Mitch Ellmauer, Intern, International Labor Rights Forum
Sting, the British pop icon, cancelled a concert in Kazakhstan recently over human rights abuses committed against striking oil workers. Workers from Kazakhstan’s state oil company went on strike in early May after their wages had been cut. Many of the strike’s leaders have been imprisoned, and many workers have been assaulted by police and company thugs. According to Sting and Amnesty International, playing in Kazakhstan would have been interpreted as an endorsement of President’s Nazarbayev’s administration.
“Hunger strikes, imprisoned workers, and tens of thousands on strike represent a virtual picket line which I have no intention of crossing,” Sting wrote in a recent press release.
However, Sting has not always been so concerned with human rights violations in Central Asia. Maybe the Kazakh government just wasn’t paying him enough. Last year, Sting was paid two million pounds to play at a music festival in Uzbekistan. The concert was organized by Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the country’s ironfisted dictator.
I am well aware of the Uzbek president’s appalling reputation in the field of human rights as well as the environment. I made the decision to play there in spite of that have come to believe that cultural boycotts are not only pointless gestures, they are counter-productive.
This stands in stark contrast to Sting’s refusal to cross Kazakhstan’s “virtual picket lines.” Much like the concert in Kazakhstan, which was part of the president’s birthday celebrations, Sting’s appearance in Tashkent was solely for the enjoyment of Uzbekistan’s elite. The cheapest tickets cost $1000. That’s 45 times more than the average Uzbek’s monthly salary.
Meanwhile, the government of Uzbekistan removes hundreds of thousands of children from schools across the country every harvest season and forces them to pick cotton to enrich the ruling regime. Sound like the kind of folks you want to take money from?
Sting was personally invited by Gulnara Karimova, and the two sat together during the fashion that preceded Sting’s performance. Gulnara Karimova is as complicit in Uzbekistan’s dictatorship as her father is. She was Deputy foreign Minister, head of the Uzbekistan’s mission to the UN in Switzerland, and it is speculated that she could succeed her father as president. Gulnara has been described as a “robber baron” by US diplomats; she has used her family connections to gain control of Uzbekistan’s mobile phone monopoly and Zeromax, a multi-billion company that controls most of the country’s industry. A dispatch from the US Embassy in Tashkent described her as the “single most hated person in the country.”
Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, put is best when he said: “Sting is a hypocrite.” Don’t let Sting get away with profiting off of brutal dictatorships. Sign this petition here and demand that he donate Gulnara Karimova’s money to human rights defenders in Uzbekistan.