Uzbekistan: Anger as US backs brutal regime - Observer, UK
- Anger as US backs brutal regime
Human rights concerns as troops put down uprising in
Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow and Paul Harris in New York
Sunday May 15, 2005
Heated criticism was growing last night over 'double
standards' by Washington over human rights, democracy
and 'freedom' as fresh evidence emerged of just how
brutally Uzbekistan, a US ally in the 'war on terror',
put down Friday's unrest in the east of the country.
Outrage among human rights groups followed claims by
the White House on Friday that appeared designed to
justify the violence of the regime of President Islam
Karimov, claiming - as Karimov has - that 'terrorist
groups' may have been involved in the uprising.
Critics said the US was prepared to support
pro-democracy unrest in some states, but condemn it in
others where such policies were inconvenient.
Witnesses and analysts familiar with the region said
most protesters were complaining about government
corruption and poverty, not espousing Islamic
The US comments were seized on by Karimov, who said
yesterday that the protests were organised by Hizb
ut-Tahrir, an Islamic group often accused by Tashkent
of seditious extremism. Yet Washington, which has
expressed concern over the group's often hardline
message, has yet to designate it a terrorist group.
Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, tried to
deflect accusations of the contradictory stance when
he said it was clear the 'people of Uzbekistan want to
see a more representative and democratic government.
But that should come through peaceful means, not
Washington has often been accused of being involved in
a conspiracy of silence over Uzbekistan's human rights
record since that country was declared an ally in the
'war on terror' in 2001.
Uzbekistan is believed to be one of the destination
countries for the highly secretive 'renditions
programme', whereby the CIA ships terrorist suspects
to third-party countries where torture is used that
cannot be employed in the US. Newspaper reports in
America say dozens of suspects have been transferred
to Uzbek jails.
The CIA has never officially commented on the
programme. But flight logs obtained by the New York
Times earlier this month show CIA-linked planes
landing in Tashkent with the same serial numbers as
jets used to transfer prisoners around the world. The
logs show at least seven flights from 2002 to late
2003, originating from destinations in the Middle East
Other countries used in the programme include Egypt,
Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Morocco. A handful of
prisoners' accounts - including that of Canadian Maher
Arar - that emerged after release show they were
tortured and abused in custody.
Critics say the US double standards are evident on the
State Department website, which accuses Uzbek police
and security services of using 'torture as a routine
investigation technique' while giving the same law
enforcement services $79 million in aid in 2002. The
department says officers who receive training are
vetted to ensure they have not tortured anyone.
The aid paradox was highlighted by the former British
Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who criticised
coalition support for Uzbekistan when they were
planning invading Iraq, using similar abuses as
Murray said yesterday: 'The US will claim that they
are teaching the Uzbeks less repressive interrogation
techniques, but that is basically not true. They help
fund the budget of the Uzbek security services and
give tens of millions of dollars in military support.
It is a sweetener in the agreement over which they get
their air base.'
Murray said that during a series of suicide bombings
in Tashkent in March 2004, before he was sacked as UK
ambassador, he was shown transcripts of telephone
intercepts in which known al-Qaeda representatives
were asking each other 'what the hell was going on.
But then Colin Powell came out and said that al-Qaeda
were behind the blasts. I don't think the US even
believe their own propaganda.'
The support continues, seen by many as a 'pay-off' for
the Khanabad base. The US Embassy website says
Uzbekistan got $10m for 'security and law enforcement
support' in 2004.
Last year Human Rights Watch released a 319-page
report detailing the use of torture by Uzbekistan's
security services. It said the government was carrying
out a campaign of torture and intimidation against
Muslims that had seen 7,000 people imprisoned, and
documented at least 10 deaths, including Muzafar
Avozov, who was boiled to death in 2002.
'Torture is rampant,' the reported concluded. Human
Rights Watch called for the US and its allies to
condemn Uzbekistan's tactics.
Uzbekistan on the brink as clashes spread
Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow
Sunday May 15, 2005
The violence that has reportedly killed hundreds of
protesters in eastern Uzbekistan appeared to be
spreading to neighbouring towns last night, raising
fears that the volatile Central Asian state could
erupt into a full-scale revolution.
As human rights workers in the flashpoint town of
Andijan warned that the death toll there could reach
500, an official from the neighbouring country of
Kyrgyzstan said sporadic rioting had broken out in the
border town of Karasu, with government buildings and
police cars on fire and military helicopters circling
One local official was reported by the Russian
Interfax news agency to have been heavily beaten by
rioters. The Uzbek President, Islam Karimov, claimed
that troops had opened fire on protesters in Andijan
only when they were advanced on.
Visibly angry, he told reporters in the capital,
Tashkent: 'I know that you want to know who gave the
order to fire at them ... No one ordered [the troops]
to fire at them.' He said 10 soldiers were killed in
the clash and 'many more' protesters.
Galima Bukharbaeva, a reporter with international
monitoring group the Institute for War and Peace
Reporting, who witnessed the killings, described a
column of armoured personnel carriers firing
indiscriminately and unprovoked at protesters.
They had stormed the city prison after 23 businessmen
were put on trial for alleged Islamic extremism. They
took over the local administration centre and
blockaded the city centre, some demanding that the
Karimov responded: 'To accept their terms would mean
that we are setting a precedent that no other country
in the world would accept.' He dismissed claims that
children had been among the dead. 'In Uzbekistan,
nobody fights against women, children or the elderly,'
Among those who hurriedly left the city were seven
British tennis players due to take part in the F4
Futures Event. Information was scarce inside Andijan,
with most phone lines blocked as part of an apparent
news blackout in the region. Human rights worker
Lutfulla Shamsutdinov told Agence France-Presse
yesterday: 'This morning I saw three trucks and a bus
in which 300 dead bodies were being loaded by
soldiers. At least one third of the bodies were
women.' The claims were impossible to verify.
One witness said that he saw 1,000 people, mostly
women and children, gathering in the city centre
yesterday morning. 'Some were bringing their dead.
Many of them were old people or women, some were
throwing stones at the soldiers. I saw over 20 dead,
but someone told me they had seen many more piled up
near the central square.'
A reporter for Associated Press said that he saw 30
bodies on streets spattered with blood and littered
with spent cartridges. The dead had all been shot and
the head of one had been smashed in.
Daniyar Akbarov, 24, one of those freed from jail on
Friday, tearfully beat his chest in the square
yesterday. 'Our women and children are dying,' he
said, claiming he had seen 300 people killed.
The military claimed to control the town last night.
The news website www. ferghana.ru reported dozens of
flights arriving at an airport in the region,
suggesting extra troops were being flown in.
As the violence continued to spread, Russian President
Vladimir Putin phoned his Uzbek counterpart. 'Both
sides expressed concern about the danger of
destabilisation of the situation in the Central Asian
region,' a Kremlin statement said.
On Friday night, the United States raised fears that
members of a 'terrorist group' may have been released
from prison during the riots, but urged both sides to
show restraint. The former British Ambassador to
Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who claims that he lost his
job for exposing the human rights abuses of the US's
new ally in the war on terror, said the Islamic
elements in the Andijan crowds were moderate - 'more
Turkey than Taliban'.
He added: 'This has really blown up in the US's faces.
When will the US and UK call for fair, free and early
elections in Uzbekistan?'
America gives $10 million a year in aid to the Uzbek
security services and police, agencies which it says
indulge in torture as a 'routine investigation
technique'. Murray said: 'The US will claim that they
are teaching the Uzbeks less repressive interrogation
techniques, but that is basically not true.
'They help fund the Uzbek security services and give
tens of millions of dollars in military support as
well.' He said the money was a 'sweetener' in return
for the Uzbeks allowing the US to have an airbase in
the southern town of Khanabad, vital for operations in
Russian state television carried comments from
politicians and analysts, saying the unrest was a
'green revolution' - a suggestion that it was an
Islamic fundamentalist revolt. A junior foreign
minister said the unrest was caused by 'the weakness
of the authorities, social problems and the influence
of extremist groups'.
Officials from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan said that
hundreds of refugees had tried to cross the border.
More Information on Central Asia and Uzbekistan at:
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