Uzbekistan arrests another opposition leader

Sanjar Umarov, a prominent opposition leader in Uzbekistan, was arrested Oct. 22 on embezzlement charges, and is being held incommunicado. Members of his group, Sunshine Uzbekistan say they still do not know the exact whereabouts of their leader. The group, which is calling for free market reforms in the authoritarian Central Asian republic, says the charges are fabricated. The offices of the opposition group were searched by dozens of plainclothes police the same day as the arrest, and a large number of documents were taken away. Two other members of the group have also been arrested.

The state prosecutor’s office said Umarov is charged with stealing an undisclosed sum of money through his business dealings. But Sunshine Uzbekistan officials said Umarov no longer had any business interests in Uzbekistan.

A week ago, Umarov wrote an open letter to the Uzbek parliament calling on deputies to begin talks with the opposition – if necessary, over the head of the increasingly unpopular hard-line president, Islam Karimov. The letter said people no longer believed the government, which was engaged in what it called an “hysterical” search for enemies.

Karimov’s government has banned most opposition parties and tolerates little public criticism. (BBC, Oct. 24)

See our last post on repression in Uzbekistan.