They were comments apparently too hot even for his own country's state-controlled media to handle.
During a visit to Moscow last week, Uzbek President Islam Karimov met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, during which the topic of population growth and family planning came up.
Now, you may remember that international rights groups have long accused
the government in Uzbekistan -- at around 30 million, Central Asia's most populous nation -- of practicing a state policy of forced sterilization in an effort to control its birthrate.
It's a charge that Tashkent vehemently denies
, going so far as to say that its family planning program could serve as a model for other states around the world.
Surgical contraception is performed only as a last resort, health authorities say, and only at the patient's request.
According to a transcript provided by the Kremlin
, Karimov told Putin:
Uzbekistan is not a small country in the post-Soviet space. Uzbekistan’s population today is nearly 30 million people. I am not saying that the population is growing rapidly: Unlike Russia, we are doing everything we can to make sure that the population growth rate does not exceed 1.2 to 1.3.
As first noted by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service
It is our firm belief that given the present situation and our current prospects and resources, which include first of all water, territory, and arable land, our main challenge is to provide everything our people need, and most importantly to make sure that the future generation lives better than we do, and is smarter and happier than we are.
From this perspective, we try to use public campaigns, education, and health care to ensure that population growth corresponds to economic growth. Our children should enjoy the same standards of living as children in the most developed countries. I have deviated somewhat, but this issue has a direct bearing on our bilateral personal relations.
, however, the version of that exchange as reported by the popular "Axborot" news show differed significantly. It made no mention of Uzbekistan's population growth rate, nor of "public campaigns, education and health care" -- all in an apparent effort to avoid even the merest suggestion that Uzbekistan engages in state-sponsored birth control.
Here's the edited audio (in Russian):
As Nathan Hamm speculates
Placing Karimov’s comment in the context of how Uzbekistan’s government works, this looks as close to an admission that the state is indeed engaged in suppressing the birthrate as one could ever expect. For every one of the government’s sinister policies, there is a tame explanation from the highest levels of government. If forced labor in cotton is just “children helping their families earn an income,” “job training,” or “a peculiarity of national culture,” then it’s not hard to interpret a “public awareness, education, and health care” campaign to keep birthrates low to be referring to a campaign going back more than a decade that forces contraception and sterilization on women in rural areas.