Uzbekistan: Cattle-Rustlers Go Unpunished

Samarkand peasants are facing an uphill struggle to persuade the police to investigate livestock thefts.

Uzbekistan: Cattle-Rustlers Go Unpunished

Samarkand peasants are facing an uphill struggle to persuade the police to investigate livestock thefts.

Sobir Turaev, like many local peasant farmers, has not had a good night's rest since the cattle-rustlers struck, jumping out of bed at the slightest sound - a dog barking, the bleating of sheep or the lowing of a cow.

"If we sleep soundly we will sleep our family fortune away - our livestock is all we have," said Turaev, from the village of Langi Arik. Indeed, fellow farmer Rasul Khasanov, from neighbouring Kavchion, recently lost three sheep he was keeping to provide for his funeral.

Yet the Samarkand police seem unable - or unwilling - to tackle the crime wave, which is devastating the poor farmers of the region.

Some 71 head of cattle have been stolen in the district since the start of the year. The thefts usually take place at night, and not one culprit has been caught or punished. Meanwhile, stolen cows, horses and sheep continue to disappear without trace.

More than 60 per cent of Uzbekistan's 25 million people live and work in rural areas, growing cotton, grain and rice in state-owned enterprises. However, there is little profit to be made from this line of work, so many live off small private farm plots near their homes.

For the overwhelming majority, private vegetable gardens, fruit orchards and livestock help stave off the threat of starvation.

Their cows provide them with dairy products and sheep yield meat and wool, while horses and bulls are the equivalent of a deposit in the bank - kept for emergencies to be sold when the necessity arises.

Rafoat Boikhonova from the village of Gulbog told IWPR that the theft of her cattle has plunged the family into a financial nightmare that has left her contemplating suicide. "At first, thieves stole our milk cow together with the calf, then later they stole three horses. How will I feed my family?" she asked.

"We complained to the police, without any results. Then I complained to Rakhima Khakimova, khokim (head of administration) of the Samarkand district, who instructed the (police) force to find my livestock and compensate me for my loss, but neither has happened.

"My husband is handicapped. Sometimes I think of hanging myself but then I look at the little children and step back."

In April, Sattor Mukimov's family had to cancel a planned wedding after four pregnant cows and two calves were stolen from their Gulistan home.

Mukimov had no more success than Boikhonova when it came to police action. Officers refused to accept his written complaint about the theft for three days.

Incidents such as this have led Samarkand residents to suspect that the law-enforcement agencies do not even try to find the livestock thieves, as they consider the losses insignificant and the work demeaning.

Human rights activists claim that as police are required by state to solve all registered crimes, they are simply refusing to note the thefts, as they believe they are too difficult to investigate.

This, coupled with the fact that the complainants are poor peasants and not state officials, make it easy for the police to ignore the issue.

Human rights activist Salomat Davlatova believes law enforcement agencies prefer to tackle more "serious" cases, which could offer promotion or the prospect of kickbacks.

"The police are far more interested in catching members of banned Islamic extremist organisations such as Hizb ut-Tahrir or the Wahhabi movement, as this enables them to earn a few gold stars," she told IWPR.

"Economic crimes are also high on their list of preferences, since this work is lucrative and usually provides many opportunities to take bribes."

Abdurakhim Nabiev, head of Samarkand district police, refused to comment on the topic of unpunished livestock thefts - dismissing IWPR's inquiry with an angry shout.

Davlatova believes the police are simply refusing to defend ordinary Uzbeks. "However, we can see how efficiently they can work when the interests of the state are at stake," she said.

Rakhim Mavlonov is an editor of the Oina newspaper in Samarkand

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