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26th Jan 2020

Germany extends EU welcome to Uzbek spy chief

Germany last week hosted Uzbekistan's powerful security chief, Rustam Inoyatov, despite his links to the 2005 Andijan massacre and the jailing, also last week, of a prominent human rights activist.

Mr Inoyatov flew to Germany on 23 October for official business as part of a delegation from Uzbekistan's National Security Service (SNB), and was still in Germany on 25 October.

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  • A passenger jet in Uzbekistan. German authorities declined to confirm or deny the NGO reports (Photo: Wikipedia)

His trip was confirmed by NGOs Human Rights Watch and the Open Society Institute. The German interior ministry - responsible for security - denied holding any meetings with the SNB chief. The German embassy in Tashkent and the German secret service, the BND, declined to comment.

The trip was within the letter of EU law. Mr Inoyatov is one of eight names on an EU visa ban list, which was temporarily suspended in April and will permanently expire in November in line with an EU foreign ministers decision of 13 October.

But the Inoyatov invitation was in bad taste, Human Rights Watch says, given the security chief's profile and Uzbekistan's behaviour since the EU visa ban decision.

The EU holds the SNB chief "directly responsible" for the Andijan slayings and the subsequent obstruction of an international enquiry into the May 2005 events, when soldiers opened fire with heavy-calibre machine guns against a crowd of civilians, killing at least 500 people.

Mr Inoyatov is considered by some analysts to be the second most powerful man in Uzbekistan today after 70-year old President Islam Karimov, and a strong candidate - together with Mr Karimov's daughter Gulnara Karimova - to lead the country in future.

The same day the spy chief flew to Germany, an Uzbekistan court on 23 October sentenced to 10 years in prison human rights activist and opposition politician Akzam Turgonov on charges of extortion.

Two other political prisoners have gained early release since the EU sanctions decision, but around 10 others remain behind bars.

Human rights progress?

Uzbekistan-friendly Germany led the push for the EU to drop the visa ban list, saying the register was out of date because Mr Inoyatov was the only one of the eight names still in office and citing Tashkent's "progress" in human rights terms.

Germany has vibrant business interests with the gas and cotton-rich Central Asian state, as well as a history of military and counter-terrorism co-operation. Germany runs a military base in Termez on the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan border and in 2007 uncovered an Uzbek-linked terrorist cell in the Saarland province, near France.

"The question is not should Germany stop security co-operation with Uzbekistan," Human Rights Watch Central Asia director Rachel Denber told EUobserver. "The question is: should they invite a man so clearly associated with Andijan? What is the German government doing to promote human rights in Uzbekistan, given that they pushed to remove the only leverage the EU had [the visa ban list] to press for reforms?"

The Inoyatov visit is reminiscent of Germany's decision to let former Uzbek interior minister Zakirjan Almatov - also deemed "directly responsible" for Andijan - come to Hanover in October 2005 for cancer treatment on the grounds of his "urgent humanitarian need."

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