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Uzbekistan: Sacked Soldier Sues President

Former sergeant’s legal bid may shake up the authorities whether he succeeds or not.
By Tulkin Karaev

Uzbekistan is holding its breath to see if a disgruntled former non-commissioned officer in the army succeeds in taking President Islam Karimov to court for unfair dismissal.

Chuyan Mamatkulov, from the Kashkadarya region, believes that – as commander in chief of the Uzbek armed forces – Karimov should be held accountable for his soldiers’ lack of rights. The ex-sergeant is now demanding 10 million US dollars in compensation.

The court where he first filed the suit initially refused to examine the case, and he claims that one judge refused to handle the case on the grounds that Karimov himself had appointed him.

But while Mamatkulov’s first attempt to bring his case against the president in the Uzbek courts met with failure at the beginning of June – when the presiding judge dismissed his complaint - he lodged an appeal at the Tashkent city court at the beginning of August.

He has told the media that he intends to go all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

Mamatkulov was dismissed from his post as commander of a gas compression facility owned by the military in June 2000, apparently for receiving four disciplinary punishments – a detail he only discovered later. All efforts to clear his name in military courts later failed.

The former sergeant believes his rights have been violated as he was not told that he had been disciplined - a direct violation of the Uzbekistan labour code.

“The administration should have demanded a written explanation from me, and after punishment was announced, I should have been informed of the order which I was supposed to sign. But I didn’t even see these orders,” he claimed.

Mamatkulov believes that as Karimov is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and signed its disciplinary regulations into law in October 1996, he has ultimate liability.

Officialdom has reacted to the developments with scepticism as well as surprise. “This person can go to court if he wants, but the president can’t answer for everything to everyone,” said presidential press service spokesman Sherzod Kudratkhojaev.

“Perhaps this person is more interested in getting publicity for himself than exercising his legal rights.”

The case has drawn interest – and bemusement – from all walks of life in Uzbekistan.

Talib Yakubov, the head of the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, HRSU, said that Mamatkulov’s legal action could teach the Uzbek authorities a valuable lesson.

“In principle, it is a futile act,” he admitted. “It’s obvious that Karimov won’t appear in court – and even if he was, how could he be judged by people he himself has appointed?

“But nevertheless, it is a good lesson, and Karimov should realise that the country’s citizens are sick of him.”

Yusuf Jumaev, a renowned poet and opposition figure from Bukhara, also thinks Mamatkulov’s actions are valid. “I can safely say that Uzbekistan’s entire population of 25 million people can ask Karimov to compensate them for moral damages. I too would gladly take him to court,” he said.

One young Tashkent man, who did not want to give his name, said, “A United States president can be taken to court, so why should ours be above the law?

“Thanks to Karimov, I work for a tiny wage and can hardly make ends meet. Is this the independence and the country we wanted?”

And a labourer from the Kasan region of Kashkadarya told IWPR, “The local media claims everything’s fine here – but today, Uzbeks are little more than slaves…. The person who reduced our country to such poverty should answer for it before the people.”

Mamatkulov believes that as the president is above all a citizen of the republic – and as all are equal before the law under the Uzbek constitution – there is no reason why he shouldn’t challenge Karimov.

But Bobomurad Razzakov, head of HRSU’s Bukhara regional office, told IWPR that he was not sure of the validity of the lawsuit.

“It must be a joke, or an act of self publicity,” he said. “In the sort of country we live in, not even a brigadier can be taken to court, let alone the president.”

Tulkin Karaev is an IWPR contributor in Karshi.

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