Murder in Samarkand


by Craig Murray

Published in paperback by Mainstream Publishing Company (Edinburgh) Ltd

As the title suggests, this book has the ingredients of a thriller: an exotic location, perilous travel through inhospitable terrain, murders, sabotage, nights of hard drinking and an array of attractive young women. However it is a factual account, recalled in fascinating detail, of the two years the author spent as British Ambassador in Uzbekistan from 2002-2004. He was appointed to the post at the exceptionally young age of 43 after distinguished service in Africa and Poland. Exploratory forays soon brought him face to face with the blatant corruption of the Uzbek regime where private business is stifled and the profits from state monopolies and foreign aid are siphoned into the coffers of a small ruling elite.

He started out by operating as an exceptionally energetic and conscientious civil servant but became a thorn in the side of the British and US political establishment. The turning point was when he attended the trial of some Uzbek dissidents who had been tortured and were condemned to death on trumped up charges. Faced with the miserable plight of the accused, who were caged and allowed no say before the judge, he experienced a moment of inner resolve: ‘I would dedicate every fibre of my being to stopping this horror in Uzbekistan. I would not spend three years on the golf course and the cocktail circuit. I would not go along with the political lies and leave the truth unspoken’.

What follows is the story of the opposition this stance met with, ironically not just in Uzbekistan, but within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. It cost him the collapse of his diplomatic career and the failure of his marriage. So intense was the pressure to silence his protests against the use of evidence obtained under torture, sanctioned in the name of the War on Terror by the US and in the UK, that he suffered a nervous breakdown and severe physical health problems, from both of which he has subsequently recovered.

The narrative is frank, it communicates the author’s energy and his astute appraisal of the situations he encounters. He eschews the notion that he is a hero, indeed he flaunts his fatal flaws, but nevertheless one can respect a man for whom there are issues on which he will not go against the dictates of his conscience.

Lesley Croome