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UZBEKISTAN


 

 

In-depth Business Intelligence

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 9,949 9,713 11,300 91
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 420 450 550 173
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (date from the World Bank)

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REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km) 
447,400 

Population 
26,410,416

Principal 
ethnic groups 
Uzbeks 71.4%
Russians 8.3%
Tajiks 4.7%
Kazaks 4.1%

Capital 
Tashkent 

Currency 
Uzbek Sum

President 
Islam Karimov


Update No: 302- (27/02/06)

Human-rights activist reportedly sentenced in secret trial
Being a human rights activist anywhere in Central Asia requires real courage. Nowhere is this truer than in Uzbekistan. You may end up being boiled or flayed alive, as attested by former UK ambassador to Tashkent, Craig Murray, and many others. The regime is utterly vicious and without compunction. 
More than 150 people have been convicted so far in Uzbekistan in connection with the mass violence in the eastern city of Andijan in May. Most of the trials have been held behind closed doors. Saidjahon Zainabiddinov, a human-rights activist from Andijan and an apparent witness of the violence, is among the defendants. He was arrested in the aftermath of the Andijan demonstrations and some reports suggest he has already been sentenced to a lengthy prison term. 
Zainabiddinov is the head of the Andijan-based Appelyatsiya (Appeal) rights group and monitored the trial of the 23 businessmen that led to the May 13 uprising. 
The 52-year-old became well-known as he gave numerous interviews to international media outlets. He spoke out, condemning the Uzbek government troops' violent actions against protesters as "genocide" and giving a far higher death toll than the government's figure. A week later, he was arrested. 
A spokesman for Uzbekistan's National Security Service, Olimjon Turakulov, said at the time that Zainabiddinov was involved in the planning of the uprising. The regime are great believers in conspiracy theories.
Zainabiddinov's family members have received little information about his case. They have learned that the trial had already started near Tashkent. 
His 75-year-old mother was the only person putatively allowed to attend hearings. However, she was unable to do so in fact, as the family has received no information about the location of the trial. 
Zainabiddinov's son, Ilhomjon, said his grandmother went to several regional courts near Tashkent and to the city police department in quest for her son, but to no avail. "My grandmother went to Quyi-chirchiq regional court [near Tashkent]. But there were no hearings held there," he said. "She asked about a judge whose name was mentioned in a letter [we received] from a bar association. They said he would be in next day. She went there next day and was told the judge went on vacation. Others said there was no trial." 
Zainabiddinov's government-appointed lawyer, Mavluda Akhmedova, refused to speak to the press. 
Surat Ikramov, a Tashkent-based independent human-rights activist, has also been searching for Zainabiddinov. He told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) that he went to a regional court near Tashkent where another closed trial of 15 people was being held on January 12th. 
"I went there and tried to find out whether Saidjahon was among the defendants," Ikramov said. "But it was impossible as police cordoned off the court building. However, I got information from another source that the trial of Saidjahon Zainabiddinov had already finished and he was sentenced to seven years in prison. But this information has yet to be confirmed." 
Foreign journalists accredited by the Uzbek Foreign Ministry were allowed to make a single visit to one of the closed-door hearings in early December, following criticism by human-rights watchdogs. Uzbek authorities deny that hearings have been held behind closed doors, saying only trials of those charged with sexual crimes or concerning state secrets are closed. 
Svetlana Ortiqova, a spokeswoman for Uzbekistan's Prosecutor-General's Office, reiterated that point in an interview with RFE/RL. Concerning Zainabiddinov's trial, she said: "All trials are open. At least, his mother is present, right? If the trial were closed, his mother would not have been let in the courtroom. You see the trial is not something where everyone who wants to attend can do so. The chief judge decides who can attend the hearing because different issues may be discussed, different situations may come up." 
Human-rights watchdogs and foreign governments have criticized the arrest of Zainabiddinov. Maisy Weicherding, a London-based Central Asia researcher with Amnesty International, told RFE/RL that the report of a seven-year prison sentence, if true, is "shocking." 
"I've been worried that this might happen because, you know, there were all these trials in December that were held in secret with no one allowed access and no names of defendants made public," Weicherding said. "So, I think my fear was that Saidjahon was actually amongst some of those defendants. I am obviously shocked by a sentence of seven years. We believe that he should be released unconditionally because we believe he is a prisoner of conscience." 
New York-based Human Right Watch condemned the arrest and has called on the international community to put pressure on the Uzbek government to ensure the safety of Zainabiddinov and other human-rights activists who could be subject to retribution. 
US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, speaking soon after the first post-Andijon arrests, called for the release of those held unless there is credible evidence of criminal actions. "Those arrested must be given due process in accordance with international standards, including credible evidence of criminal behaviour for them to continue to be imprisoned," he said. "If such evidence is not forthcoming, those detained should be released." 
The UN's High Commissioner on Human Rights criticized Uzbekistan's practice of closed trials and said in late December that the Andijon trials should be observed by international monitors to ensure that the rights of defendants are not violated. 
Rights watchdogs say torture is a widespread practice in Uzbekistan's prisons and detention facilities. Amnesty's Weicherding said Zainabiddinov has likely been ill-treated in detention. 
Zainabiddinov's son Ilhomjon told RFE/RL about the only time he saw his father was in late July, after the arrest. "We contacted all institutions in search of [my father]. Then, we got an unexpected phone call from Tashkent. A man introduced himself as an investigator from MVD [Interior Ministry] and said the trial was due to start in few days. He asked me to bring my father's suit and some food. I took the suit, food and went to Tashkent. I was told to go to MVD. So I did. My father was in the MVD basement. We went some six floors down on the elevator. That was the last time I saw him. He looked thinner than usual," Ilhomjon said. 
Meanwhile, in another closed trial, five members of the Birlik unregistered opposition party were sentenced to various prison terms on January 12th. They were detained after the Andijan bloodshed and accused of involvement in the uprising. Four of them were released on suspended sentence.

                                      *****

We repeat the following as a self-explanatory text on the unfolding, and unfortunately deteriorating, situation in Uzbekistan:-

Freedom house becomes latest NGO casualty 
A civil court in Tashkent on February 7th rejected Freedom House's final appeal of a six-month suspension of its activities in Uzbekistan. It took the court only seven minutes to reach the verdict. The appeal was a final attempt by the US-based organization to reverse a decision by the Uzbek Justice Ministry, which ruled that Freedom House violated laws on non-government organizations. Freedom House was specifically charged with providing free Internet access to Uzbeks and hosting unregistered organizations -- including human-rights defenders and political parties. As Uzbek authorities intensify their policy of squashing dissent, Freedom House says it will keep its personnel in Uzbekistan employed while awaiting the end of its six-month suspension. 
There were signs of trouble for Freedom House -- which measures freedom in countries around the world -- at the end of May 2005, shortly after the massacre in the southern city of Andijan, where hundreds of protesters were killed by government troops during a demonstration. 
Lisa Davis, Freedom House's deputy director of programs, says that while holding a training session in Samarkand on May 29th, Freedom House officials were confronted by some 15 people who forced their way into the seminar and accused Freedom House of being Wahhabists -- practitioners of a very rigid form of Islam -- and an enemy of the Uzbek state. 

Employees harassed 
According to Davis, it was a staged event. But even before the Andijan events, she tells RFE/RL, Freedom House employees in Uzbekistan had a tough time. 
"Our local staff, nearly all of them have been interrogated and harassed, including one of our senior program managers, who is Uzbek," she said. "He was dismissed from the university." 
Davis says that Freedom House's initial court proceedings in Tashkent lasted from the beginning of November 2005 until January 11, 2006, when the Justice Ministry decided to suspend the organization. She says that during the initial phase of the case the judge, a woman, acted professionally, even grilling officials from the ministry and allowing Freedom House to present eight witnesses, but ultimately ruled against them. 
Jennifer Windsor, Freedom House's executive director, tells RFE/RL that while the organization will abide by the court decision and has suspended its activities in the country, they are going to keep its staff -- a Serbian, a Croatian, and an Azerbaijani -- on the payroll because it is a crucial time for human rights in Uzbekistan. 
"We don't have any plans to release anyone because we think it is extremely important that Freedom House and the international community continue to provide support and be there for the human-rights defenders during a very, very difficult time for them," she said. 

Questionable Allegations 
Windsor says that while the rejection of the appeal was not entirely unexpected, the charges brought, she says, were spurious. 
"We thought the allegations against us and some of the testimony was ridiculous, and it really shows badly on the Uzbek government's stated commitments to preserve their international obligations [with regard] to human rights," she said. "This is a regime that's really trying to stifle and squash any kind of accurate information dissemination in the country to their own citizens." 
Freedom House's "Freedom in the World" ratings, which have been published annually since 1972, are highly regarded as an accurate assessment on the state of freedom in countries. In the latest, 2006 rating, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan share a dubious distinction: the lowest possible rating on political rights and civil liberties. 
Only six other countries shared that status: North Korea, Libya, Cuba, Syria, Sudan, and Myanmar. Uzbekistan, however, went a notch lower in civil liberties compared to its previous rating. These two former Soviet states' ratings are in stark contrast with Freedom House's consistently higher ratings of the Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s. 
"They're not quite at the bottom of the list yet, countries like North Korea are," Windsor said. "But I would say that given the steps that they are taking, they're going to try to work hard at downgrading [them] even further on this." 

NGOs Under Fire 
Approximately 200 domestic non-profit organizations have been forced to close in Uzbekistan and a number of international NGO's had to leave the country as a result of the crackdown by President Islam Karimov's regime. Among them are Internews and the Open Society Institute. International media including the BBC and RFE/RL have also been compelled to leave in recent months. 
Alexander Cooley, who is an assistant professor of political science at Columbia University and an expert on Central Asian affairs, tells RFE/RL that the expulsion of foreign NGOs has done a lot of damage because they were the only entities in Uzbekistan capable of maintaining dialogue between the West and Uzbek officials after the disengagement between Tashkent and Western powers following the bloodshed in Andijon. That included the Uzbek government telling United States forces to leave an air base in the south of the country. 
"A lot of them actually lamented the expulsion of the base because they saw that as way to retain the connection between the U.S. and Uzbekistan and at least to keep the spotlight on Uzbekistan and keep American interests in Uzbekistan," Cooley said. "My sense is that a lot of these activities have become more difficult after that disengagement." 
RFE/RL's repeated oral and written requests for comment from the Uzbek Embassy in Washington, D.C., went unanswered. 

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ENERGY

Gazprom will buy Uzbek gas at 60 Euro per 1,000 cm 

Gazprom signed documents with Uzbekneftegaz setting the purchase price for Uzbek natural gas and gas transit prices through Uzbekistan, Gazprom said in a press release. A source close to the talks told Interfax that the purchase price for gas is 60 Euro for 1,000 cubic metres and the transit price is 1.10 Euro for 1,000 cubic metres for 100 kilometres. Uzbek president, Islam Karimov, met with Gazprom CEO, Alexei Miller, on January 20th, Interfax News Agency reported.
During the meeting, both sides discussed the future of the company's activity in Uzbekistan, including new projects to produce gas at Ustyurt, in addition to other issues. The presidential press service said that a strategic cooperation agreement between Uzbekneftegaz and Gazprom from 2002 established long-term economic contacts. According to this agreement, Gazprom will help develop the gas transport system in Uzbekistan. The agreement also deals with long-term gas purchases to 2012 and the transportation of Central Asian gas through the republic. "The company's total investment in Uzbekistan will amount to 1.5 billion Euro. Supplies of Uzbek gas to Russia are also growing. If supplies in 2004 amounted to 7.114 billion cubic metres, in 2005 this indicator reached by 1.046 billion cubic metres to 8.15 billion cubic metres," the press service said. The service said that in April 2004 Gazprom and Uzbekneftegaz also signed a production sharing agreement for the exploration of the Shakhpakhty field in Ustyurt region. This agreement is valid for 15 years and involves investment in 2004-2007 of 15 million Euro. The two companies are also expected to sign agreements to develop other gas condensate fields in Ustyurt region. It should also be noted that Gazprom plans to take part in the reconstruction of the Central Asia-Centre pipeline, which passes through Uzbekistan.

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FOREIGN COOPERATION

Tashkent-Tehran boost bilateral cooperation 

The seventh sessions of Iran and Uzbekistan's joint economic and commercial commission was recently held in Tehran. Iranian Ambassador to Uzbekistan, Mohammad Fat'hali, said that during the session, the officials of both countries discussed bilateral cooperation in trade and commerce, banking, finance, insurance, transportation, transit and communication, industry, technical and engineering services, agriculture and animal husbandry, Interfax News Agency reported.
Bilateral cooperation between Iran and Uzbekistan is increasing in various fields especially in the economic, trade and industrial areas. The officials of both countries also signed several documents of cooperation, which enhances the bilateral cooperation. The last document on bilateral cooperation signed by the Uzbek deputy prime minister and Iranian Commerce Minister, Massoud Mir-Kazemi, in Tehran in January was put down in an agreement for cooperation among the two countries private sectors. The Iranian diplomat said, "Tehran and Tashkent are currently members of the ECO and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). They share common stances in the fight against terrorism and illicit drug smuggling and establishment of security in the region."
"Economic cooperation between Iran and Uzbekistan can serve to meet several needs of the two countries," Fat'hali said. He added Iran is an appropriate market for Uzbekistan's agricultural products. The ambassador said Uzbekistan is seriously promoting its auto-manufacturing industry, adding Iranian industrialists can cooperate with the opposite side thanks to Iran's great achievements.
Iran is also the best route for Uzbekistan to have access to international waters to export its goods while Uzbekistan is a transit route for Iranian lorries to Kazakstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. 
Beside ground and railway transportation, Tehran and Tashkent have set up a direct flight once a week. Iran and Uzbekistan enjoy great potentials for expansion of tourism cooperation.

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MINERALS & METALS

Almalyk Combine invests in concentrating plant 

Uzbekistan's Almalyk Mining and Metals Combine invested eight million Euro in the flotation unit of its concentrating plant in 2005 to increase annual capacity to process copper ore to 14.8 mil-lion tonnes from 11.9 million tonnes, an official at Almalyk said Interfax News Agency reported.
The St. Petersburg-based SP ZAO RIVS supplied and installed the new equipment, without disrupting routine operations, the source said. Almalyk has drafted a 347.5 million Euro programme of upgrades for the period 2002-2010 with the aim of boosting annual copper production from the combine's own ore to 102,000 tonnes and gold production to 11 tonnes. Almalyk, which is Uzbekistan's only copper producer, also produces 90 per cent of Uzbekistan's silver and 20 per cent of its gold. It consists of two mining enterprises, two concentrating plants and two metallurgical plants. Annual output exceeds 220 million Euro in value, and the combine exports around 70 per cent of its output. Almalyk, which is based in the Tashkent region, mines the Kalmakyr and Sary-Cheku copper-porphyry fields in the Tashkent region itself and the Uch-Kulach lead-zinc-barium field in the Jizak region.

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TELECOMMUNICATIONS

Vimpelcom to expand into Uzbekistan 

Russia's second-largest mobile operator, VimpelCom, announced on January 18th that it bought two Uzbek mobile providers for a total of US$275.8 million, reported Interfax News Agency.
It bought 100 per cent of Bakrie Uzbekistan Telecom LLC (Buztel), the fourth-largest GSM operator in Uzbekistan, for US$60 million plus about US$2.4 million in assumed debt. Vimpelcom agreed to buy Unitel LLC, the second-largest cellular operator in Uzbekistan for US$200 million plus about US$13.4 million in assumed debt. Telenor ASA affiliated VimpelCom plans to merge Buztel into Unitel. 'VimpelCom's entry into Uzbekistan will bring our licensed population coverage to a total of over US$230 million people,' said Alexander Izosimov, chief executive of VimpelCom. 'This is the fourth market outside of Russia that VimpelCom has entered as the company continues to execute its CIS growth strategy,' he added. 
Both mobile operators hold national GSM-900 and 1800 licences. Vimpelcom plans to merge Buztel into Unitel as soon as possible. Vimpelcom's board of directors approved both transactions, and the purchase of Unitel was expected to close in mid-February, subject to regulatory approvals. The acquisitions bring Vimpelcom' s total population coverage to over 230 million. Vimpelcom hopes to greatly improve the availability of mobile services in Uzbekistan.

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