authorities are investigating.
There is very little information about this so far, but there hasn't been a terror attack in Uzbekistan for several years. And the fact that it's so near to Termez, the hub of the U.S.'s Northern Distribution Network that carries military cargo through Central Asia to Afghanistan, has to have people worrying in Tashkent and the Pentagon. This line isn't the main line of NDN train traffic, which goes a more northerly route from Termez to Karshi, which would be an argument that it may not be NDN-related. Nonetheless, the location of the (alleged) attack is suggestive. Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov's number one fear is the rise of Islamist extremism in his country, and so if this does turn out to be NDN-related -- meaning that cooperation with the U.S. has brought terrorism back to Uzbekistan -- expect discussions between the U.S. and Uzbekistan over the NDN to get a lot more difficult.
Still, it's too early to jump to many conclusions. We'll see what more information emerges.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the wheel of a Chevrolet Spark in Tashkent, October 2011.
As expected, General Motors (GM) has formally opened up its new plant in Uzbekistan with local joint venture partner UzAvtosanoat (GM has a 52 percent stake). Like all firms in Uzbekistan, UzAvtosanoat is state controlled and was even founded by President Islam Karimov himself in 1992. The new facility is slated to employ 1,200 people and produce more than 225,000 engines.
GM's plant has become something of a showcase for the US Administration's new Silk Road initiative, and is supposed to be emblematic of the opportunities coming for Uzbek business people/government officials to make money from cooperation with the US. That's why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demonstratively paid a visit last month.
At a conference November 14 on Central Asia organized by conservative think-tank Jamestown Foundation, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert O. Blake, Jr. responded to an audience question about why Uzbekistan didn't sign the recent Istanbul declaration on post-war reconstruction in Afghanistan -- first with a dodge (he said he couldn't speak for Tashkent) and then with an enthusiastic appreciation for GM:
Secretary Clinton as many of you know was recently in Uzbekistan and also in Tajikistan. She had the opportunity to tour the General Motors plant in Tashkent. That plant itself is quite an interesting example of how Uzbekistan itself can benefit from greater integration. The plant itself is now producing 200,000 vehicles and drive trains. And most of those or a good portion of those are being exported to other parts of the region.
Yet another trial of devout Muslims is under way in Tashkent region, involving 16 Muslims who worshipped outside strict state controls, the independent site uznews.net reports. The men are accused of "creation or leadership of, or participation in an extremist religious, separatist, fundamentalist or other banned organization" under Art. 223 of the Uzbek Criminal Code, the usual charge against such believers.
Sukrat Ikramov, leader of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Activists in Uzbekistan, says the number of such cases in increasing with every year, uznews.net reported. The suspects are all tried behind closed doors.
In March 2011, when she came to visit her son in prison, Mirkarimova learned that he had been brutally beaten, and she was not allowed to see him -- he had been thrown in a punishment cell. She was told to return in two weeks, and then later found he still had bruises on his body. In May, her son was moved to a prison hospital in Tashkent, and she brought him medicine, and took some letters from him. In one letter he asked to transmit an appeal from prisoners about beatings in prison which was addressed to an official whose job involved oversight of prison conditions. The official promised Mirkarimova that he would investigate her son's beating, but then he later refused to meet with her.
Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev on a 2009 state visit to India.
The chief of India's army is visiting Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, the latest stops in what seems like a growing push by New Delhi to build military relations in Central Asia. IndianDefence.com reports:
Chief of Army Staff General VK Singh, “This proposed visit to Khazakhastan would be recorded as the first for the past 16 years by an Indian Army Chief after General Shankur Roy Chaudhury visited Kazakhstan. As for Uzebekistan, this would be the first time an Army General will be visiting,” he informed.
“The objective of these visits is to develop India’s relationship with the CAR countries,” they went further saying.
The visit will last three days in each country (Singh arrived in Uzbekistan yesterday), which seems substantial. Recall that, after getting pushed aside by Russia in its attempt to set up an air base in Tajikistan, India has regrouped and set up new military arrangements with Tajikiistan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia. But obviously Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are the heavyweights in the region, and I'll be curious to see where this is all heading.
As the Old Spice man might say, some people who look at the Arab Spring demonstrations, then look at Central Asia, then look at the Arab spring demonstrations, then back at Central Asia, say sadly, Central Asia is not like the Middle East, but it could be if only...people were less timid...or the West stopped supporting the regime ...or if more people joined Facebook groups.
Of course, even with similarities, like a dictator in power for a long time (President Islam Karimov has ruled for 22 years in Uzbekistan), even with the US seemingly interested in downplaying human rights problems over the greater need for a supply route to the Afghanistan war, there are major differences between Uzbekistan and say, Egypt or Tunisia.
The virtual absence of independent local or foreign media in Uzbekistan is one of those differences. There are almost no independent media outlets outside of a few brave web sites or newsletters emailed by dissidents -- and very few civic groups able to function independently. So when people *do* protest, we don't always hear about it -- or at least not right away. The problem is exacerbated when Uzbekistan becomes a foreign policy story and drives the other local stories off the top of the Google news results.