31 march 2016

German Media Response on Steinmeier’s visit to Uzbekistan

Steinmeier’s visit to Tashkent was taken up by several German media, including ZEIT Online, Süddeutsche Zeitung Deutsche Welle, FAZ, Passauer Neue Presse, Augsburger Allgemeine, N24 and Lübecker Nachrichten.

All of the reports highlighted Steinmeier’s reminder to president Karimov to comply with human rights and his appeal to „take the path of improvement of the human rights situation“ in the country. German media reports (e. g. ZEIT Online, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Passauer Neue Presse and Lübecker Nachrichten) noted that 78-year-old president Karimov has been in power since 1992 and has been widely criticized by the international community for severe violations of basic human and civil rights.

In a detailed report, Deutsche Welle criticized the current human rights situation in Uzbekistan, referring to reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. As examples of rights violations, the report named the widespread torture in Uzbek prisons, repression against political opposition, and the use of forced labour during the annual cotton harvest. Deutsche Welle also criticized the lack of transparency during the talks between Steinmeier and Karimov that lasted twice as long as planned but did not include a joint press conference in the end. According to Deutsche Welle, unlike German president Gauck, the German Foreign Ministry generally avoids open criticism of authoritarian regimes, regarding them as counterproductive.

Another emphasis in the German media reports was the fight against Islamist terror which was one of the main topics of Steinmeier’s visit to the three mainly Muslim Central Asian countries. The Islamic State (IS) is also recruiting fighters from Central Asia. The joint fight against Islamist terror constitutes one of the reasons why Foreign Minister Steinmeier considers the region “strategically important.” However, German media like ZEIT Online, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Passauer Neue Presse and Lübecker Nachrichten also recalled that human rights activists have accused president Karimov of deliberately using the fight against the Islamists as an excuse to further reppress the Uzbek population. This way, human rights activists deem the Uzbek government at least as partly responsible for the radicalization of its citizens, Deutsche Welle recalled in its report from March 30.

The German media reports (e. g. ZEIT Online, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Deutsche Welle and Passauer Neue Presse) also cited Steinmeier’s emphasis on the “huge economic possibilities and significant risks to stability” in the region. Because of these, and because of Uzbekistan‘s geostrategic position between Russia, China and Iran, German engagement in the region is very important.

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