Category Archives: Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan: Another Journalist Arrested, Casting Doubt on Liberalizing Agenda

Security services in Uzbekistan have arrested another journalist, Hayot Nasreddinov, sowing doubt about the seriousness of the government’s unspoken intent to expand media freedoms.

Nasreddinov, 47, was arrested on October 20, but confirmation of the jailing has only been revealed in the past few days. The pattern matches what occurred with Bobomurod Abdullayev, who was taken into custody by the National Security Services, or SNB, in late October and held incognito for several days afterward.

Uzbekistan Confirms Karimova Probes in PR-Boosting Exercise

Uzbekistan did more than confirm what all watchers of the region already suspected in announcing news of prosecutions against the late president’s eldest daughter — it also made a fresh bid toward achieving a sliver of international respectability.

The General Prosecutor’s Office announced on July 28 that a slew of criminal probes were initiated against Gulnara Karimova as long ago as October 2013, when her father was still alive. Tashkent regional court sentenced her, in August 2015, to five years of “limited freedom,” the prosecutor’s statement said. From all that is known of Karimova’s fate, limited freedom appears to indicate house arrest.

Uzbekistan: Preserving Life Amid an Environmental Disaster

The former bustling fisheries hub in western Uzbekistan is ground zero in what is widely acknowledged to be among the worst environmental disasters of the past century. Decades of intensive water-hungry cotton farming sapped the rivers filling the Aral Sea and left Muynak high and dry, dozens of kilometers from the shore.
If the town is to survive, believes Aimuratov, an ecologist, it will need to find new ways forward. That is now his life’s mission.
Aimuratov, who is originally from Nukus, around a 200-kilometer drive to the south, works out of a small laboratory on the approach to Muynak. In it, he studies the plant and animal life of a terrain that can seem at first glance as inhospitable as another planet.
But as Aimuratov told EurasiaNet.org, the deserts surrounding the dried-up Aral are home to at least 83 types of plants and 18 species of animals. The relative abundance of life offers a glimmer of hope for the future. “My main goal is to cultivate hardy plants on the dried-up surface of the Aral Sea. These are what scientists call halophytes,” Aimuratov said.
Understanding the benefits of halophytes requires delving into the history of the Aral disaster.
Up until the 1960s, the Aral Sea was one of the world’s largest inland bodies of water, spanning across 67,000 square kilometers, an area roughly the size of Ireland. The Aral teemed with bream, carp and pike perch among other types of fish. At the height of the fishing industry, toward the end of the 1950s, annual catches hovered around the 46,000-ton mark. Within two decades, that had dropped to less than 7,000 tons, and then again to a mere 1,000 tons by the early 1980s. Between catching, processing and transportation, some 80 percent of the inhabitants of shore towns in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan were once somehow gainfully employed by the industry.
All that took second place, however, to the economic imperative of generating ever larger amounts of cotton, which could be sold for valuable foreign currency. As the sea shrunk inexorably to its current state, the lightly salty waters degenerated into a shallow, brackish soup unfit for most animal life.
The loss of a sea – or lake, to be technically accurate – spelled the appearance of a new desert, the Aralkum. This 60,000 square kilometer desert not only precipitated the destruction of the economy, but also threw up a sinister host of fresh dangers.
Scientists estimate that more than 75 million tons of salt and chemically tainted dust are whipped up by powerful eastward winds every year and spread over a vast area. The fine detritus is cast so far up into the atmosphere that traces of Aral salt have been detected as far as the Arctic.
To stop that from happening, ecologists like Aimuratov have for years been working to extend the proliferation of saxaul and other similar desert-friendly plant species. When the plants put down their roots, they help hold the soil and sand in place, thus reducing the knock-on environmental effects. The idea to reforest the dry Aral seabed with these halophytes is not new, but research is constantly ongoing to determine which plants can best adapt to the local environment.
The government’s contribution has been to introduce legislation making it illegal to destroy or uproot saxaul and other hardy desert strains. Left to its own devices, saxaul can grow up to six meters in height and live up to 60 years.
Under the terms of a government decree adopted in 2014, anybody caught clearing 1 square meter of saxaul can be fined 29,000 Uzbek sums (around $7.60 at the official rate). The penalty for destroying one plant is 15,000 sums.
Enforcing that law, however, is hard work in a setting where inhabitants are in perennial search for anything to supplement their meager-to-inexistent incomes. Fighting to stop the poachers that chop down saxaul for sale as firewood is one of Aimuratov’s official jobs.
During one outing with EurasiaNet.org in tow, Aimuratov caught a resident of an Aral village red-handed as he was hacking away at one plant. The culprit, Sharafiddin Yelmanov, told Aimuratov he did not even know what the word “poacher” – the local usage is the Russian term “brakonyer” – even meant.
Yelmanov explained that he, as well as his wife, does not have a regular job. The only way they can feed their two small children is to collect saxaul and sell it as firewood. What is not sold, they use to warm their own modest home, which is not linked to the gas grid.
After a brisk exchange of words, Aimuratov confiscated Yelmanov’s ax.
Such piecemeal action is unlikely to make much of an impact.
As Yelmanov explained, his entire village is engaged in the business of harvesting saxaul and will likely continue to do so until a gas pipeline is built to supply an easier source of fuel for heating and cooking. And it does not help that saxaul is universally believed to make for the best fuel on which to grill the tastiest skewered meat – the shashlik beloved by Uzbeks.
The longer-term key to regeneration will lie in creating economic opportunities for the local population, observers contend. To that end, the government has created a special economic zone in Muynak, and is promoting the region as a destination for environmental tourists. To encourage entrepreneurs to set up shop there, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has approved a 10-year tax amnesty for businesses in the town, up to 2027.
Manzura Yerniyazova has taken up the challenge and opened a sewing workshop that provides jobs for 15 young women.
Yerniyazova said she started out working as a seamstress in 2011 with a sewing machine bought with her own funds. “After that, I earned a $12,800 grant from the US Embassy in Uzbekistan to buy more equipment,” Yerniyazova said.
Yerniyazova’s dream is for more tourists to come to Muynak to buy her goods.
Economist Yuliy Yusupov said that the government has a lot more work left to do before visitors will be willing to make the trip. “For the development of tourism, they will need to make big investments in infrastructure – roads, street lighting, hotels, leisure facilities,” Yusupov told EurasiaNet.org.
At the moment, tourists tend to make it as far west as Bukhara. A slightly more intrepid or time-rich contingent gets as far as the historic remains of Khiva, another 450 kilometers further away. Getting to Muynak overland means crossing yet another 400 kilometers. The easiest way to reach the town is to fly to the city of Nukus, but in order for the lure to work, tourism agencies will need to start including the destination in travel itineraries, industry experts say.
For the few thousand people that have stuck it out in Muynak, the challenges ahead may sometimes appear insurmountable, but many refuse to surrender. “I was born and grew up in Muynak, and come what may, we have to live here,” Yerniyazova said.

Russia | Dark Side of the “White Gold” of Uzbekistan

The Confederation of Labour of Russia (KTR) supports the campaign against forced labor and persecution of human rights defenders in Uzbekistan. The country officials have created one of the largest public systems of forced labor, designed to ensure the production of cotton—the “white gold” of Uzbekistan.
Since the Soviet times Uzbek officials used to involve child labour in harvesting cotton. Three years ago, after long-standing pressure from trade unions, human rights activists and international institutions, the Uzbek government has agreed to renounce the use of child labor. This commitment is carried out to date. However, child labor was replaced by forced adult labor. Every year, thousands of doctors, teachers, state employees and students are picking cotton under the threat of dismissal from their jobs, eviction from their houses and hostels, expulsion from educational institutions, pressure on the family and other repression threats. Commercial companies are also receive orders for sending their employees to the cotton fields—and there is no way to refuse.
Trade unions and human rights organizations are campaigning to end this practice. Independent observers are documenting what is happening in the cotton fields, and then being harassed by the officials. The facts of repressions were documented in the report of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights, published in March 2016 “The Cover Up: Whitewashing Uzbekistan’s White Gold.”
One of the human rights defenders Uktam Pardaev from the city of Jizzakh had been put in jail for eight weeks, where he was beaten and abused, and then was sentenced to three years’ probation. Right now the LabourStart portal is holding an electronic campaign in his defense.
The president of the KTR and a member of the Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights of Russian Federation Boris Kravchenko said: “Confederation of Labour of Russia (KTR) fully supports the campaign against forced labor in Uzbekistan, and its demands to cease the persecution of human rights defenders documenting the situation in the cotton fields. For us it is a question of solidarity. But this is also the question of fundamental human rights, violation of which in one country of the region, especially such large-scale and systematic as in the case of Uzbek cotton, creates a dangerous precedent for every other country.”
Boris Kravchenko noted: “Only independent trade union organizations can effectively resist the system of forced labor and exploitation, but in Uzbekistan, their creation and activity are met insurmountable obstacles. The international community and financial institutions should be more attentive to the issue of compliance with the basic standards of labor rights and other human rights while implementating partnerships and investment programs in the country.”

Uzbekistan without Karimov

By Stanislav Pritchin

The last day of summer 2016 was to be an important date for Uzbekistan, as it celebrated the 25th anniversary of its independence. Solemn official events, as well as festive concerts, were scheduled across the country. Instead of celebrating however, Uzbek officials and ordinary people were waiting for news about the health of president Islam Karimov who, according to an official statement, was admitted to hospital on 28 August.
As it turned out the end of summer became the end of the Karimov’s era in Uzbekistan. Officially, he died on the night of the 2nd September and was buried in Samarkand the next day. Thousands of people came to say goodbye to their leader;  the funeral procession through Tashkent and Samarkand was greeted with tears and flowers.
Karimov was the leader of Uzbekistan for more than 27 years. Interestingly, 27 years is the average age of citizens of the 32-million-strong republic. Thus the entirety of the first post-independence generation has been born and raised without knowing any other president. The Uzbek political establishment and wider society is now faced with a completely new challenge, as they begin the process of choosing a new leader.
In 2011 Karimov initiated a constitutional reform that turned out to be an important stage of preparation for the transit of power. According to Article 96 of the new Constitution, presidential elections have to be arranged not later than 3 months from the date of the death of the president or since an official recognition of his inability to lead the country. The speaker of the Senate (the upper house of parliament) should act as an acting head of the state for this period. Thus, the speaker of the Senate Nigmatilla T. Yuldashev should have become the interim head of the Republic until the time of the elections.
Due to the nature of the political system of Uzbekistan, the main struggle for power takes place behind the façade of procedure. It is impossible to imagine that the contenders for power would compete for the presidency through elections. The main methods of solution for such a dispute will be through informal negotiations and covert struggle. Due to the deficit of information, we are compelled to analyse the language of official documents and compare which of the contenders for power stood closest to Karimov’s coffin during the funeral.
The most likely scenario for the short-term future of Uzbekistan would be the nomination and victory of a candidate agreed by all the main political groups, while a few nominal opponents would be his competitors in the presidential race. The list of potential successors of Karimov is not very long. His eldest daughter Gulnara Karimova was excluded from the presidential race long before it began. Her absence at her father’s funeral only confirmed this. The influential head of the National Security Service (SNB), Rustam Inoyatov is too old to run and has no political ambitions. For a long time he has been the second most powerful person in Uzbekistan, and being an “éminence grise” is a more usual and familiar role for him.
Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev and vice Prime Minister Rustam Asimov were seen as the most likely candidates for the post of the second president of Uzbekistan. Today, we can see that Mirziyoev has become the obvious leader in the fight. In the beginning, his leadership was largely symbolic. Thus, according to a decision of the Uzbek parliament, he was appointed as the head of the committee organizing the funeral. Later, during the private visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Samarkand, Mirziyoev accompanied him to the Karimov’s grave. But afterwards, he and his team decided to act more resolutely. On 8 September, a joint session of the two chambers of parliament took place. The speaker of the Senate Yuldashev announced that he declined to take the position of the interim head of state, and the Prime Minister was appointed to the post instead. Yuidashev’s decision seemed to have been made under pressure from Mirziyoyev’s group. The Prime Minister and his circle decided to keep all processes in the republic under tight control during the election period.
At the same session parliament decided that early elections will take place on 4th December. Thus, Mirziyoyev, a native of the Jizzakh region, the head of the government since 2003, is the most probable candidate to become the second president of Uzbekistan.
In the first days without Karimov, Uzbekistan has demonstrated a sufficient degree of stability under political system he had created. However this does not exclude the possibility that problems will surface in the short or mid- term.
Most importantly, it is easy to envisage an aggravation of tensions between the leading political groups in the country. During his presidency, Islam Karimov tried to control the political struggles between various clans and balance their influence. The most likely future president, Mirziyoyev, represents the interests of one of the most powerful Samarkand clans. His coming to power jeopardizes other groups, first of all the Tashkent clan headed by his competitor Rustam Azimov. Prior to the presidential elections we may see a government reshuffle in which the latter is dismissed. It is possible that the redistribution of influence in the Uzbek economy will follow, as the Samarkand clan will try to assume control over the most profitable sectors.
However, any aggravation of internal political tensions should not lead to any serious destabilization of the republic. In the political struggle for the succession Mirziyoyev secured for himself the support of the law enforcement agencies, first of all the SNB. As the new president he will try to keep the existing political model with a rigid power-vertical and strong intelligence agencies. The strict line concerning the role of Islam in the republic will also be continued.
For the time being, we should not expect any serious changes in the foreign policy of Uzbekistan. For the new president, the main priority will be to get support and recognition from the key players, such as Russia, China and the US. Only after all internal political issues are resolved and his official status secured, corrections of Uzbek foreign policy priorities can possibly be addressed.