4 – Islam Karimov (Uzbekistan 1989 – 2016)
While he was alive, Karimov was wooed by a number of world leaders. Examples include the time America sent 300 armored vehicles while Vladimir Putin forgave $1 billion of debt. Karimov benefitted from being in the right place at the right time. He became the leader of Uzbekistan in 1989 and made the most of its location. His nation has an 85-mile border with Afghanistan, so he was able to play the United States and Russia against one another as the two powerful nations continued to quarrel over everything from Ukraine to Syria. As a result, the West turned a blind eye to Karimov’s despotic and evil ways.
Karimov attained the position of First Secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan on June 23, 1989, and was elected first President of the Republic just nine months later. He declared Uzbekistan as an independent republic and over the next quarter of a century, Karimov murdered protestors, boiled people alive, and forced children to work in slave-like conditions. After 9/11, Uzbekistan became an important strategic ally to the United States, so he received significant military and economic support from the West.
All the while, Karimov was terrorizing his own people, and no one cared. He was extremely open about his opposition to democracy. During one presidential address on television, he said: I’m prepared to rip the heads off 200 people… to save peace and calm in the republic. If a child chose such a path, I myself would rip off his head.” As it transpired, Karimov was responsible for the deaths of a lot more than 200 people. Even his 1991 Presidential victory was likely the result of fraud, and in subsequent elections, Karimov retained power easily.
During his reign, Uzbekistan had among the strongest media censorship in the world. Dissenting journalists, political opponents, and human rights activists were arrested en masse. Karimov routinely used torture to extract information and confessions, and he ordered the arrest of anyone who engaged in ‘illegal’ religious practice in what amounted to a war on Islam. From 1991 to 2004, 7,000 citizens were arrested on the grounds they were ‘Islamic extremists,’ and he even banned the Muslim call to prayer from being broadcast in Uzbekistan. Moreover, he ordered the arrest and imprisonment of law-abiding Muslims.
One of his worst actions was to order the shooting of unarmed protesters in 2005. Anywhere from 400 to 1,500 people were murdered during the infamous Andijan Massacre on May 13. There are numerous reports of Karimov also ordering the executions of prisoners without trial. His health started to fail him in his late seventies and on September 2, 2016, he died after suffering cardiac arrest.