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Outspoken Uzbek Critic Assaulted In Tajikistan

Ethnic Uzbek lawyer Salim Shamsiddinov
Ethnic Uzbek lawyer Salim Shamsiddinov
KHATLON, Tajikistan -- An outspoken critic of the Uzbek and Tajik governments has reportedly been beaten by unknown assailants near his home in the Tajik town of Qurghon-Teppa.

Ethnic Uzbek Salim Shamsiddinov, 57, said three men attacked him on May 5, causing injuries to his head and legs. Shamsiddinov said he was rescued by a passing police officer.

The attack occurred the same day that Shamsiddinov was dismissed in absentia from his post as deputy chairman of the Foundation of Uzbeks in Tajikistan and head of the Foundation of Uzbeks in Khatlon province.

He is a lawyer by profession.

Police officials in the southern Khatlon province confirmed the incident, but declined to give details.

Shamsiddinov has been receiving medical treatment at home, saying he is "too afraid" about his security to stay in hospital.

Strained Relations

Shamsiddinov has suggested the attack could be linked to recent media interviews in which he blamed Tajik government policies for "straining relationships" with neighboring Uzbekistan.

"Ordinary people don't attack you like that," he said. "I was targeted because of my interviews. This attack must have been ordered by some important people."
Shamsiddinov is recuperating at home because he says he would fear for his safety in a hospital.
Shamsiddinov is recuperating at home because he says he would fear for his safety in a hospital.
In a string of interviews to Tajik media, including to the "Millat" (Nation) newspaper, Shamsiddinov suggested that certain officials within the Tajik government are pursuing "nationalistic" policies.

He complained that many ethnic Uzbeks in Khalton have no access to education in their mother tongue.

In his interviews, Shamsuddinov criticized local authorities in Khatlon for allegedly closing down Uzbek-language classes in several schools.

Tensions Over Water

Shamsiddinov also questioned Tajikistan's ambitious project to complete the Roghun hydroelectric power plant, a plan strongly opposed by Uzbekistan.

Tashkent has complained that the Roghun power plant will leave Uzbekistan facing severe water shortages downstream.

Shamsiddinov is also a critic of Uzbek authorities.

He has accused both governments of pursuing the "wrong" policies toward each other, and also undermining ethnic minorities' rights.

He has dubbed both Dushanbe and Tashkent's treatment of ethnic minorities a "form of genocide."

In an open letter published in the media, the Foundation of Uzbeks in Tajikistan said that Shamsiddinov's recent interviews reflect his own opinions and do not represent the foundation's standpoint on these issues.

Nonetheless, the foundation pointed out that it does support Shamsiddinov's points of view.

Tajikistan and Uzbekistan have long had strained relations due to disputes over water and energy resources as well as transit routes.