Uzbekistan: opposition leader imprisoned

This doesn’t sound very good, does it? From the BBC, March 1:

An opposition leader in Uzbekistan has been jailed for 10 years for economic crimes, a Tashkent court has said. Nadira Khidoyatova of opposition group Sunshine Uzbekistan was found guilty of tax evasion and money laundering.

Relatives of Ms Khidoyatova, who denied the charges, have called the process a show trial, and rights groups said it was politically motivated.

The Uzbek government has cracked down on all dissent since a bloody uprising in the city of Andijan last May.

Another Sunshine Uzbekistan leader, Sanjar Umarov, is on trial for similar charges. Prosecutors last week called for him to be jailed for 18 years.

Nadira Khidoyatova was arrested in December 2005 at Tashkent Airport after she returned from Moscow, where she had criticised the Uzbek government’s repressive economic policies and its actions in Andijan.

Eyewitnesses say that Uzbek troops killed hundreds of protesters in the city, though the government says it put down an uprising of Islamic militants.

‘Strange behaviour’

According to her sister, Ms Khidoyatova behaved strangely in court.

At a court hearing in January she appeared holding a Bible in her hand and said she would defend herself without a lawyer.

The sister said she suspected Ms Khidoyatova had been under psychological pressure from the authorities.

Mr Umarov’s family are also concerned about his health and say they fear he has been drugged while in detention.

More than 150 people have been sentenced to long prison terms in connection with the Andijan events.

Authorities are also cracking down on the activities of Western NGOs and rights groups in Uzbekistan. Freedom House has been ordered closed pending an investigation. (AKIPress, Kyrgyzstan, March 6) Facing the threat of similar charges of illegal political activities, the Eurasia Foundation has ceased operations in Uzbekistan. (RFE/RL, March 6)

All of which points unambiguously to a tilt away from Washington—and, ipso facto, towards Moscow—on the part of Islam Karimov’s ugly regime. Which again raises the question: how do we offer solidarity to Uzbekistan’s beseiged pro-democracy opposition without playing into the hands of neocon conspiracies? Is it even possible? Are we crypto-neocons ourselves for even raising the possibility? Or is the threat of co-optation by the neocons all the more reason for progressives in the West to establish ties of solidarity with the opposition in Uzbekistan (and Turkmenistan, Belarus, etc.?)

See our last post on Uzbekistan and the Great Game for Central Asia.