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Uzbekistan: Rights Activists Fear Ill Effect Of Alliance With U.S.
By Zamira Echanova

Human rights activists are worried that Uzbekistan's new alliance with the U.S. in the fight against international terrorism may lead to a weakening of criticism of Tashkent's human rights record. Zamira Echanova of RFE/RL's Uzbek service spoke to several activists to gauge the level of concern.

Tashkent, 15 November 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Human rights activists say it's too early to say whether Uzbekistan's new alliance with the U.S. in the fight against international terror will lead to a worsening of the human rights situation there.

Dr. Annette Legutke, a Tashkent-based political officer with the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe, says the situation remains unpredictable:

"I think at the moment it's too early to make an assessment. Because what will happen in the future is not predictable at the moment, even in the next week."

The U.S. has led the way in criticizing President Islam Karimov's government over its attitude toward human rights. U.S. economic aid and other types of cooperation have depended largely on the human rights situation. The U.S. Congress thoroughly considers the human rights situation before making policy changes toward Uzbekistan.

Karimov's government, which for three years has been fighting what it considers an Islamic insurgency on its own soil, in the past has been roundly criticized for improperly jailing and trying independent Muslims. Tashkent has also come under criticism for holding elections that do not approach international standards of being free and fair.

But international rights groups are warning that the U.S., in the future, may mute its criticism of the rights situation, following Tashkent's recent decision to allow U.S. forces to use an Uzbek air base as part of its military campaign in neighboring Afghanistan.

Following the agreement, the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the U.S. government not to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses by the Uzbek government.

HRW said in a statement that if the U.S. is going to ally itself with Uzbekistan, it has to find a way to avoid aligning itself with Uzbekistan's brutal policies.

HRW's new representative in Uzbekistan, Matilda Bogner, tells RFE/RL that the U.S. has to integrate human rights issues into its new relationship with Uzbekistan in order to avoid creating new sources of terrorism:

"I think that if the U.S. has a long-term view then they should be very mindful of the human rights issues in this region. Because as long as human rights continue to be grossly abused, there is no guarantee of stability in the area. If the U.S. wants to create stability in this area which will help with the domestic problems in terms of accidents which happened on the 11th [of] September, then creating stability in the region must be very high on their agenda."

In a recent speech, Karimov acknowledged the existence of the problem and said his government has been working on the issue:

"We always acknowledge that by the level of these [human rights] issues, by the progress which should be made in reaching democratic values, which are the core of democratic society, we have problems. Yes, there are problems."

But despite such statements, organizations say little progress has been made in improving the situation.

Some local human rights activists are already interpreting the new security alliance as a bad sign for the human rights situation. They say the Karimov government will do its best to use U.S. support in its crackdown on peaceful Muslims and justify it as a part of the international war against terrorism.

Local human rights activist Mo'tabar Akhmedova says this process has already started. She says: "The harassment against peaceful Muslims has increased. For example, Ibrahimov Abduvahab [was] kidnapped [by security agents], and after two days 75 grams of heroin was implanted in his pocket. [Secondly,] the harassment of schoolgirls who wear [head-] scarves has been increased. Third, loudspeakers in many mosques have been removed again. I think these are enough examples to see that there is new repression of Muslims."

Marat Zakhidov, a chairman of Individual human rights committee, however, says his organization has no new information on abuses by the government:

"One month has passed since 11 September. But there no changes so far. There is no new actions [or repression] in Uzbekistan. We have regular complaints and we know the situation. So far there is no policy change by the Uzbek government."

Some say it is too early to judge whether the human rights situation will worsen.

Others say the Uzbek government has reached its limit in abusing the rights of its citizens and the situation cannot get any worse.

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