‘Dictator’s Daughter’ Gulnara’s tweets & Uzbekistan’s forced sterilizations

Gulnara Karimova is a woman who “over the years has been many things,” the BBC’s Natalia Antelava writes in The New Yorker:

Uzbekistan’s Ambassador to Spain and permanent representative to the United Nations, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist, a Harvard student, a patron to Uzbekistan’s fledgling fashion industry, a jewelry designer, a pop star, and, most recently, the country’s best known twitterer. Gerard Depardieu has just agreed to star in a film based on a screenplay she wrote. None of these carefully constructed roles can compete with the one that Gulnara Karimova is evidently uncomfortable with: the daughter and rumored successor of Islam Karimov, who is, indeed, Uzbekistan’s dictator.

“In Uzbekistan, Gulnara, who is forty, is feared no less than her father, who has run the Central Asian nation since it was a Soviet Republic and he was Party Secretary,” writes Antelava, whose investigation into forced sterilizations in the central Asian state recently won one of the UK’s top Foreign Press Association awards for the best radio program of 2012.

Sadly, it’s a scandal that is unlikely to feature in Gulnara’s tweeting, but which continues to raise disturbing questions, according to a new report from News Briefing Central Asia.

“The Improvement of Mother and Child Health Services program is a joint effort by the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF, the European Union and the Uzbek health ministry. Four years after the program began, Uzbek hospitals continue to carry out forcible sterilizations of women, a practice that activists say UNICEF and the EU need to address,” the agency reports:  

Some months after Zulkhumor, a 28-year-old from Navoi region in western Uzbekistan, gave birth to her second child by Caesarean section, she discovered she had been given a hysterectomy.

“There are secret instructions that women who’ve had two children should have their fallopian tubes tied or their uterus removed during labour, to prevent them having any more children,” she said. “Friends of mine have fallen victim to the same medical procedures as me – it’s common practice in Navoi and other towns.”

Independent experts on the ground, however, say medical provision for mothers and children remains poor, and the government’s international partners appear either to be taken in by its claims, or to be ignoring the facts.

This article was produced as part of News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

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Taliban target Malala discharged from UK hospital

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl shot in the head three months ago by the Taliban for advocating the education of girls, has been discharged from a British hospital,” The New York Times reports.

“Doctors said she had made ‘excellent progress’ and would be staying with her family nearby before returning for further surgery to rebuild her skull in about four weeks.”

The attack on Malala prompted calls to strengthen Muslim democrats’ capacity to combat extremist ideology.

Radical extremism can only be defeated through a long-term, sustained war of ideas conducted by Muslim democrats and modernizers within their own communities, said Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s  former envoy to the US and a professor of international relations at Boston University.

“Eventually, the United States will have to find Muslim allies who help limit the influence of ideas or organizations that turn some young Muslims into terrorists,” he argued. ‘Washington has made few efforts toward that end, depending on friendly autocrats or whoever manages to get elected instead of working to strengthen modernizing democrats who share Western values.”

The attack came shortly after Malala was awarded a Civic Courage Prize by the Centre for Civic Education in Islamabad on September 15, International Democracy Day.

The Centre for Civic Education is a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance NGO.

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Rights groups call for urgent action on detained Vietnamese dissident blogger

Two leading international rights groups have called for ‘urgent intervention’ in the case of an imprisoned Vietnamese human rights lawyer and blogger.


The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), was informed of Quan’s arbitrary detention by the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) about the arbitrary detention of Mr. Le Quoc Quan (above).

The Washington-based World Movement for Democracy also issued a special alert on the case:

According to the Wall Street Journal, Vietnamese police arrested well-known dissident blogger Le Quoc Quan on December 28 while he was dropping off his daughter at school. Mr. Quan, who was in residence at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) on a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowship in 2006-07, has written extensively on human rights abuses in Vietnam, and has been detained by the authorities multiple times because of his pro-democracy views. 

Radio Free Asia reports that Mr. Quan was jailed for three months in 2007 and was freed only after protests from the United States. In August 2012, he was beaten by police in an attack, and had begun carrying a golf-club for self-defense.

The World Movement for Democracy calls for Le Quoc Quan’s immediate release, and demands the Vietnamese government cease its surveillance and harassment of Mr. Quan and his family. We also strongly urge the Vietnamese government to respects its citizens’ right to engage in the free exchange of ideas and opinions online.

The FIDH and OMCT request the following actions:

Please write to the authorities in Viet Nam urging them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Le Quoc Quan, Dieu Cay, Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan,as well as of all human rights defenders in Viet Nam;

ii. Release Messrs. Le Quoc Quan, Dieu Cay, Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan immediately and unconditionally as their detention seems to merely sanction their human rights activities and is contrary to national and international law;

iii. Put an end to all acts harassment, including at the judicial level, against Messrs. Le Quoc Quan, Dieu Cay, Phan Thanh Hai and Ms. Ta Phong Tan, as well as against all human rights defenders in Viet Nam;

iv. Comply with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular:

- its Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,

- as well as Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

v. More generally, ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Viet Nam.


  • · H.E. Mr. Pham Binh Minh, Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1 Ton That Dam St., Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-37992000; 080 48235; Fax: 84-4-38231872 –84-4-37992682, Email: bc.mfa@mofa.gov.vn
  • · H.E. Mr. Nguyen Thai Binh, Minister of Interior, 37A Nguyen Binh Khiem St., Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-39764116 – 84-4-39764278; Fax: 84-4-39781005
  • · H.E. Mr. Ha Hung Cuong, Minister of Justice, 56-60 Tran Phu St., Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-37336213 – 84-4-37338068; Fax: 84-4-38431431
  • · H.E. Mr. Tran Dai Quang, Minister of Public Security, 44 Yet Kieu St., Hoan Kiem District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-069 42545 – 84-4-048 226602; Fax: 84-4-9420223
  • · H.E. Mr. Vu Duc Dam, Minister, Office of the Government (OOG), 1 Hoang Hoa Tham St. Ba Dinh District, Hanoi, Vietnam; Tel: 84-4-80 43100; 84-4-80 43569; Fax: 84-4-80 44130
  • · H.E. Mr V? D?ng, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotential, Permanent Representative, 30 chemin des Corbillettes, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, Geneva, Switzerland; Tel (Assistant): +41 022-791 85 40; Phone: +41 (0) 22 791 85 40; Fax: +41 (0) 22-798 07 24; Email : info@vnmission-ge.gov.vn

HE Mr. PHAM Sanh Chau, Ambassador, Boulevard Général Jacques 1, 1050 Brussels, Belgium. Tel: +32 (0)2 379 27 37; Fax : +32 (0)2 374 93 76; Email: vnemb.brussels@skynet.be / unescochau@yahoo.com

Please also write to the embassies of Viet Nam in your respective country. Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

  • · E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
  • · Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
  • · Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

For more information, go to:

BBC News, “Court appeal of dissident Vietnam bloggers is rejected.

Radio Free Asia, “Vietnamese Blogger Detained.

Democracy Digest, “Hey John Kerry, free Le Quoc Quan.

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Sudan cracks down on NGOs’ dissident voices

Sudan’s government is targeting civil society in an attempt to stifle the country’s few remaining independent voices, says an official of a leading NGO.  

“They don’t want anybody who will find a venue and the forum to tell truth to power. The civil society is the only body that is doing this job because the media is totally under the control of the government,” said Al-Baqir Mukhtar, director of the Al-Khatim Adlan (above) Center for Enlightenment and Human Development (KACE). The Khartoum authorities recently revoked KACE’s registration and closed four other rights groups on the grounds that they were promoting a “political agenda,” allegations Mukhtar vehemently rejects.  

“We don’t follow any political agenda. If you speak about democracy, if you speak about peace, is that political agenda? We are civil society. We speak about cultural reforms; we speak about educational reform; we speak about peace through non-violence. If they consider this political, then they are wrong,” he told VOA.

Security forces also arrested Abdallah Abu Al-Reesh, the executive director of the Sudanese Studies Center, after activists delivered a petition against the center’s closure to the National Human Rights Commission.

Sudan’s first Vice President this week cited a favorite book of Osama bin-Laden to defend the suppression of pro-democracy NGOs.

Ali Osman Taha told Sudan TV that NGOs were used by foreign intelligence agencies as an “interface” to promote their agendas. But a preliminary examination of the conspiratorial text does not verify Taha’s claims, the Sudan Tribune reports.

Contrary to such assertions, KACE operates openly and transparently, and enjoys a diverse range of funding, the Tribune reports:

Many of its different activities are funded by foreign embassies in Khartoum, and international foundations. KACE is also working on a project about the reform of school curriculum funded by the National Endowment for Democracy and another one related to the civil society participation in public affairs supported by the Open Society Institute.

KACE has filed a petition with the Sudan Human Rights Commission because civil society groups feel under attack, said Mukhtar (right). He rejects government allegations that civil society groups are a voice of the West and criticized obscure rules governing the receipt of foreign funds without prior official approval.

“The government said that, but the government does not give any guideline as to how you get this approval. Is it before we apply for the funds, or is it after we applied and get the approval from the donor?” he said.

NGOs filed a lawsuit in 2006 against the government’s insistence on prior permission before receiving any foreign donations, but the case has not been decided. In the meantime, KACE will pursue both legal and active campaigning approaches to challenging the crackdown.

“All the top lawyers of Sudan came to our support, and they already prepared the petition and they handed it this [Wednesday] morning to the commissioner. So, we are going to follow the legal path until the constitutional court and, at the same time, we are going to campaign against this by a series of protests, memos and sit-ins until this decision is changed,” Mukhtar said.  

Sudan’s Islamist regime has a track record of stifling freedom of expression, according to Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwide, a book by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea.  

As a recent review of the book by  Paul Berman – “The Thought Police” -  in The New Republic observes:  

Sudan’s Islamist government sparked a civil war partly by trying to impose a ferocious version of sharia on Christians and other non-Muslims in the south, and by the time the war ended (though the violence seems to be starting up again) more than two million people of various confessions had been killed…..Islamists in Sudan have declared the Nubas apostate, which puts half a million people at risk—though a full-scale massacre has failed to occur. 

The book also details how the regime has targeted Muslim democrats and Islamic modernists, Berman notes:  

Marshall and Shea punctiliously demonstrate that persecution by the radicals focuses everywhere on the Islamic humanists, liberal reformers, and free-thinkers. Some very distinguished Islamic reformists have been killed—for instance, the Sudanese intellectual Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, who was executed by Sudan’s Islamist government on a charge of blasphemy in 1985. …..[O]ne of his disciples, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im of Emory University School of Law, published an incisive book in 2008 called Islam and the Secular State [that] offered exceptionally powerful arguments for a tolerant and modern Islam. 

Berman’s essay was cited by The New York Times’ David Brooks in a column on his “Sidney [Hook] Awards for the best essays of 2012. 

You can show your solidarity with Sudan’s beleaguered civil society by posting to the Facebook page of the Sudanese Development Initiative.

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RFE/RL Russia dispute damaging US image ‘more than KGB’ ever did

In the latest twist of a dispute roiling U.S. international broadcasting, the audit committee of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is reportedly scheduled to meet later this month to discuss the turmoil sparked by changes in the group’s Russian operations which, according to one veteran dissident, has “harmed the U.S. image here more than the KGB ever could.”

The controversy appears to validate the insistence of a former RFE/RL chief that “we need to fix what’s broken in the broadcasting delivery system.”

After dismissing several leading journalists, the Washington Post’s Kathy Lally reports, “CEO Steven Korn and Julia Ragona, RFE/RL’s vice president, hired Masha Gessen, a Russian American journalist who last year published a book critical of Putin, as the editor, based in Moscow instead of in Prague [site of RFE/RL’s HQ]. But a firestorm erupted as journalists whom Korn and Ragona fired set up an alternative Web site criticizing the changes.”

Former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev has joined many Russian democrats and civil society activists in criticizing the changes, notes Lally:

Gorbachev, who inadvertently helped bring about the demise of the Soviet Union by opening up access to information, said that in light of the recent clampdown by Putin’s government — including laws forcing activists who get grants from abroad to register as foreign agents and the expulsion from Russia of the U.S. Agency for International Development — it looked as if the United States was making “an about-turn.”

Two Russian dissidents, Lyudmila Alexeyeva of the Moscow Helsinki Group and Sergei Kovalyov of the Sakharov Foundation, wrote to Congress demanding an investigation. Radio Liberty’s management, Alexeyeva said, had harmed the U.S. image here more than the KGB ever could.

“The fired journalists are in fact some of the most respected independent reporters and new media specialists in Russia,”said Ted Lipien, a former Voice of America acting Associate Director and former BBG regional Marketing Director:

That is why the whole human rights and democratic opposition movement, including Alexeeva, Gorbachev, former Prime Minister Kasyanov, former Deputy Prime Minister Nemtsov and countless others, have defended them and turned against Korn, Julia Ragona, Masha Gessen and their new team, whose members have no name recognition in Russia and have lost online audience, more than 50% by some Russian media accounts citing open statistics. These Russian leaders all concluded that Radio Liberty’s reputation in Russia has been ruined and asked for the fired journalists to be rehabilitated and brought back.

Freedom House President David Kramer said that nothing short of a complete housecleaning of the RFE/RL top leadership is required. The damage they have done is immeasurable,” Kramer said.

“Seven relatively small steps can make a big difference in realizing U.S. international broadcasting’s full potential,” former RFE/RL chief Jeffrey Gedmin, now president of the London-based Legatum Institute, wrote in a recent issue of The American Interest:

First, we must know history better to understand well that few of the current challenges we face are entirely new. It’s true that Cold War clarity of aims helped shape the general purpose of international broadcasting, yet it’s also true that things were never as clear then as we remember them to have been…..

Second, we need to reform the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). As is widely but not universally known, today the family of U.S. international broadcasters—VOA, RFE/RL, Radio Martí, MBN and Radio Free Asia—is overseen by the BBG, which is the outgrowth of several organizational reforms that saw the broadcasting mission go into and then back out of the United States Information Agency. …..

Third, we need to build a strong domestic constituency for broadcasting, which requires repeal of the anachronistic Smith-Mundt Act [which] has prohibited domestic access to information intended for foreign audiences on the grounds that technically…content from U.S. international broadcasting should not be available to the American public. New technologies have rendered Smith-Mundt obsolete anyway, but taking it off the books would help Americans to more fully appreciate—and engage themselves—with the work of international broadcasting. ….

Fourth, we must identify the necessary resources and develop better systems to improve the quality of BBG-sponsored journalism. Journalist training is central to broadcasting’s success. For decades U.S. international broadcasting has been blessed by exceptionally dedicated journalists who share a common belief in pluralism, tolerance and decent accountable government. …

Fifth, we must decentralize the operation. The majority of journalists working for U.S. international broadcasting are based in Washington, DC (headquarters for VOA and Radio Free Asia), in Springfield, Virginia (headquarters for the Middle East Broadcasting Network) and in Prague (headquarters for RFE/RL). This arrangement may make some organizational and bureaucratic sense, but that doesn’t mean it’s journalistically sensible, especially in the case of surrogate broadcasting. Journalists need to be close to the subjects they are covering. …..

Sixth, we should explode the myth that internet and social media have rendered U.S. broadcasting obsolete. It’s true that technology has changed the model, as it has changed the model across journalism. Facebook, Twitter and other social media have meant that monopolies on information are now virtually impossible to maintain and competition abounds. ….

This does not mean, however, that U.S. international broadcasting has outlived its usefulness. In the first place, the new technologies do not give an obvious advantage to “good guys” against “bad guys”, whether the latter are authoritarian governments or authoritarian social and political movements. To assume otherwise is very naive. Moreover, U.S. broadcasting operates with a particular purpose…. It should never be viewed as a values-free proposition.

Finally and centrally, we must place all efforts, including current plans for reorganization, in the context of our purpose and mission. U.S. international broadcasting is guided by American idealism but it is not charity. Its purpose, again, is to advance American interests in the world.

Democracy assistance remains one of the two main objectives of U.S. international broadcasting, says Gedmin.

“Democracy assistance is a sphere of work claimed by Freedom House and the four constituent parts of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED),” he writes:

It is to this conceptual realm that surrogate broadcasting properly belongs, yet there are no strong connections between the BBG and the NED, though both have a similar status as independent government-funded organizations. The BBG should consider merging its two surrogate broadcasters, Radio Free Asia and RFE/RL, and then explore greater collaboration and synergies with the NED, Freedom House and other organizations committed to democracy promotion. Such a merger would connect a broadcasting region that spans Russia, Central Asia and Southeast Asia.


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