13.10. - 05.11.2012 Tashkent

In the clutches of the surveillance state


The absolute climax of non-hospitality we clearly experienced in Uzbekistan, or rather in its capital Tashkent. We could not really enjoy our stay there because this place is teeming with police and hidden spies. You feel monitored at every turn, you can not move freely, the authorities want to know exactly where you are at all times and you have to be prepared to be stopped by the police and controlled, especially in the subway, where passport, visa and the contents of your bags are checked every time you enter. Of course the officials only speak Russian or Uzbek. English is largely unknown. Sometimes you even have to account for, where exactly you've been each single day since crossing the border. This is checked with the help of small slips of paper, called registrations, which you have to collect from every hotel in which you slept. As a bicycle tourist, one usually spends many nights in the tent and of course it's not always possible to reach a town with a hotel when travelling in the countryside because of the low travel speed. In addition, some hotels even refuse to accommodate you if you are not able to show them your registrations without any gap. This entire surveillance apparatus, which strongly reminded us of Orwell's 1984, was furthermore intensified in August 2012, which is why the German Department for Foreign Affairs now explicitly warns individual tourists not to enter.

At the airport of Tashkent we were able to enjoy the full splendor of the surveillance state, when we wanted to extend our visa for one week because our flight to India delayed because of visa procurement. Our various registration gaps, since we had always stayed several nights in a row in the tent, were accepted when we pointed out our bike tour. But what we did not know was the fact that the registrations, which we had received from our accommodation in Tashkent, were not legal because this company was not authorized to issue such. But we didn't understand the circumstances until much later however, since we haven't been provided with a translator throughout the whole day despite our repeated requests. We were held at the airport from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. without any explanation, without beeing able to eat or drink and we couldn't even go to the toilet.

In the evening the police then took us to their station, where I (Sonja) was finally allowed to  go to the bathroom. When I got up again from the hole in the ground, I felt so dizzy due to dehydration  that I had to lie down on the filthy toilet floor, where I was unconscious for a few seconds until a "helpful" police officer poured water from a bottle into my face and pulled me up roughly by the arm.

In the late evening we finally got an English-speaking translator who explained to us the whole situation and even though all our strenght was used up and our nerves were at breaking point, we each had to bring our statements to paper single-handedly and handwritten. We were promised by the police that they would then bring us to a hotel, but when they had our signatures, they just put us out on the street at 11 p.m. and requested that we show up again the next morning.

Of course, we could not sleep all night, thanks to those disturbing events, but we again had to spend the whole next day at the police station, where once again everything had to be put on record with the help of a German translator. This time, however, everybody was considerably more friendly, because we had threatened with the German Embassy. When we were dismissed in the evening, they again asked us to come back the next morning.

On the third day we were able to leave after only 2 hours and immediately went to the German Embassy, ​​whom we had already phoned, to complain and to ask them about our rights and opportunities. Unfortunately, the rights of tourists are scarce in such a police state.

In the end they admitted our innocence, we were named victims in their report and the police repeatedly apologized. But our passports were confiscated nevertheless and they let us know that we should consider ourselves lucky, since they normally impose a fine of 1400 € each and you are sent back to your home country (not like us to India) with a banishment of up to several years. Only at our departure we got our passports back, with a big red deportation stamp in it, and a police officer had to accompany us to our flight to make sure that we really leave this (un)friendly country, to which we never ever plan to come back.

We hereby advise each individual tourist to thoroughly reconsider a journey to Uzbekistan and before travelling there to extensively read up on their rights and duties, especially in regard to registration. It is strictly forbidden to stay with locals, also with couchsurfers, and one can only spend the night at especially licenced tourist hotels. According to the German Embassy,the safest option is to choose an accommodation which you find in a guidebook. Especially at the airport of Tashkent all your papers are thoroughly examined. And even if you think you did everything right, you have to be prepared for surprises.

Goodbye forever, Uzbekistan!


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