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Longing for democracy

October 4, 2010

Gulam Umarov, left, translates for his father, Dr. Sanjar Umarov, as he speaks to the Rotary Club on Monday.

Locked up for what his captors called “economic” crimes, Dr. Sanjar Umarov underwent torture and abuse in his native Uzbekistan for more than four years.
Held for more than four years, he spent about two years in solitary confinement, says his son, Gulam Umarov.
Sanjar Umarov’s plight didn’t go unnoticed back in Starkville, and the Umarovs, along with Rotarian O.A. Cleveland, recalled details of the case during and after Monday’s Starkville Rotary Club meeting.
Cleveland first met the elder Umarov in 1992, when Mississippi State University officials decided to enter the former Soviet republic — a primary competitor to the United States in cotton — as it declared its independence.
At the time, Mississippi produced 1.4 million acres of cotton, Cleveland said. Sanjar Umarov’s brother-in-law was Cleveland’s interpreter.
The following year, Sanjar Umarov came to MSU as a Cochran Fellow, a program allowing the study of agricultural trade and related topics.
In October 2005, the Uzbek government took Sanjar Umarov – a leader in a movement called the Sunshine Coalition, an Uzbek opposition party – into custody.
Not long after, efforts his son credits to officials at MSU brought the arrest to light.
“The initial push came from (MSU),” said Gulam Umarov, a 1996 Starkville High School graduate who attended MSU.
He referred to the effort to get word out about the case and specifically back resolutions in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate calling attention to Sanjar Umarov’s situation.
“When Dad was in custody, we had so much help from Starkville,” Gulam Umarov said after the meeting. “We got a lot of moral and practical support from the Starkville community.”
Uzbek officials eventually released Sanjar Umarov as a “humanitarian act” Nov. 7, 2009, his son said Monday.
Sanjar Umarov’s voice box was shattered during the ordeal, and while he’s regained speech, his son translated for him during his talk. The elder Umarov longs to see free elections in his home country.
When asked by an audience member whether this will be possible in the next 15 to 20 years, Gulam Umarov said on his father’s behalf: “We should. Uzbekistan should become a democracy in 15 to 20 years but we really hope it will hope than it will happen much earlier than 15, 20 years.”

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