Mixed Uzbek rights messages
Uzbekistan has freed a prominent dissident from jail while an opposition news source said one of its contributors had been arrested.
The repressive republic of 32 million has made contradictory moves, with another prominent opposition figure, who had been removed from the security blacklist, arrested on his return from exile last month.
Human rights activist Azam Farmonov, 39, was released on Tuesday, the US embassy in Tashkent said.
Farmonov was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2006 on charges of extortion which were labelled as fabricated by government critics. His term was extended by five years in 2015.
Farmonov’s early release followed the freeing of several other political prisoners jailed under former president Islam Karimov.
“We applaud these positive steps and hope they signal future releases and a more open approach to civil society,” the US embassy said.
Karimov dictatorial rule from 1989 to September 2016 resulted in Uzbekistan’s international near-isolation.
Seeking to improve diplomatic ties and attract foreign investment, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev, 60, has taken steps to reform. He has moved to ease travel and foreign exchange restrictions.
Uzbek and Kyrgyz troops used to be engaged in a 25-year-old border dispute but now a new crossing has been opened to great fanfare.
Mirziyoyev was the first Uzbek president to visit the Kyrgyz capital in 17 years.
The president also ordered around 16,000 people to be removed from the authorities’ blacklist of potential extremists and opponents in August. But when writer Nurulloh Muhammad Raufkhon, who has been removed from the list, returned to Tashkent from Turkey last month, he was arrested.
Raufkhon was released this week but he still faces propaganda charges.
The People’s Movement of Uzbekistan, which represents exiles, said a contributor for its website Uzxalqharakati.com had been arrested and charged with seeking to overthrow the constitutional order.
And there has also been insufficient reform of the notorious Uzbek cotton sector.
Despite evidence collected Human Rights Watch (HRW) of forced cotton labour, the World Bank’s board approved another project that will allow a US$145-million irrigation scheme. A report published in late June by HRW and the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights said “the Uzbek government forced students, teachers, medical workers, other government employees, and private-sector employees to harvest cotton in 2015 and 2016, as well as prepare the cotton fields in the spring of 2016”.
Uzbekistan is yet to establish itself as a key Central Asian nation. Picture credit: Eurasia Times