Sunny Side Up
The Sunshine Uzbekistan Coalition was formed in April, bringing together the Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Peasants) party, prominent opposition members and human rights activists. The Coalition's leader is Sanjar Umarov, an Uzbek oligarch who made his money in cotton and telecommunications. Although he has been strongly critical of the Karimov regime and called for the government to be dissolved there have been suggestions that he has actually been sponsored by the incumbent president. Recent developments would tend to militate against this interpretation, however."Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
- John F. Kennedy (12 March 1962)
In mid-October Sunshine Uzbekistan issued an appeal to the Oliy Majlis (Uzbekistan's Parliament) in which they sought to be registered as a "legitimate" party within Uzbekistan's political system (currently the only registered parties are those which articulate pro-government policies). What was striking about the document, however, was its uncompromising critique of Karimov's regime. Perhaps unsurprisingly the Oliy Majlis didn't recognise the Coalition. Nonetheless the appeal, hardly seems to have passed without notice. On October 23 Umarov was arrested in Tashkent.
The government accused him of embezzlement and tax evasion (cf Mutabar Tajibayeva's arrest for "extortion") but his lawyer Vitaly Krasiliovsky allleges he found him in his cell naked and incoherent three days after his arrest. As former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray points out, "To pretend there is a shred of legitimacy to this treatment of Sanjar Umarov is a nonsense. Why is an alleged embezzler naked in solitary confinement?" Umarov's incoherence was pointed to by the Coalition and others as evidence that he had been given psychotropic drugs.
Umarov's treatment had drawn criticisms from various quarters. Congress in the US has been particularly vocal. (Hell hath no fury like a superpower scorned?) Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, expressed serious concern about his health, calling for his release "pending an independent review of the charges against him." The EU, who in October imposed sanctions on Uzbekistan, called on Uzbekistan halt its "harrasment and detention" of human rights advocates and opposition activists and referred specifically to Umarov's case urging authorities to allow an "independent assesment" of Umarov's condition.
The Karimov regime has not limited its attacks to Umarov. They also searched the Sunshine Coalition's offices after a tense two-hour stand-off, apparently searching for one of Umarov's acquaintances. The targetting of the Coalition seems to be part of a wider crackdown which has also seen Mutabar Tabijayeva incacerated and Yelena Urlaeva forced to undergo pyschiatric treatment after publishing a cartoon critical of the incumbent government. RFE/RL report that at least 19 activists have been arrested since the Andijan uprising on May 13.
The regime is clearly terrified of a Ukraine-style coloured revolution. It is far from clear that Karimov can effectively crush dissent, but he seems to be having a go at it. Sooner or later though, something has got to give. No doubt it would be much better if that happened peacefully, but it isn't a given, as events in Andijan in May demonstrate. Don't get me wrong. I'm not going to shed any tears if somebody manages to put a bullet between Karimov's eyes, but leaving this as the only available avenue for dissent hardly seems to be in his interests.