Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with four Uzbek civil society representatives, October 23, 2011
On her tour of Central Asia and the Middle East/Northern Africa last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a town hall meeting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan with several hundred people. The audience asked tough questions about Tajikistan -- and even asked Clinton why she was meeting with the dictator Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan. The State Department supplied a transcript of the meeting.
What a contrast with Clinton's meeting in Tashkent, where she met with only four NGO leaders and no transcript was made available. On the eve of her trip, Clinton received appeals to take up issues like forced child labor, and it was assumed that part of her itinerary would involve meeting with human rights activists as she had last year.
Instead, her carefully-choreographed meeting with the four seemed intended to evoke other parts of the US Administration's agenda related to promoting small business and women's empowerment and combatting trafficking, as the softer options by contrast with hard-core human rights issues like political imprisonment, religious freedom and torture.
The meeting with two leaders from registered groups and two from unregistered provincial groups may have been designed to avoid too much criticism and controversy, local Uzbek activists say. The four included: Istikboli Avlod, who leads an organization working on human trafficking issues, Abdusalom Ergashev and Shuhrat Ganiev, human rights defenders from Ferghana and Bukhara, respectively , and a fourth woman involved in promoting small business whom we were unable to identify.
In time for its 20th anniversary of independence, Turkmenistan held a ceremony to announce its plan to launch a communications satellite into space, ITAR-TASS reported.
Thales International Vice-President Blaise Jaeger presented a model of the satellite last week to President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov.
Berdymukhamedov announced plans for Turkmenistan's space program back in 2009, saying the satellite would be used to "accelerate the development of the country's communication systems, Internet and television, promote environmental programs and survey of new deposits, and assist successful implementation of some other state programs," turkmenistan.ru quoted him as saying at the time. (In covering the story this month, ITAR-TASS left out the words "communications systems" and "television" when citing Berdymukhamedov's quote about the satellite from 2009.)
Apparently these thing take time. It wasn't until May 2011 that the Turkmen leader founded the Turkmen National Space Agency, and Christophe Bauer, vice president of the U.S. company SpaceX said at a Turkmen-US business forum that his company would launch the Turkmen satellite in 2014, says ITAR-TASS.
A Gazprom Space Systems satellite has been providing digital TV and broadcast of Russian TV programs. Turkish TV is also available. Satellite dishes abound in Turkmenistan, as EurasiaNet's David Trilling has reported, and have been an important tool of Russia's influence.
But Berdymukhamedov wants to get rid of Russian TV's effect on his population, and its (relatively) more free coverage of world news events, including those in his own country, like the Abadan explosion. Two words might describe his main motivation: "Arab Spring."
Chronicles of Turkmenistan, the website maintained by the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR) at chrono-tm.org, came back online today after a crippling hacker attack Monday.
Normally available in Turkmen, Russian and English with multiple content rubrics and features, chrono-tm.org is currently only partially restored with some Russian-language news reports and photos but editors plan to return to full strength as soon as possible.
Farid Tuhbatullin, the site editor and head of TIHR said in a press statement via email July 19 that his site was deliberately disabled and a message sent out threatening further attacks. Formerly hidden emails of subscribers and their comments were exposed and posted. The attack was believed to have been launched by Turkmen security agents in retaliation for independent coverage of the explosion in Abadan.
Tuhbatullin has been subjected to death threats believed to emanate from Turkmen security agents in the past.
In Turkmenistan, Tuhbatullin's mother has recently been repeatedly visited and questioned by local authorities attempting to find out about her son's activities, creating a constant climate of intimidation for the elderly woman.
Tuhbatullin vowed to continue providing independent news from Turkmenistan:
If the Turkmen authorities had arguments refuting our publications, they would need neither public statements, nor covert repressions and other actions designed to suppress freedom of speech. They do not have any arguments, nor can they realize that one can fight against freedom of speech but cannot defeat it.
Embroiled in a dispute with Uzbek authorities about valuation of its shares in a joint venture as it attempts to exit Uzbekistan, the British company Oxus Gold, suspended share trading June 29, the Financial Times reported.
Company officials cited the reason for halting of trades on the Aim, the Alternative Investment Market for small companies on the London Stock Exchange, was that it could not gain access to information needed to publish 2010 financial results in keeping with Aim's rules.
In March, the share value of Oxus dropped in half to 1.52 pence when the dispute with the Uzbek company emerged, and it closed June 29 at only .85 pence.
The British mining firm announced then that it was ceasing operations in Uzbekistan and planned to challenge an Uzbek government audit it says was being conducted in bad faith.
A company spokesman said that the company had enough resources to meet corporate costs and possible arbitration costs.
Oxus' troubles have been shared by other companies in Uzbekistan recently; a number of German companies have been left holding the bag after the seizure of Zeromax, a state-run comglomerate, that had formed ventures with foreign companies. Newmont, a US mining company, had its holdings expropriated by the Uzbek government in 2006, and ultimately settled for below-market prices for its shares.
Vladimir Norov, Uzbekistan's first deputy foreign minister, faced some significant heat on his country's poor human rights record during meetings this week in Berlin.
And apparently Germany also felt the heat, because Berlin stepped up with more public statements on human rights as a result, according to BBC's Uzbek Service. This could possibly signal a shift in Germany's policy of tending to keep such conversations to quiet diplomacy, given its friendly relations with Tashkent.
Yesterday, Umida Niyazova, head of the Uzbek-German Forum and a campaigner against forced child labor in Uzbekistan, met with Markus Löning, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at Germany ’s Federal Foreign Office.
Niyazova told Choihona that Löning informed her that he will keep raising the issue of forced labor in Uzbekistan, and believes that greater progress could be obtained on that issue than on more "political" issues such as the release of human rights defenders from prison.
Did the official Uzbek media report the story of the assassination of Osama bin Laden?
It doesn't seem so -- or at least, the reports came very belatedly.
The official sites like gazeta.uz or uzreport.com or uza.uz did not have any stories on the day of the killing, or the day after -- nor did the semi-official uzmetronom.com. There didn't seem to be any Uzbeks tweeting anything (but there aren't that many on Twitter).
According to uznews.net, only one news portal, 12.uz, covered the Al Qaeda leader's death, a day after the rest of the world's news outlets.
Uznews.net reporters called around to find out why state-controlled journalists weren't reporting the world's top news story. A reporter for the official daily Pravda Vostoka [the Russian phrase for "Truth of the East"], the organ of Uzbekistan's Cabinet of Ministers, who didn't provide his name said he hadn't heard the news, and apparently didn't have an Internet connection. He added that "he didn't think the story was important for their audience."
The reporter also said he hadn't seen an official notice from the official wire service UzA.uz -- which uznews.net saw as a sign that state reporters wait for such signals before reporting news stories.
US and Turkmen officials at Farap border checkpoint in 2009.
Ambassador Robert Patterson, recently confirmed by the US Senate as envoy to Turkmenistan, said at his nomination hearing that he hoped to focus on people-to-people exchanges as an incremental step on the way to lessening restrictions on civil society.
Even before he arrives in Ashgabat, his work is cut out for him.
The doctors from various medical institutions and government agencies under the Turkmen Ministry of Health Care were supposed to participate in a program organized through the US Embassy called "Community Connections." They were stopped at the Ashgabat airport at the passport control desk and barred from boarding the plane.
Similar action was taken against students headed for American-funded programs a year ago, but eventually the Turkmen authorities relented and permitted some of them to go abroad.
The deputy prime minister spoke at the Oil and Gas Turkmenistan 2010 conference, the 15th such annual meeting and exposition, attended by 400 people from more than 160 companies and governments, the State News Agency of Turkmenistan reported.
"There is no need for European countries to worry. We are building an infrastructure designed for 40 bcm of gas," Khodzhamukhamedov was quoted as saying, according to RIA Novosti. He said Turkmenistan is building the East-West pipeline across its territory now to hook up to lines supplying Nabucco.
The official Turkmen media has not yet covered this statement. President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov himself did not mention the offer to supply Nabucco in his own welcoming address to the international expo, although he did mention the pipeline to China and the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) pipeline and spoke of the more than $9 billion in investments made to tap the estimated 21 trillion cubic meters of gas in the fields of South Yolotan, implying that plenty of gas would be available for all prospective customers.
Uzbekistan reports a more than 80 percent increase in all air cargo compared to last year, and triple the freight sent through Navoi International Airport in 2009, the state news site gazeta.uz reported.
Uzbek airlines have made slightly less flights this year than last year, but have increased their loads of passengers and freight. Flights for the period of January-September, 2009 deceased 1.1 percent compared to the same period in 2009, but passengers increased from an average of 101 to 112 people per flight. In 2009, a total of 1.8 million passengers flew on 24,100 flights, gazeta.uz reported.
For the same period, Uzbekistan Airways carried 83.2 percent more freight, mainly due to cargo going through the Navoi International Airport. According to the Uzbek Ministry of Economics and the State Statistics Committee, through Navoi alone, 674 cargo flights with 18,500 tons of freight were flown in this period in 2009 -- triple the amount for 2008.
Voice of America correspondent Abdumalik Boboyev will have to pay a fine equivalent to $8,200 in a defamation suit, the independent Uzbek news site uznews.net reported.
At an appeals hearing on November 12, the Tashkent City Court upheld the sentence of Boboyev, 41, who was convicted October 15 of "slander" of the Uzbek people in his broadcasts for the U.S.-funded international radio station and web site.
Judge Rustam Rasulov allowed independent media, human rights activists, and U.S. and British embassy officials to observe the trial, uznews.net reported.
Boboyev's lawyer argued that no proof of his client's guilt had been supplied, as Uzbek law does not provide for the offense of "defaming the Uzbek people." The prosecutor based the charges on analysis by the Center for Media Monitoring of the Uzbek Telecommunications and Information Technology Agency, which found that Boboyev's reports allegedly contained "a threat to public security" and could "spread panic" among the population.
In a speech before the court, Boboyev said that his duty as a journalist was to tell the truth, and his right to freedom of speech was enshrined in Uzbekistan's constitution.
There has been some concern that the U.S. is pulling back on human rights criticism in the interests of securing transit rights through Uzbekistan for the Northern Distribution Network to supply NATO troops in Afghanistan. On this case, however, the U.S. made a number of public protests.