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Uzbekistan: Authorities Accuse Opposition Of Receiving Illegal Foreign Funding

  • Bruce Pannier --> Uzbek authorities are accusing political opposition groups of illegally receiving foreign help. The charges may have some basis in fact.

Prague, 25 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Opposition groups in Uzbekistan appear destined for further setbacks. Authorities in the country have served notice to foreign organizations helping the opposition that their aid is neither wanted nor, seemingly, legal.

Authorities in Uzbekistan have been taking a close look at the help foreign organizations are giving to the country's unregistered political parties.

Political organizations such as the Erk Democratic Party and Birlik Popular movement -- both of which have been in existence for more than 10 years and neither of which is officially registered -- have been receiving help from foreign organizations.

Such aid is prohibited to unregistered political organizations in Uzbekistan.

"An official warning was given to the National Democratic Institute [for International Affairs] of the U.S. and the International Republican Institute," said Justice Minister Abdusamat Polvonzoda. "The aforementioned organizations were registered in June 2003 and since then violations of the law [by these organizations] have been noted and confirmed. They were in constant contact with political groups that have not been registered with the proper authorities, for example, the so-called Birlik Popular movement, the Erk Democratic Party and other organizations."

The Justice Ministry argues that the activities of unregistered groups such Erk, Birlik, and another unregistered political body, the Ozod Dehkonlar Partiyasi (Free Peasants Party), are by definition illegal since they are not officially registered. Therefore, groups that help these political organizations are also guilty of violating the law.
Opposition members say Uzbek authorities appear worried about what they call "the Georgian scenario."

The aid the Uzbek authorities are objecting to is not financial support, but the advice and training the foreign-based organizations are supplying to the unregistered parties.

In Uzbekistan, where democratic experience is at best limited, such foreign organizations offer invaluable experience in how parties can be legally established and registered, and how their actions can be coordinated to become more effective in electoral bids.

Uzbek political analyst Bahodyr Musayev said it is the fear that groups like Erk and Birlik could successfully compete in elections that makes authorities so suspicious of the work of foreign organizations.

"The entire meaning of the [justice] minister's speech was aimed at the question of elections," Musayev said. "There is a strategic meaning, an ideology, behind his statement, a message of concern and the alarm of our authorities."

The two organizations mentioned by Polvonzoda -- the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs of the U.S. and the International Republican Institute -- have both worked to aid Erk, Birlik, and Ozod Dehkonlar Partiyasi to register. They have also brought the issue of the groups' repeated failure to register to the attention of the international community.

Polvonzoda said it was the parties themselves, and not the Justice Ministry, that were holding up the registration process.

"I declare officially that no founding documents for registration of, for example, the Erk party, have been received by the Justice Ministry," Polvonzoda said. "All these groundless statements and insinuations carry no weight in showing that in Uzbekistan the laws on political parties are being violated."

In a conversation with RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, Erk leader Atanazar Aripov explained why his party has not sent in its registration documents and made some charges of his own against the Justice Ministry.

"We did not apply [for registration] because on 3 September 1991 we were registered, but then in 1993 the Justice Ministry annulled our registration," Aripov said. "That was against the constitution, against the law. So we are demanding a renewal of the previous registration."

Vasiliya Inoyatova, secretary-general of the Birlik movement, similarly dismissed Polvonzoda's charges that the proper papers had not been filed with the Justice Ministry. She said the Justice Ministry told Birlik that its documents were not in order and some of the signatures of alleged members could not be verified.

"I don't see it as a serious accusation, because our documents were in order and [Polvonzoda] said there were only 450 signatures -- but we have 5,800 members," Inoyatova said. "The ministry said 329 [signatures] were considered fake. These 'fakes' were because the Justice Ministry, through the security service and Interior Ministry, forced some people to sign statements that they did not ever sign up as [Birlik] members, but the remaining 5,500 signatures are still valid and that is enough [to be legally registered]."

Members of the Erk and Ozod Dehkonlar Partiyasi mentioned that Uzbek authorities appear worried about what they call "the Georgian scenario" -- a repeat of last November's "Rose Revolution," when opposition groups demonstrating against electoral irregularities in parliament forced the resignation of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze.

The protests and actions leading up to the resignation were closely followed and often supported on moral grounds by a number of international organizations. It is for this reason, Uzbekistan opposition groups say, that the government is so keen to crack down on aid from foreign groups.