Sunday, 16 May 2010

HIV/AIDS Foundation Working with a Regime That Locks Up AIDS Activists?

This post originally appeared on my Reuters AlertNet blog on 16 May 2010, and it was then updated a couple times.

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On 10 May, the Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) was one of many organisations that signed a public letter to US and UN officials protesting the Uzbek government's wrongful imprisonment of Maksim Popov, an HIV prevention educator, psychologist, and director of a small NGO in Uzbekistan. As is typical for this oppressive regime in its approach to any independent activity whatsover, Popov was sentenced to seven years imprisonment as a result of his HIV prevention efforts.

Strange then that amfAR is organising the high-profile Cinema Against AIDS 2010 next week with event co-chair "H.E. Amb. Gulnara Karimova" -- ie, the daughter of the Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov and currently Uzbekistan's ambassador to Spain. Karimova's name disappeared from the amfAR web page for Cinema Against AIDS 2010 for a short time -- perhaps in response to contacts by other organisations who signed the letter -- but it is somewhat strangely back again.

So, I have one straightforward question: does amfAR side with an HIV/AIDS activist wrongly imprisoned by his government, or does amfAR prefer to be associated with the jailers instead? I've sent amfAR three emails about this in recent days, but I have yet to receive any response. If I do, I'll update this blog accordingly so they have a chance to speak for themselves.

Clearly, if amfAR subscribes to the principles in the joint letter it signed, it should stop its association with the Uzbek government representative -- or at least suspend it until Ambassador Daughter convinces Daddy Dictator to release Popov from prison and allow the health educator to continue his important work.

Update, 17 May 2010

I have received this statement from amfAR:

"Thank you for your inquiry. Based on the level of Gulnara Karimova's financial contribution to amfAR's Cinema Against AIDS event in Cannes last year, she was made a a co-chair of the 2010 event. This is routinely done from year to year by amfAR’s fundraising staff in Europe. Unfortunately, they were not aware of the policy issue -- the response to the imprisonment of Maksim Popov -- that our policy office was dealing with here in the U.S. amfAR remains deeply troubled by the imprisonment of Maskim Popov and continues to work for his release, and we are taking steps to address the situation in the most appropriate manner. We will provide additional details soon."

That’s not really saying too much, I fear. I have sent additional questions to get clarified:

1) Why was Karimova's name temporarily removed from the amfAR website and then returned to your website? Why did you decide to remove it? Then why did you decide to put it back?

2) The Uzbek government's approach toward Popov is very clear, and amfAR has condemned that approach. Why now work with a representative of the Uzbek government on an event?

I will update here if/when I receive answers.

Update, 19 May 2010

Still no word from amfAR, but Reporters without Borders has released a very strong public letter to amfAR about this here.

And Andijan survivor Galima Bukharbaeva has just published a an article on this at the Huffington Post: "Dining with Dictators".

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