UEA has defended its links to two universities in Uzbekistan, a country strongly criticised for its human rights record.
UEA’s Language and Communications School was partnered with the Uzbek State World Languages University and Andijan State University between March 2010 and April 2013 through the INSPIRE project (International Strategic Partnerships in Research & Education). A UEA statement said that the project had “promoted UK culture and way of life”.
But a Human Rights Watch (HRW) spokesman told the Guardian that Uzbek security services “have clamped down on free thought in universities”, and often interrogate students who appear to question their government’s conduct. In their most recent report on the country, HRW condemned Uzbekistan’s “atrocious” human rights record which they say continues to worsen despite President Islam Karimov’s promises of reform.
Students can also face months of forced labour in Uzbekistan – over a million Uzbeks are drafted each year to harvest cotton in the state-run collectives. Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, recalled how able-bodied university students “can expect to spend three months in the cotton fields”. The work is unpaid and the harvest can last until November, when temperatures often drop below freezing.
UEA is not the only British university with links to Uzbekistan. The Guardian reports that the University of Westminster’s institute in the capital Tashkent has close ties with the Karimov regime.