As U.S. Dances With Russia, Former Uzbeki Prisoners Watch With Worry

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The consequences of the rapidly evolving relationship with Russia aren't just resignations in Washington and eager eyes in Moscow.

Instead, for many former Soviet-bloc countries who are increasingly being brought into the 21st century's growing Russian sphere of influence, a relationship with the U.S. is seen as an important pressure point in ensuring that basic human rights are adhered to.

That's certainly the case for Uzbekistan, whose human rights record is described as "arguably among the worst in the world" by Human Rights Watch.

Some of the major abuses exposed in recent years were the Andijan massacre, where hundreds of protesters were killed in that city in 2005; the cotton scandal, showing how 1 to 2 million laborers are forced to work in cotton fields; and the December election of president Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who came to office with 88 percent of the vote in a sham election.

Last year, the US Justice Department got involved in the country, seizing $850 million in assets as part of the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, money that the Uzbek government is now demanding back.

That's a question that the new US administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions can control, but if it's up to our next two guests, they want that money as far away from their former country as possible.

Sanjar Umarov and Umida Niyazova were both political prisoners in Uzbekistan, having at one point spoken out against the country's oppression. They both managed to leave the country. Umida now lives in Berlin, where she's the director of the Uzbek-German Forum for Human Rights; and Sanjar in the US, where he runs Sunshine Uzbekistan.

Umida hopes that the new American administration can be a force for good in her country, though she's not optimistic.