Russian Colonel Yuri Korepanov, who served in Uzbekistan’s army before retiring to his birthplace of Sverdlovsk as a Russian citizen eight years ago, has spent the last four months in jail in Tashkent after visiting his youngest son in Uzbekistan. An Uzbek court has ruled that 63-year-old Korepanov will spend the next 16 years in jail for betraying his “motherland,” even though he never thought of the Central Asian country as his motherland or of himself as an Uzbek citizen.
Islam Karimov (Ислам Абдуганиевич Каримов) was born January 30, 1938 in Samarkand. He trained as an engineer before entering politics and has been president of Uzbekistan since 1990.
Karimov was raised in an orphanage. before graduating with a degree in engineering from the Central Asian Polytechnial College in 1960. He also received a degree from the Tashkent Economics Institute.
Upon graduation, Karimov briefly joined Tashselmash, a manufacturer of agricultural machinery, before joining the Chkalov Tashkent Aviation Production Plant, where he worked for five years.
Karimov entered national politics at a young age, joining the Uzbek Republic’s State Planning Department in 1966. He spent the next two decades rising up the Uzbek Communist Party apparatus, serving in a number of important positions including minister of finance and chairman of the State Planning Office. In 1986 he was named head of the Communist Party Committee in Kashkadarya Province. He became first secretary of the Uzbek Central Committee in 1989.
In 1990 Karimov became the president of the Uzbek Socialist Republic, declaring Uzbekistan independent on August 31 the following year as the Soviet Union collapsed. He was elected the first president of an independent Uzbekistan four months later.
This election saw Karimov win over 80 percent of the vote according to official results.
Since then Karimov has cemented his hold over the country, suppressing the opposition and frequently facing criticism over alleged election rigging. He has also changed the country’s election system. In 1995 he held a referendum that increased his term to 2000. He won a landslide victory in an election held in January 2000, before running for a third term (which is against the Uzbek Constitution) in 2007, when he also won with a sizeable majority.
Alongside criticism of election discrepancies, critics of Karimov’s regime say that human rights abuses are endemic in Uzbekistan, from harassment of local journalists to torture as an established part of the criminal justice system.
One of the most shocking examples of this was the Andijan Massacre, which took place in May 2005. In a show of support for a group of local businessmen being charged with Islamic extremism, thousands of people gathered to protest in the city of Andijan, Uzbekitan’s fourth largest city, located in the volatile Fergana Valley. Arrests were made, but the businessmen and protestors were released the next day. Government troops then indiscriminately fired on the crowd. The official death toll was put at 187 people, but anecdotal evidence from those in the city at the time suggests that hundreds more were killed. The leaders of the protest were arrested and have disappeared without trace. For more information on human rights in Uzbekistan, see the United Nations Human Rights and Human Rights Watch Web sites.
During this period Karimov also introduced amendments to the Law on Political Parties, tightening up the registration process to enable the government to block opposition parties from gaining support.
Karimov is a practicing Muslim, but in the late 1990s introduced legislation to restrict the activities of religious groups. He opposes the radical Islamic groups including the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan and has imprisoned thousands of Uzbeks for Islamic extremism during his time in office. See Forum 18 for more information about crack downs on religious groups in Uzbekistan. This policy was bolstered in the wake of September 11, 2001, when Uzbekistan was deemed a strategic ally to the United States. U.S. troops were based in Uzbekistan during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, but left in 2005 following outcry over the Andijan Massacre.
Karimov is married and has two daughters and three grandchildren.