(Washington, DC--September 29, 2005) Uzbekistan's increasingly isolated totalitarian government keeps itself in power through massive human rights violations and a system of slave labor, according to an expert on Uzbekistan. Former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray told a recent RFE/RL audience in Washington that "the Uzbek government is not a model of Southeast Asian development; rather, it is much closer to North Korea."
"Torture," said Murray "is the tip of totalitarian state control in Uzbekistan." According to Murray, there are at least 10,000 political prisoners in Uzbekistan and 99 percent of all trials in Uzbekistan result in confessions. Murray, who "fell out" with his government" over policies in Uzbekistan," claimed that much of the information passed to the British MI-5 and other intelligence agencies is unreliable, because prisoners are tortured and their children and relatives are threatened with torture. "The intelligence is rubbish," he said, "people who have been tortured will sign up for anything."
"The Uzbek economy is not reforming," according to Murray. With "60 percent of the Uzbek population tied to the rural kolkhoz system," Murray said these "serfs or bonded labor," particularly on the state cotton farms, assure a cheap labor force for the government while dampening political dissent. An average wage for farm workers is two dollars per month, Murray said, while an Uzbek factory worker earns on average 28 dollars per month and even those are "paid months in arrears, or often in-kind." According to Murray, "one-third of the population, including children as young as six or seven, are dragooned" to help with the cotton harvest.
Murray also described the Karimov government's economic stranglehold in Uzbekistan. Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Uzbekistan has "dried up," Murray said, because foreign investors are treated poorly. Murray said that he thinks Uzbekistan is "looking to Gazprom and the Russian government" as a model of economic development. According to Murray, President Karimov fears that "a little liberalization would lead to independent thought" in Uzbekistan, so the Russian business model is the one most helpful to Karimov. Murray is "not surprised" by the trial of 23 businessmen in Andijon earlier this year, because "the [Uzbek] government can't stand any private sector to exist outside the control of the [government] party."
Murray concluded that, until recently, Western governments were "complicit" in the actions of the Uzbek government by permitting "certification [for continued foreign aid]." He urged the international community to apply more pressure on the Uzbek government over its violations of human rights.