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London Met opposes partnership with Uzbekistan Uni

Dissent divides the faculty of London Metropolitan University as lecturers and partners of University and College Union release a hostile statement opposing the institutions plans to develop a partnership with the University of Economics and Development in Uzbekistan.

The statement issued in The Guardian on Wednesday 15 February insists that the British Council Inspire project with the University of Economics and Development in Tashkent, capital city of Uzbekistan, will “do nothing to promote social justice for the people of Uzbekistan, but will lend legitimacy to a regime whose existence depends on the systematic repression and torture of its political opponents”.

Malcolm Gillies, Vice Chancellor of London Metropolitan University, is being urged to withdraw any plans to merge with the institution, which was founded by the country’s dictator, Islam Karimov, to train “future leaders”.

Gillies has defended the proposed partnership despite his colleagues disparaging comments regarding the “nastiest dictatorship in central Asia”. He recalls that Uzbekistan stood above 30 other regimes in the 2010 human rights index. These countries include China, Saudi Arabia, and the United States.

In a letter written directly to Gillies, Dr David Hardman, Principle Lecturer in Psychology at London Metropolitan University says: “Uzbekistan’s government is so vile that the West previously wanted no dealings, a situation which has only changed because Uzbekistan now provides a supply route to troops in Afghanistan. You may recall that the British Ambassador Craig Murray famously fell out with the Blair government because he felt unable to stay quiet about abuses in the country.”

Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, was allegedly dismissed for alerting the Foreign and Commonwealth office to suspected Uzbekistani links with al-Qaeda and the acquisition of intelligence through torture within Uzbekistan’s government. Murray also released a book titled Murder in Samarkand, which details his experiences of the regime. Since the silencing of Murray, the state of Uzbekistan has become increasingly secretive. Presently, human rights activists are rarely permitted entry to Uzbekistan and Wikileaks shows details of US senators hiding details of the brutal regime.

Attempts have been made to alert the world to the situation in Uzbekistan. On 6 December 2011, The Independent printed the expose: ‘Caught on camera: lobbyists boasting how they influence PM’. In this stunt, representatives for the Bureau of Investigative Journalism posed as ambassadors of the Kamirov administration of Uzbekistan. The “Azimov group” sought a reputation cleansing service for the state from ten UK PR firms. Bell Pottinger valued the service at £1 million, boasting their manipulation of the “dark arts” within current British politics. It was also revealed that the company manipulates Google results to “drown” out negative coverage of human rights violations and child labour.

Dr Hardman strongly questions the ethics of any partnership between London Metropolitan University and the institution in Tashkent, alerting Gillies to Amnesty International reports and Murray’s book both which “paint a picture of a nation where no serious opposition is able to exist because critics of the regime are systematically imprisoned on false charges, tortured and murdered”.

He says: “There has to be some kind of line in the sand. It is not a functioning democracy. Opposition is non-existent because the people get arrested and tortured. It is a country where any involvement is not helping, but rather lending legitimacy. London Met has a policy of promoting social justice, and this goes against that. The university has a ‘socially responsible agenda’ and one of the aims of the university’s research and enterprise is to ‘further the university’s long-standing commitment to social responsibility and social justice’.”

Gillies maintains that keeping channels of communication open within Uzbekistan is vital if the situation is to be improved. He says: “My view is that you have to be very careful who you say you are not going to communicate with because you can cut off the opportunity to influence and have dialogue – look at the situation in Iran, for example.”

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