Friday, April 25, 2014

Reform, Repression, or Both?

The Birdamlik homepage reports that human rights advocates and Birdamlik members have been arrested or targeted in some way by Uzbek Security Forces (SNB) since 2009.[1]  The Uzbek Birdamlik leader in Uzbekistan (as opposed to the official exiled leader Bakhodyr Choriev who resides in the USA) Malokhat Eshankulova suspects she was poisoned by security agents.  After drinking tea with her 20-year-old daughter in March 2014, she fell seriously ill.  Eshankulova suspects that this was a planned poisoning in attempt to silence her voice in political and social participation.  In February 2014, in what appears to be a similar case, activist Elena Urlayeva was reported to have been poisoned with a nerve agent and committed for psychiatric therapy.  In 2013, Inmojon Tursonov (a former Birdamlik party deputy) was found dead, allegedly poisoned.  In March 2014, Hasan Choriev (Bakhodyr Choriev’s father) died shortly after his release from prison.  Hasan Choriev was allegedly arrested in an effort to intimidate Bakhodyr Choriev from leading Birdamlik any further. 
                While the accusations of poisoning are difficult to verify, there is a palpable sense of mistrust among the Birdamlik movement toward the Uzbek government and security apparatus.  Is it mere coincidence that prominent or important opposition figures are intimidated or arrested, after having received numerous commands to stop engaging in collective or individual civil action?  In the same letter, Birdamlik appeals to the United States, Germany, and France to support Birdamlik’s calls for independent medical investigations of the suspected poisonings.
Border and other security officials of Uzbekistan have also placed travel restrictions on opposition leaders, often on what appears to be a selectively regional basis.[2]  That it is to say that leaders or organizers of Birdamlik throughout the oblasts of Uzbekistan are selectively denied exit.  For example, representatives are said to have been denied exit on alleged suspicion of fraudulent or incorrect visas or passports.  What is interesting is that these travel restrictions are being made a time when Uzbek opposition organizers are seeking to meet abroad.  On April 26, 2014, Uzbek Birdamlik and other Central Asian activists will meet in St. Louis, Missouri, with the reported intent of planning a “color revolution” in Uzbekistan to be carried out in the near future.  Considering the timing of these restrictions on travel, it is fair to conclude that the government is concerned by movement of known opposition figures and actively working to restrict their exit. 
Of additional concern to the Uzbek government is the vocal movement of separation within the Karakalpakstan Autonomous Republic.  For the past few years, the movement Alga Karakalpakstan (Forward Karakalpakstan!) has reportedly called for separation from the state of Uzbekistan.[3]  The movement asserts that the right of Karakalpakstan to self-determination, as outlined in the Constitution of Uzbekistan, has not been honored.  Uzbek security forces appear to be closely monitoring the travel of citizens from and to Karakalpakstan, including subjecting citizens seeking the new biometric passports to rigorous questioning.  These questions include: Have you ever visited a mosque?  Do you have family or acquaintances who do?  Do you have any information on the whereabouts of wanted Karakalpak opposition members?[4]  It appears that Uzbek security forces are engaging in an extensive dragnet by utilizing the enforcement of the new passport regime to monitor and apprehend any elements supportive of prohibited opposition or separation.
Since December 2013, President Karimov has spoken of the necessity for constitutional reform.  In March and April 2014, both houses ofparliament approved constitutional amendments which President Karimov later signed.[5]  The bills included the following provisions: requiring future candidates for prime minister to be approved unanimously by all parties in the lower house, submission of the prime minister to the authority of the cabinet of ministers, requiring the government report annually to the Parliament on social and economic developments, and other provisions.  The bill appears to strengthen the power and accountability to the legislature.  For example, the government will now have the authority to abolish specific departments and ministries.  The previous authority of the president to overrule deliberations of local legislators and authorities was removed in this bill, establishing that the president will now only be able to overrule local decisions if they appear to run contrary to existing legislation.  To what extent this provision will be honored, however, will yet be seen.
The legislation also grants parliament the responsibility of overseeing the Central Electoral Commission (CEC).  Prior to this new legislation, only parties legally recognized by the government have been allowed to participate in elections.  Theoretically, if parliament so desired, more parties could be allowed to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections of 2014 and presidential elections of 2015.  However, this would require the currently illegal parties to be recognized by the parliament as having legal status to participate.

1. Choriyev, Bakhodyr.  March 28, 2014. 
2.  Birdamlik homepage.  April 15, 2014. 
3.  Uznews.  April 11, 2014. 
4.  People's Movement of Uzbekistan website.  April 20, 2014.
5.  People's Movement of Uzbekistan website.  April 24, 2014. 

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