Obama administration officials are negotiating an agreement with Islam Karimov (left), Uzbekistan’s authoritarian president, to permit thousands of military vehicles, and other equipment to transit from Afghanistan through Uzbek territory.
The U.S. diplomats will “walk a fine line between maintaining transit routes out of Afghanistan and expressing support for democratic principles,” exiled Uzbek dissident Sanjar Umarov recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times.
Reporters asked Robert Blake, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, about whether he had raised the issue – particularly the case of jailed reporter Solijon Abdrahmanov – when he met President Islam Karimov on August 15, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting:
Abdrahmonov was given a ten-year sentence in 2008 on charges widely regarded as fabricated, and is classed as a prisoner of conscience by international human rights group Amnesty International.
Blake replied that “individual cases are not discussed, but we continue to pursue an ongoing dialogue with our Uzbek partners on this issue”.
Sergei Naumov, a freelance reporter from the northwestern Urgench region, was encouraged that a State Department official was prepared to meet local journalists.
“We are hoping the US administration will assist in securing our colleagues’ release,” he said.
Other reporters imprisoned in Uzbekistan include Dilmurod Saidov, given a 12-and-a-half year sentence in 2009; and Muhammed Bekjonov, arrested in 1999, sentenced to 15 years, and facing new charges in prison so that he cannot benefit from an amnesty.
Uzbekistan, which Freedom House counts among the world’s most repressive regimes, is also gaining notoriety for its monitoring and censorship of the internet. The regime has a dedicated Center for Monitoring Mass Communications for violations of Uzbek laws and cultural norms.
The IWPR article was produced as part of News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.