Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Rotar speaks about detention
Ferghana.Ru: What claims do the Uzbek authorities make on Forum 18?
Igor Rotar: No claims at all. I was not officially charged. I was kept in what was essentially custody for two days despite my regular demands to explain their motives and permit me to call embassies. I'm an employee of a Norwegian organization and a citizen of Russia but I was not permitted to call the Russian Embassy or the US Embassy. (Norway does not have an embassy in Uzbekistan, you know.) By the way, I surely appreciate the trouble taken by the US Embassy. An American diplomat came over five times. Unfortunately, he was not permitted to talk to me even through the glass. I was always led away. No explanations were offered for two days in a row. Afterwards, I was led to meet with some men who I think were from the Uzbek KGB. They introduced themselves as immigration officials but they had known details of my private life in Tashkent. In fact, they even implied that they had fought in Andizhan. So, these men just told me, "How much longer do you plan to irritate us? Get a ticket and get out, or stay here to face the music..." That's what I was told.
Ferghana.Ru: Has sheer strength been applied?
Igor Rotar: This is what they did. When I objected that I was not permitted to call the embassy, they told me that officially I did not exist. I do not understand this logic. They said, "You have not crossed the border. Formally, you are not on the territory of Uzbekistan." This was their logic. Other passengers were not permitted to approach me, and border guards did not answer my questions. As I see it, it was intended as psychological pressure. Whenever I tried to call the embassy, they wrestled the cell phone from me.
Ferghana.Ru: Did they?
Igor Rotar: Yes. I'm not saying they battered me or something. No. They treated me politely otherwise, they even permitted me to dine in the restaurant. But even when I needed to go to the bathroom, a border guard accompanied me. He never said anything, he was just a constant presence hovering nearby. By the way, the man himself felt awkward. He said once that I was not to call anyone and that it was not his decision. "Igor-aka," he said, "you are not supposed to call anyone." And "No, I cannot give you any information." They urged me to buy a ticket and depart every half hour. I kept on refusing. I insisted on official deportation.
Ferghana.Ru: How did the Uzbek authorities know who to detain? Had you been under surveillance since Bishkek?
Igor Rotar: The National Security Service has a black list of unwanted persons. All four years of my being the Central Asian correspondent, border guards on the Uzbek border have always been extremely polite and asked me to wait a bit. They call the National Security Service and wave me through only after a call. I crossed the border on at least 30 occasions already. They made a slip a couple of times and admitted that my name was on the black list. I knew it. They were smart enough before the events in Andizhan and never kicked up a scandal. They merely kept me under surveillance. Border guards called secret services and let me through. This was the first time I was detained. "Patience of the Uzbek people has run out," these alleged representatives of the immigration service told me. They added that I was the worst slanderer of all. I was told it by one of the men who threatened me.
Ferghana.Ru: How did the state of affairs with human rights in Uzbekistan change with the events in Andizhan? What shall we expect from thee Uzbek authorities in this sphere now?
Igor Rotar: At least four embassies made inquiries concerning my detention - embassies of the United States, Switzerland, Norway, and Russia. Russia was the least active, by the way. I'm ashamed of being a citizen of Russia. It was the Americans who defended me. An official of the US Embassy came on five occasions. He said afterwards that when they had called and demanded explanations, the men on the other end of the line replied that the matter was handled on a higher level and hang on. When I told the men who had detained me that it was stupid and could damage Uzbekistan's image in the eyes of the West, they said that they did not give a damn. Before the events in Andizhan, Uzbekistan made at least a half-hearted effort not to encroach on human rights openly. Afterwards, after Andizhan and the demands to the Americans to withdraw their base, the authorities must have decided to do away with this camouflage.
Mr Rotar has also written a piece about his detention for Forum 18.