Banned in Britain

Sunday, September 3, 2006

It was a diplomatic war of words. On one side, Britain's outspoken envoy in Tashkent, Craig Murray, aiming to expose Uzbekistan's human rights abuses. On the other, Murray's superiors in Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, seeking to rein in his criticisms -- and his behavior.

While writing his just-released memoir "Murder in Samarkand," Murray tried to publish several memos and telegrams documenting the FCO's efforts against him. However, he withdrew them after the British government threatened a lawsuit. The documents, excerpted below, are available at sites such as http://blairwatch.co.uk/ and http://dahrjamailiraq.com/ .

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Shortly after reaching Tashkent in the summer of 2002, Murray voiced criticisms of human rights violations in Uzbekistan and U.S. policy in Central Asia. Simon Butt, head of the FCO's Eastern department, sent an e-mail about Murray to Michael Jay, chief of Britain's diplomatic services, on Oct 16, 2002:

. . . We are fast developing a problem with Craig Murray, who is using unclassified email pretty indiscriminately to fire off criticisms of the Uzbek regime, US policy etc . . . He has also sent the draft text of a speech he is shortly to give at a Freedom House meeting, which criticises the human rights situation in Uzbekistan in terms which are bound to infuriate the Uzbeks ("This country has made very little progress in moving away from the dictatorship of the Soviet period . . . no effective brake on the authority of a President who has failed to validate his position by facing genuine political opponents in anything resembling a free and fair election").

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Charles Hill of the Eastern department sought to revise the text of Murray's Freedom House speech. He sent this letter to Murray on Oct 16:

Many thanks for sending a copy of your draft speech. It is hard-hitting, and one that (I think) Martin Luther King would have been proud of. But there are elements of it, as currently drafted, that I doubt should be delivered by an HMA [Her Majesty's Ambassador] Tashkent. Language which is too outspoken risks antagonising the Uzbek authorities, and undermining your mission (in both senses of the word) . . .

Nowhere in the speech is there any acknowledgement of the Soviet legacy Uzbekistan needs to overcome, or the genuine extremist/terrorist challenges it has had to grapple with . . . We do not accept Uzbek arguments that these problems justify human rights abuses, but we do seek to address them in recognising that . . .

The best examples of what the FCO is on record as having said are in publications such as the Human Rights Reports . . . As you will see, on torture the Report says "Uzbekistan has a poor record of ensuring respect for human rights . . . We are concerned about reports of torture . . . etc etc". We would be content for you to jazz up the language of the Report somewhat, but expressions like "deep shame" "outrage" etc go too far.

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On the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Murray sent a telegram to the FCO accusing the Bush administration of "double standards" for deciding to dismantle "the torture chambers and the rape rooms" in Iraq while treating the "systematic torture and rape" of the Karimov regime as "peccadilloes." Butt subsequently met with Murray in Uzbekistan and reported back to the FCO on April 16, 2003:

. . . Craig was unapologetic. What he had said needed saying. He had again received congratulatory emails from a number of other Posts which had received the telegram. These were issues about which he felt strongly, and which needed to be aired. His drafting style reflected his feelings. He was not prepared to compromise on principles to further his career. I did not dispute his right to air the issues (I myself met with the US Ambassador and queried whether US policy was too indulgent towards Uzbekistan). But he should cultivate a more measured and less emotional style, and should not seek to give the impression that he was the only person in the FCO with a conscience . . .

I ought to mention, without further comment, one further aspect of Craig's unconventional style. After a dinner in Samarkand, the rest of the party returned to our hotel. Craig, in the company of our young female LE [locally engaged] fixer, went off in search of a jazz club. I have heard from others that he has patronised strip clubs in Warsaw . . . But during my visit his demeanour was perfectly correct, and I picked up no signs whatsoever of familial tension while staying at the Residence. It is not particularly palatable to set these tales down, but they should be recorded somewhere. . .

Craig is likely to continue to speak as he finds. But he accepts the need to broaden his functions beyond being a powerful advocate of respect for human rights (and he has got us to raise our game on this).


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