WELCOME TO IWPR'S REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA, No. 513 Part 1, October 26, 2007

LEADING JOURNALIST MURDERED IN SOUTH KYRGYZSTAN  Alisher Saipov was a highly 
respected journalist who made it his mission to write for Central Asian as well 
as foreign readers.  By Kumar Bekbolotov in Bishkek

EU’S EASING OF UZBEK SANCTIONS “ABSURD”  European foreign ministers accused of 
placing energy interests over human rights.  By Inga Sikorskaya in Bishkek

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LEADING JOURNALIST MURDERED IN SOUTH KYRGYZSTAN

Alisher Saipov was a highly respected journalist who made it his mission to 
write for Central Asian as well as foreign readers.

By Kumar Bekbolotov in Bishkek

There must be something deeply wrong with our society if the life of one of our 
brightest, youngest journalists can be stolen away so easily. 

When we heard the news that Alisher Saipov had been murdered in cold blood, our 
initial reaction was not to believe it – it just couldn’t be him.

Alisher, who was 26, was a prominent journalist working in Osh in southern 
Kyrgyzstan. He was known for his courageous first-hand reporting not only on 
Kyrgyzstan but also on neighbouring Uzbekistan. 

He was murdered on the evening of October 24 on the city’s main thoroughfare, 
Masaliev Street. Someone shot him three times with a pistol.

I met him two weeks ago in Bishkek, and he was proud to share his stories of 
sleepless nights as he helped his wife take care of their two-month old 
daughter.

Alisher filed several excellent stories for IWPR in 2005 on developments in 
southern Kyrgyzstan, and was recently a trainee and consultant at a workshop 
for IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia news agency project. 

He was a friend to IWPR and its Central Asia team, who looked up to him as a 
model of journalistic grit and courage. 

A long-term correspondent for the Uzbek services of Voice of America and Radio 
Liberty (RFE/RL), he had earlier been editor-in-chief of two Osh newspapers, 
and regional editor of the Fergana.ru news agency. 

Most recently, he founded an Uzbek-language newspaper called Siyosat (Politics) 
and was its chief editor. 

“We hope to win readers by providing objective information… the paper will 
differ from others by providing balanced information and analysis,” Alisher 
said when he launched the paper earlier this year. 

Siyosat soon became extremely popular not only in the Kyrgyz part of the 
Ferghana Valley, but also in neighbouring regions of Uzbekistan. Alisher told 
how Uzbeks of all kinds - traders and farmers - would cross the border into 
Kyrgyzstan just to get their copy of Siyosat.

The last entry on the newspaper’s blog which he produced (at 
http://siyosat.uzbek.kg) was headlined “Bye, Bye, Bye”. The piece was about a 
poem in an Uzbekistan newspaper lauding the cotton harvest in Andijan, but the 
title now looks like an ominous portent. 

Alisher was young and full of ambitions, all cut short by his murder. An ethnic 
Uzbek, he was a patriotic citizen of Kyrgyzstan and also of Central Asia as a 
whole, not least in his reporting on Uzbekistan. 

He set great store by the highest standards of journalism, and saw his mission 
as being to provide information to the average person in the region. 

Perhaps for that reason, the Central Asian internet space witnessed an 
unprecedented smear campaign against him in recent months, with numerous 
articles posted depicting Alisher as an enemy of Uzbekistan and urging the 
Kyrgyz authorities to take action against him. Some of these postings were 
anonymous; if they were signed, the likelihood is that pseudonyms were used.

“Saipov’s activities are directed against the constitutional foundations of 
Uzbekistan,” said one of these stories. 

Another alleged that he had contacts with Islamic extremists and darkly hinted 
at “concerns for his future”.

Earlier this month, Alisher told us that a Fergana Valley regional television 
station in Uzbekistan had aired a programme attacking what it said was his 
“anti-Uzbek” attitude. 

Whoever is behind this terrible murder, it crosses an important line – it is 
the first time a journalist has been killed in so brazen a fashion in 
Kyrgyzstan. 

It is now incumbent on the Kyrgyz authorities to ensure that an investigation 
takes place under proper supervision and that the culprits are identified and 
punished appropriately. 

Kumar Bekbolotov is IWPR’s Central Asia Programme Director.


EU’S EASING OF UZBEK SANCTIONS “ABSURD”

European foreign ministers accused of placing energy interests over human 
rights.

By Inga Sikorskaya in Bishkek

Human rights activists in Uzbekistan and abroad have been left angry and 
disappointed at the European Union’s decision to relax sanctions against the 
country’s government, in the face of strong evidence that the regime is as 
oppressive as ever.

On October 15-16, EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg decided to suspend 
visa restrictions against eight top Uzbek officials who are accused of playing 
a part in the bloody suppression of a demonstration in the eastern city of 
Andijan in May 2005.

While official figures say 189 people were killed and over 500 wounded when 
Uzbek security forces opened fire on crowds of peaceful demonstrators in 
central Andijan on May 13 that year, some human rights groups have calculated 
that the figure is closer to 800.

In the wake of the uprising, the Uzbek authorities arrested anyone who they 
thought was involved in the protest or who even witnessed it, before embarking 
on a general crackdown on human rights activists and other dissenters across 
the country, and driving out the few remaining foreign organisations involved 
in civil-society, media development, and more innocuous cultural assistance 
programmes.

Civil society groups are angered at the EU’s decision to lift almost all 
sanctions against a country which they say continues to have one of the most 
authoritarian regimes in the world.

Surat Ikramov, the head of the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights 
Advocates of Uzbekistan, said relaxing sanctions was “absurd” because no 
international investigation into Andijan is even on the horizon.

“I think the EU should apply the kind of sanctions that any state would respond 
to,” he said. 

As things stand, he said, “the Uzbek authorities are very flexible – they can 
certainly agree to dialogue and negotiations, but they will not fulfill 
conditions”. 

The EU sanctions were imposed in November 2005, after President Islam Karimov's 
government continued to refuse to allow an independent international inquiry 
into the massacre, first requested by United Nations human rights commissioner 
Louise Arbour and then by the US government. 

The sanctions included a partial suspension of the Partnership and Cooperation 
Agreement which governs EU-Uzbek relations; an embargo on EU sales of weapons 
to Uzbekistan and a year-long visa ban on 12 top officials believed to have 
played a role in the use of force against demonstrators.

Despite Tashkent’s continuing refusal to allow an investigation, and much 
evidence suggesting there had been no substantive improvements to the human 
rights situation, EU foreign ministers lifted visa restrictions against four of 
the 12 officials on the travel blacklist when the sanctions came up for review 
in May 2007. 

Human rights groups monitoring the situation in Uzbekistan judged that the 
already poor human rights situation deteriorated sharply after Andijan, and 
showed no sign of improvement during the “dialogue” instituted with Tashkent 
after the sanctions were prolonged in November 2006. (See IWPR’s story – 
“Should EU End Sanctions Against Uzbekistan?” RCA No. 492, 11-May-07 
http://iwpr.net/?p=rca&s=f&o=335486&apc_state=henh)

Explaining its latest decision, the Council of the European Union said in a 
press release that it “remains seriously concerned about the human rights 
situation in Uzbekistan” and that the arms embargo and visa restrictions 
therefore would remain in place for another 12 months. However, in order to 
“encourage[e] the Uzbek authorities to take positive steps to improve the human 
rights situation”, the visa restrictions were being suspended for six months.

In return, the Uzbek government has to make “progress” towards meeting a number 
of benchmarks, which includes releasing human rights activists from prison, 
allowing non-government organisations to operate freely, and giving access to 
International Committee of the Red Cross visit detention centres.

The EU indicated that it had eased sanctions because of “positive steps” such 
as the Uzbek government’s increased willingness to engage in dialogue, the 
holding of “expert talks” on Andijan, and the conditional release of human 
rights defenders Umida Niazova and Gulbahor Turaeva, who were both imprisoned 
earlier this year after flawed trials. 

The eight listed Uzbek security officials are still held “directly responsible 
for indiscriminating and disproportionate use of force in Andijan and the 
obstruction of an independent inquiry”, according to the EU statement, but they 
will now be free to travel to Europe for the next six months, and longer if the 
EU judges that progress has been made.

The serving officials listed are National Security Service chief Rustam 
Inoyatov; Ruslan Mirzoev, currently defence minister and formerly National 
Security Council adviser; Major-General Vladimir Mamo, deputy commander of the 
interior ministry’s special forces; Colonel Gregory Pak, commander of the 
ministry’s rapid reaction forces; Colonel Valery Tajiev, head of a special 
forces unit in the interior ministry; and Colonel Pavel Ergashev, who unlike 
the others commanded an armed forces unit under the defence ministry. 

Two retired officials feature on the list – former interior minister Zokirjon 
Almatov and his deputy at the time Tohir Mullajonov. 

According to Human Rights Watch and the Organisation for Security and 
Cooperation in Europe, human rights advocates and thousands of people who were 
imprisoned on charges of religious extremism are still languishing in Uzbek 
prisons. Numerous reports over the years have documented flawed trials, 
fabricated cases, and the frequent torture of detainees. 

“The argument being made is that with the Uzbek government angry, it is not 
possible to discuss human rights,” said Holly Cartner of Human Rights Watch. 
“But the point of the sanctions isn’t empty dialogue - it’s to change behaviour 
- and on that score Tashkent has only gone backwards, including by keeping 13 
human rights defenders in custody.” 

One Tashkent-based political analyst said the easing of sanctions should be 
seen not as a reward for past progress, but rather as an incentive for the 
Uzbek government to do better from now on. 

“It’s a kind of signal that they should correct the situation and think along 
those lines. Europe is always open to dialogue and if Uzbekistan undertakes 
actions that meet the requirements, then it can count on something [in 
return],” he said

Vitaly Ponomarev, a Central Asia expert with the Russian human rights group 
Memorial, does not believe the EU decision was backed by such lofty motives. 
Instead, he argues that Europe’s hunger for Central Asian energy is taking 
precedence over human rights. 

“This is an attempt by some EU members to use the softening of sanctions to 
expand their geopolitical presence,” he told IWPR. “So one can hardly expect to 
see any positive effect in terms of an improvement in the human rights 
situation.” 

The EU approved a new strategy for Central Asia in June. Developed under 
Germany's presidency, it aims to build the EU’s political presence and 
influence in the region and seek access to energy resources. 

Uzbekistan is a major natural gas producer, with the bulk of its exports going 
to Russia, Europe’s major supplier.

Following the EU meeting, European Commissioner for External Relations Benita 
Ferrero-Waldner confirmed that the sanctions were eased in the context of the 
new approach to Central Asia. 

“I think we have to at least try… it's the most populous country [in the 
region], it is a country in our Central Asian strategy; I don't think we should 
just leave it out. I think we should engage with them and clearly try to work 
step by step in order to improve the situation of human rights," she said, in 
remarks quoted by RFE/RL.

Germany has used its EU presidency to lobby for sanctions to be lifted 
altogether, although it was opposed by some other member governments. The 
official German view of sanctions was apparent right from the start, when it 
allowed Almatov to visit the country for medical treatment in November 2005. 

Some analysts say EU sanctions have had no impact on the Uzbek government, 
other than to provoke it into restricting the activities of international 
organisations and foreign media while continuing to repress dissidents.

Akylbek Saliev, the director of the Bishkek-based Central Asian Institute for 
Strategic Analysis and Prognosis said the visa ban and arms embargo “looked 
ridiculous” and “had no real impact on the authorities or the population”. 

This was because Uzbekistan sources most of its weapons in Russia, not Europe, 
while the officials denied entry from Europe were not relevant to economic 
deal-making, he said.

In Uzbekistan, a new round of mass arrests began last month, in what is being 
portrayed as a counter-terrorism sweep. Local observers say many of the charges 
are patently fabricated.

“Karimov’s government does not regard human rights as a priority. The 
persecution and oppression continue,” said an Uzbek journalist who asked to 
remain anonymous. “I harboured this last hope that EU sanctions would make the 
authorities responsive on this issue. I’m very unhappy about the lifting of 
sanctions,” 

On the streets of Tashkent, many people appeared unaware of news that the 
sanctions had been relaxed - the heavily-censored media meant they had simply 
not heard about it.

One local man who did know about the sanctions said the decision to lift most 
of them would not prompt the government to change its ways.

“Removing barriers is no incentive,” he said. “If there is no barrier, then no 
Uzbek official will have any fear, and they will be to conduct actions similar 
to the one in Andijan again. That’s what we are afraid of.” 

Inga Sikorskaya is an IWPR editor in Bishkek.

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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA provides the international community with a unique 
insiders' perspective on the region. Using our network of local journalists, 
the service publishes news and analysis from across Central Asia on a weekly 
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The service forms part of IWPR's Central Asia Project based in Almaty, Bishkek, 
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local and international understanding of the region.

IWPR's Reporting Central Asia is supported by the UK Community Fund. The 
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The opinions expressed in Reporting Central Asia are those of the authors and 
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REPORTING CENTRAL ASIA: Editor-in-Chief: Anthony Borden; Managing Editor: Yigal 
Chazan; Senior Editor: John MacLeod; Central Asia Editor: Saule 
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