Uzbek migrants can’t escape state spies
The 30 million Uzbeks labour under the state’s heavy hand.
Uzbekistan is conducting unlawful surveillance of its citizens abroad and fostering a climate of fear and uncertainty, according to Amnesty International.
The NGOs film “We Will Find You, Anywhere” looks at the impact of surveillance on the seven Uzbeks, within and outside the Central Asian state.
“This report reveals the far-reaching effects of mass surveillance not only on the human rights of people in Uzbekistan, but on [Uzbeks] in Europe,” said Joshua Franco, a technology specialist at Amnesty.
“Within Uzbekistan, the authorities have created an environment of suspicion where surveillance, or the perceived threat of it, is an ever present fact of life for human rights defenders, journalists and political activists.
“But even outside the country, the effects of surveillance are being severely felt. Fear is driving a wedge between families, with refugees too afraid to contact their loved ones at home due to the terrible risk it can expose them to.”
The former Soviet state was ruled by dictator Islam Karimov until his death last September. His successor, President Shavkat Mirziyaev spoke about reforms but critics say the moves fall far short of real reform.
It said Dilshod (not his real name), a refugee in Sweden and a member of the muzzled Uzbek opposition, was unable to contact his relatives as they received visits from the police shortly after speaking to him on the telephone.
His dying aunt even received a visit from secret services after she received a call from Dilshod.
Dilshod told Amnesty: “If we call our relatives, friends and families, everything will be heard, we know that. We [Swedish expats] won’t be under pressure or face problems, but if we call them, they will be in trouble.”
In Uzbekistan, it is routine for the authorities to harass and threaten families to extract information about a suspect.
In 2014, Galima Bukharbaeva, a Berlin-based Uzbek editor of the independent news website UzNews.net, realised her email had been hacked when private messages were posted on Uzbek sites, exposing the journalists on the ground with whom she was worked in secret.
One of the reporters, Gulasal Kamolova, was forced to flee Uzbekistan in 2015 after receiving threats from the Tashkent authorities. She is living in France and has not contacted her family. On her departure a secret service operator reportedly told her: ‘Wherever you are, we will find you, anywhere.’
Kamolova said: “I am actually not afraid. I have nothing to lose apart from my work and my work is here. I think this is my response to all those threats and persecution by the secret service in Uzbekistan. I am not afraid of that, but I know that they are present here. I don’t feel safe but I am not afraid.”
The Uznews.net news portal was later forced to close as well.
Picture credit: Eurasia Times