This video is called Uzbekistan, Most Horrible Country.
By Solomon Hughes in Britain:
The Tory Tashkent jolly that backfired
Friday 4th July 2014
They try to be their friend and sell them loads of stuff. They are especially keen to help firms with links to our government to work with their government. And they try to hide it from us too.
I asked for details about this visit under Freedom of Information laws in May 2013. After nearly a year’s delay, the Foreign Office finally gave me some papers.
I’ve rarely had to wait so long in a Freedom of Information request. It’s quite an effective strategy because it has made this story “old news,” so I have to break some newspaper conventions to get round that ploy.
The papers that arrived are absolutely covered with “redactions,” which also shows the Foreign Office determination to keep this out of the news. Though heavily censored, the papers show that the visit was all about business, very little about “Uzbek parliamentarians” and nothing to do with human rights.
Human rights are a big problem in Uzbekistan. This is what the Foreign Office’s own Country of Concern report said this April:
“We have significant concerns about the overall human rights situation in Uzbekistan. There is little independent media and the government allows little space for opposition.
“Human rights defenders (HRDs) and journalists are reportedly subject to pressure and mistreatment. Allegations of torture in detention are widespread. The large-scale forced mobilisation of adults and young people over 15 for work in the cotton harvest has continued.”
The authoritarian rule of “strongman” president Islam Karimov, who has run Uzbekistan since 1991, is pretty brutal.
So you might think the Foreign Office would want these issues to be raised in “exchanges between Uzbek and British parliamentarians.”
But I couldn’t find anything in the 60 pages of documents they sent me about human rights. But there was a lot about business.
A briefing from the British embassy suggests Peter Lilley’s “key messages” should be:
(1) That he is “pleased to be in Tashkent,” (2) that he is “keen to explore further opportunities for British business in Uzbekistan,” and (3) he wants “to help support the further deepening of UK/Uzbek parliamentary ties.”
According to the schedule, Lilley met Uzbek Foreign Minister Elyor Ganiev. The “objective” was “to discuss final preparations for the Uzbek-British Trade & Industry Council” and “to raise any specific points on behalf of British companies.”
The documents are full of pages about “crucial areas for investment” in oil, gas, chemicals and mining. But nothing about human rights or forced labour or torture.
Indeed most of the time wasn’t spent with Uzbek’s parliamentarians — who are completely toothless as opposition parties are banned — and instead was spent at a trade promotion event.
Peter Lilley and Lord Waverley took a brace of businessmen with them, a number of whom have close ties to the Tories.
Oil firm Petrofac went on the trip. Ayman Asfari, Petrofac’s chief executive, has given the Tories £400,000 since 2009.
Consolidated Contractors Company (CCC), a construction firm with business throughout Asia, also sent a delegate on the trip. They have also given the Tories £400,000 since 2009.
Lord Waverley is a paid consultant to CCC. Oil firm Tethys Petroleum also sent a delegate on the Uzbekistan trip.
As well as being an MP, Peter Lilley has a £47,000-a-year part-time job as a director of the Cayman Islands-based Tethys Petroleum.
Peter Lilley’s role with Tethys is a bit worrying because the MP is also a foreign policy adviser to David Cameron.
Last year Cameron set up a policy board of senior backbenchers as part of a drive to calm Tory MPs who are worried about the Conservatives being too “soft” because of the LibDem influence on the coalition.
Lilley was appointed to the board to advise on foreign policy.
However, for all their ignoring of human rights issues, the authoritarian Uzbek regime turned back to bite the Foreign Office, Lilley and Tethys.
Lilley’s firm tried hard to be obsequious to the Uzbek president, issuing statements about being “honoured to announce that the President of Uzbekistan, his Excellency President Karimov, has issued an order that includes instructions to provide support to the oil and gas activities of Tethys in Uzbekistan.”
But authoritarian rulers act in authoritarian ways. Last December the head of Tethys Petroleum in Uzbekistan was arrested, accused of stealing $40m of oil. Tethys says the charges are baseless.
Most observers think the arrest is related to a power struggle between Islam Karimov and his daughter Gulnara Karimova. Islam fell out with Gulnara, who is now under house arrest.
Her business interests are being carved up, possibly leading to the trouble for Tethys. This February Tethys announced they were quitting Uzbekistan.
So the strategy of ignoring human rights and going for business instead doesn’t just abandon the victims of Uzbekistan’s ruler. It also puts the businessmen themselves at risk of arbitrary arrest.
No wonder the Foreign Office wanted to keep the details of their business quiet.
The European Azerbaijan Society, which is run by Tale Heydarov, wealthy son of Azerbaijan’s powerful Minister for Emergency Situations Kamaladdin Heydarov, has hired British MPs as advisers, paid for glamorous trips for MPs and runs events at party conferences.
Now the European Azerbaijan Society have paid former defence minister Liam Fox £7,500 for the “translation rights of my book,” according to his entry in the Register of MPs’ Interests.
It may well be that people in Baku are desperate to read his book, “Rising Tides: Challenges for a New Era” in Azeri. It might take their minds off the arbitrary arrests, torture, disappearances, lack of democracy and poverty in their nation.
Or it may be that Heydarov and his European Azerbaijan Society want just one more British MP who will look on them kindly and not make a fuss about human rights in Azerbaijan.