Monty Python does Kafka – Part one: from minor infraction to major disaster
I entered Uzbekistan from Kazakhstan on the 9th August, traveling by train from Turkistan to Tashkent. At no point at the border crossing (or during my earlier online research, travelling websites or in my guidebook) was there any information about any medication being illegal in Uzbekistan.
10 days later at the Uzbek/Turkmenistan border, in response to a request I showed my medicine kit, which included some tablets of Diazepam. The officers stated that this medicine was a class B psychotropic drug in Uzbekistan and they could not let me through until they had informed their superiors. At this point I was told that I would need to sign a form to permit the medicines to be destroyed, before being able to leave in a couple of hours. I was shown the hand-written letters of other people who had been in the same situation. I started reading the only English book that I had managed to swap in the previous hostel – Conan Doyle’s the White Company, which I had the opportunity to know by heart by the time I passed it on. And waited.
At 6pm the border closed, and I was told I had to fill in some forms declaring the incident in the regional town, Nukus. I was there from 6.30 to 10.30pm filling out forms surrounded by eight uniformed men and with a drunk translator provided by customs. He couldn’t get over the fact that I wasn’t married, thought a big smile would make up for the fumes and missing out every other word, and kept humming ‘don’t worry, be happy’. First test of fortitude. I was told that I would be able to leave the next day, but that by law the tablets needed to be tested by an official laboratory.
That was Thursday. After a few pleasant days spent in seclusion at the President’s palace (where the occasional Uzbek government official looked quizzically in my direction wondering what I was doing there), I was informed that a case had been submitted from customs to the police. In the meantime, I had had to stay in the very nice residence (my only experience with air conditioning the whole trip) and was fed and watered by the two nice customs officers who were in charge of my case – Mahmoud and Sergei – who were genuinely super nice.
We hung around a couple of times at the police and the prosecutor’s office and then the Chief says to me that things are more complicated than they though – I was two tablets over a limit that means they couldn’t waive it. I was told I would have to see a judge on Monday to decide whether I should pay a fine, before I could cross the border on the Tuesday.
This happened over the weekend, so on Monday I found a great female lawyer, Raushan Isembayova, with the help of Askar, a fabulous gentleman who was my saviour and fix-it man here in Nukus. A Tashkent-based lawyer on the FCO list put me in touch with him.
Raushan explained that in fact, a criminal investigation had been opened under article 264 part (1) of the Uzbek criminal code, the accusation being trafficking of drugs purchased in Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan and with a penalty of 5-20 years. Oh dear…
Nukus President’s residence, my home for three days