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Waiting For Gulnara

Gulnara Karimova
Gulnara Karimova
The letter begins simply, "Dear Gulnara."

But what follows is a litany of cases documenting some of the worst human rights abuses in the notoriously repressive country of Uzbekistan -- where the Gulnara in question is the daughter of dictatorial leader Islam Karimov.

Andrew Stroehlein, communications director for the International Crisis Group in Brussels, penned the open e-mail to Gulnara Karimova after finding himself engaged in a surprising Twitter debate with the presidential daughter in early December.

Over the course of a two-hour exchange of more than 40 tweets, Stroehlein challenged Karimova, her country's permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva, to address Uzbekistan's abysmal record of jailing and torturing activists and political opponents, forced labor in the cotton industry, and an information blackout on the 2005 Andijon massacre.

Karimova tweeted that she would discuss "each and every" case with Stroehlein once he presented "precise" evidence to back his claims.

Stroehlein's December 12 e-mail does just that, outlining dozens of documented cases, including Uzbekistan's decade-long refusal to allow UN special representatives to enter the country -- an issue he says falls directly under Karimova's purview as UN ambassador.

"This is exactly what she should be doing. She should be facilitating these visits by the special rapporteur on torture and by the people in the UN specifically tied to freedom of religion or violence against women," Stroehlein says. "This is her job."

Karimova, 40, is considered a close ally of her autocratic father and has even been mentioned as a possible successor when the country holds presidential elections in 2015.

She has been described as a "robber baron" who has built her family's fortune, estimated in the billions of dollars, by asset-stripping businesses operating in Uzbekistan and demanding hefty bribes from foreign companies looking to enter the market.

A Swedish TV documentary broadcast on December 12 offered the latest evidence of how Karimova allegedly used a henchman to negotiate a $250 million bribe from the Stockholm-based telecommunications company TeliaSonera in 2007.

Uzbekistan, Central Asia's most-populous nation with 30 million people, is consistently rated among the lowest-ranked countries globally in terms of transparency and human rights.

It is among nine countries listed as the world's worst human rights abusers in the 2012 "Worst of the Worst" report issued by the Freedom House watchdog this week.

Karimova's sudden political engagement on Twitter -- which extended to BBC journalist Natalia Antelava, researcher Nate Schenkkan, and others -- has been welcomed by some as shedding even a sliver of light on what has heretofore been a notoriously opaque regime.

Stroehlein, however, is skeptical the conversation will go further.

"Will she take up any of these issues? I think the chances are very, very slim. But who knows?" he says. "Two weeks ago, no one would have guessed she'd get into a two-hour-long conversation on Twitter, either. So if there's a 0.01 percent chance of something happening, we have to try."

-- Daisy Sindelar

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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