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<nettime> Uzbekistan Trembles at Internet Subversion
Bruce Sterling on Tue, 4 Mar 2003 23:13:05 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Uzbekistan Trembles at Internet Subversion


*If tactical media actually takes the regime down,
that will be a big stinking deal -- bruces


Transparency International

Daily Corruption News



Karimov struggles to protect image in Uzbekistan following internet attacks

Eurasianet 25 Feb 2003



President Islam Karimov has mobilized mass media in Uzbekistan for a 
propaganda battle following the publication of Russian-language articles 
that seriously damaged the Uzbek leader's image. The articles, which first 
appeared on the internet, contained various allegations connecting Karimov 
to illicit activities, including drug trafficking. They also publicized 
unflattering details about his past.

The attacks on Karimov's character - written under the name of Usman 
Khaknazarov and posted first on the Russian-language web site Centrasia.ru 
- began appearing in early January. The articles were subsequently 
re-posted by several other Russian-language web sites. The articles are 
full of details about the inner workings of the presidential administration.
  They also exhort Uzbeks to work to oust Karimov's government.

"We shouldn't demand the resolution of our immediate problems, we should 
demand the resignation of this criminal group of thieves and bandits 
[Karimov's administration] - those who are chiefly responsible for our 
current problems," one of the articles, published January 12, said.

Another article urged Uzbeks to spread the anti-Karimov message. "In our 
hands  is the most powerful weapon - the truth. Take the truth to the 
people," an article published January 2 said. "In doing so, it's not 
necessary to take to the streets and shout that Uzbekistan is run by a 
bunch of drug dealers and bandits; unfortunately, among the people there 
are many who are capable of betrayal.  Thus, begin to explain the truth to 
your friends and relatives."

Since Uzbekistan gained independence, Karimov has progressively tightened 
restrictions on free speech. [For additional information see the EurasiaNet 
Human Rights archive]. Given the tight control of mass media, Uzbeks have 
little access to views and information not expressly condoned by the 
government. According to sources in Uzbekistan, the Khaknazarov articles 
have had a shocking impact on society and the allegations contained in them 
are widely perceived to be true. Although Uzbekistan has relatively few 
internet users - estimated at about 275,000 in 2002 - a source in Tashkent 
reports that samizdat photocopies have been widely circulated in large 
cities.

Among the most damaging claims contained in the articles is that Karimov 
played a significant role in facilitating the flow of narcotics out of 
Afghanistan via Uzbekistan to points in Europe and beyond. Separate 
articles have claimed that Karimov might be suffering from an unspecified 
terminal illness.

The Khaknazarov articles also dealt a serious blow to Karimov's image by 
revealing embarrassing details about actions that, in recent years, the 
president has sought to conceal. One article particularly focused on 
Karimov's conduct during the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. The details 
in the web account offered a stark contrast to Karimov's claims that he had 
always championed Uzbek independence.

"In March of 1991, the former Soviet leadership conducted a referendum in 
which the question was asked: should all union republics, including 
Uzbekistan, remain in the Soviet Union or not," the January 12 article said.
  "When Uzbekistan's young opposition movement called on the population to 
vote for independence  Islam Karimov, who subsequently characterized 
himself as a founding fighter for freedom of the Uzbek people, called for 
the republic not to split from the USSR.  He carried out Moscow's order to 
arrange for a sufficient number of votes for the continuation of the 
Communist empire."

After the failed August coup of 1991, however, Karimov quickly changed his 
position, the article continued. "In this situation, Karimov didn't panic.
  He began trumpeting that he had been fighting for independence his whole 
life," the article said.

Karimov's reaction to the web attacks indicates that he views them as a 
serious threat to his authority. The articles come at a sensitive time for 
Uzbekistan. The country continues to experience economic trauma, stemming 
from the government's move last summer to introduce punitive tariffs on 
imports. [For background see the EurasiaNet Human Rights archives]. In 
December, Uzbek officials tightened border controls in an effort to 
eliminate smuggling. [For additional information see the EurasiaNet 
Business and Economics archives]. Such actions have fueled popular 
discontent, political observers in Uzbekistan say.

A source in Tashkent reports that all web sites that published the 
Khaknazarov articles have been jammed, and are mostly inaccessible to 
Uzbeks. In addition, state-controlled television launched a barrage of 
documentaries aimed at extolling the virtues of Karimov's leadership.

One such program, broadcast February 2, said Karimov's primary aim is to 
ensure stability in Uzbekistan. "No one among the historic leaders of the 
last decade of the 20th Century has struggled for peace as courageously as 
President Karimov," said the narrator of the program, titled "Strive for 
Peace."

Another six-part documentary, the first installment of which aired January 
20, appeared specifically designed to refute the allegation that Karimov 
had opposed independence in 1991. "People felt very disenchanted with the 
events related to the coup d'etat, which occurred August 19-21, 1991," the 
documentary said. "These events showed that a vital need for independence 
had arisen. Uzbek President Islam Karimov, who realized this historical 
truth, started taking decisive steps towards gaining independence for our 
republic."

In recent weeks, government controlled television has maintained a steady 
stream of programming promoting the president's popularity. Local experts,
  however, say it is difficult to determine to what extent the state media 
campaign has controlled the damage done to Karimov's image by the 
Khaknazarov articles.

Eurasianet http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/rights/articles/eav022503.
shtml

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