National Security Service (NSS, often romanised as SNB) continues intelligence function of Soviet-era Committee for State Security (KGB). The SNB Service is under the direct command of the president through the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It has the responsibility for suppression of dissent and Islamic activity and surveillance of all possible opposition figures and groups, as well as prevention of corruption, organized crime, and narcotics trafficking. Because it receives no effective oversight, the SNB is considered one of the most powerful security police forces in the former Soviet Union. In 2005 SNB forces numbered between 17,000 and 19,000. [Source: Library of Congress February 2007 **]

The SNB is Uzbekistan’s the notorious secret police. It was created as a successor to the KGB following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and retains the same responsibilities and a similar range of functional units, including paramilitary police and special forces. The SNB was a rival of the Interior Ministry until 2005, when it was brought under its control. Described by Amnesty International and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting as a secret police force. The SNB is known to have special purpose units "Alfa", "Cobra", and "Scorpion" under its direct command. The Border Service and Customs Service of Uzbekistan answer to the SNB since being placed under its control in 2005. [Source: Wikipedia]

National security secrecy is a way of life. Before the matches at the first international tennis tournament held in Tashkent soldiers with mine sweepers checked the stadium and clay courts for bombs before the arrival of the president. Uzbekistan defines its most important security concerns not only in terms of the potential for military conflict, but also in terms of domestic threats. Primary among those threats are the destabilizing effects of trafficking in narcotics and weapons into and across Uzbekistani territory. Although the government has recognized the dangers of such activities to society, enforcement often is stymied by corruption in law enforcement agencies.[Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

In the 1990s, the SNB was mainly staffed by former KGB personnel. About 8,000 paramilitary troops were believed available to SNB at that time. Some SNB members have received training from the The United States Department of Justice.

Police in Uzbekistan

Regular police force has about 25,000 troops. Political corruption and bribery widespread, including state procurator and courts. The Uzbek equivalent of the GAI (Russian traffic police) is the DAN.

Conventional police operations are the responsibility of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Each governmental jurisdiction has a police force; the forces of larger jurisdictions are subdivided by function. The police forces reportedly are corrupt (particularly the tax and traffic police), and the level of public trust in them is very low. According to human rights organizations, both NSS and regular police use arbitrary arrest, intimidation, and violent tactics. At the community level, civilian police organizations of the “mahallas” aid the local police in crime prevention and deterrence of antigovernment activity. [Source: Library of Congress February 2007 **]

In the 1990s the Uzbekistani police force was estimated to number about 25,000 individuals trained according to Soviet standards. The United States Department of Justice began a program to train the force in Western techniques. Interaction also has been expanded with the National Security Service, [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Police Activity and Training in Uzbekistan

According to the OSAC: “Police training and equipment is often below U.S. standards. Very few local law enforcement officials speak English. While police response capability is available, there is little investigative ability to solve crimes primarily due to lack of training, funding, and equipment. [Source: “Uzbekistan 2015 Crime and Safety Report,” Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), Bureau of Diplomatic Security, U.S. Department of State]

According to the U.S. Department of State: “ The government authorizes three different entities to investigate criminal activity. The Ministry of Interior controls the police, who are responsible for law enforcement, maintenance of order, and the investigation of general crime. The National Security Service (NSS), headed by a chairman who reports directly to the president, deals with a broad range of national security and intelligence problems, including terrorism, corruption, organized crime, and narcotics. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

Prosecutors investigate violent crimes such as homicide as well as corruption by officials and abuse of power. Where jurisdictions overlap, the agencies determine among themselves which should take the lead. The Ministry of Internal Affairs’ main investigations directorate had internal procedures to investigate abuses and discipline officers accused of human rights violations, but the government rarely punished officials who committed human rights abuses. A human rights and legal education department within the ministry investigated some police brutality cases. The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, affiliated with parliament, also has the power to investigate cases, although its decisions on such investigations have no binding authority. *\

Corruption and Other Problems with Uzbekistan’s Police

Organized crime and corruption are widespread and deeply entrenched throughout Uzbekistan, especially in the law enforcement community itself. According to experts, the government corruption scandals that attracted international attention in the 1980s were symptomatic of a high degree of corruption endemic in the system. In a society of tremendous economic shortage and tight political control from the top down, the government and criminal world become intertwined. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

Police have been known to either solicit bribes in order to supplement their salaries or readily accept bribes when offered. Citizens routinely have been required to pay bribes for all common services. More than two-thirds of respondents in a recent survey of Uzbekistan's citizens stated that bribes are absolutely necessary to receive services that nominally are available to all. These bribes often involve enormous sums of money: in 1993 admission to a prestigious institution of higher learning, while technically free, commonly cost nearly 1 million Russian rubles, or more than twice the average annual salary in Uzbekistan in 1993.

Narcotics and weapons trafficking are only an extension of this system, widely viewed as sustained and supported by law enforcement and government officials themselves. In the same survey, a majority of Uzbekistanis stated that bribery occurs routinely in the police department, in the courts, and in the office of the state procurator, the chief prosecutor in the national judicial system. About 25 percent of police surveyed agreed that other officers were involved in the sale of drugs or taking bribes. *

Prisons in Uzbekistan

In the early 2000, 63,000 people were officially in Uzbek prisons. Some human rights estimated the true figure could have been near 200,000. Many are them were believed to have been innocent, placed there after drugs or banned religious literature was placed on them and then given long sentences after being fingered as an Islamist or other threat to the government.

According to the U.S. Department of State: “The government reported there were approximately 43,900 prisoners, a decrease of an estimated 3,000 prisoners since 2013. Men, women, and juvenile offenders were held in separate facilities. There were reports that in some facilities inmates convicted of attempting to overturn the constitutional order were held separately and that prison officials did not allow inmates convicted under religious extremism charges to interact with other inmates. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

“There was no information available regarding whether recordkeeping on prisoners was adequate or whether authorities took steps to improve recordkeeping. Authorities in limited cases used administrative measures as alternatives to criminal sentences for nonviolent offenders. In addition the criminal code mandates several instances in which courts cannot sentence individuals to prison if full restitution has been made.The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office and the Prosecutor General’s Office may investigate complaints from detainees. The Ombudsman’s Office may make recommendations on behalf of specific prisoners, including changes to the sentences of nonviolent offenders to make them more appropriate to the offense. *\

“Prison officials generally allowed family members to visit prisoners for up to four hours two to four times per year. There were, however, reports that relatives of prisoners held on religious or extremism charges were denied visitation rights. Officials also permitted visits of one to three days two to four times per year, depending on the type of prison facility. Family members of political prisoners reported that officials frequently delayed or severely shortened visits arbitrarily. *\

Prison administration officials reported an active World Health Organization tuberculosis program in the prisons and an HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention program. Officials reported hepatitis was not present in high numbers and that hepatitis patients received treatment in existing medical facilities and programs. *\

“In April 2013 the International Committee of the Red Cross announced the termination of its program to monitor conditions of detention and the treatment of detainees, citing an inability to follow its standard working procedures and the lack of constructive dialogue with the government. As in 2013 independent observers from the international community had limited access to some parts of the penitentiary system, including pretrial detention facilities, juvenile and women’s prisons, and prison settlements. Authorities granted observers access only to certain prisons and to limited areas within them. In January authorities permitted human rights activists Surat Ikramov and Vasila Inoyatova to visit prisoners Murod Juraev and Salijon Abdurakhmanov. Local human rights activists visiting prisons were subject to intense government scrutiny that could constrain their independence and freedom of action.” *\

Poor Conditions at Prisons in Uzbekistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: “Prison conditions were in some circumstances harsh and life threatening. Reports of overcrowding were common, as were reports of severe abuse and shortages of medicine. The government, however, reported an average occupancy rate of 80 percent in its 58 penitentiary facilities. Inmates generally had access to potable water, but inmates and their families reported that, although generally available, water and food were of poor quality. Relatives of prisoners in some instances complained that prison diets did not include sufficient meat. There were reports of political prisoners held in cells without proper ventilation and subjected to extreme temperatures. Family members also reported that officials frequently withheld or delayed delivery of food and medicine intended for prisoners. Unlike in past years, family members of inmates did not report any incidents of sexual abuse. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

According to the family of Salijon Abdurakhmanov, a freelance journalist who often wrote for Uznews.net, when Abdurakhmanov’s son visited him in the Karshi prison, authorities immediately terminated the visit because “the visiting room’s intercoms were broken.” Officials then reportedly denied requests to move into a room with working intercoms, stating that since the two had seen each other, the right to a visit had already been exercised. Similarly, the wife of religious prisoner and Tajik citizen Zuboyd Mirzorakhimov complained that, when she came from Tajikistan to visit him in Investigation Prison No.1 in Tashkent, prison officials denied the visit without any explanation. *\

“The government stated that prisoners have the right to practice any religion or no religion, but prisoners frequently complained to family members they were not able to observe religious rituals that conflicted with prison scheduling. Such rituals included traditional Islamic morning prayers. Although some prison libraries had copies of the Quran and the Bible, there were complaints from family members, as in past years, that prisoners were not allowed access to religious materials. *\

“According to official government procedures, prisoners have the right to “participate in religious worship and ‘family relations, such as marriage.” “Close relatives” also have the right to receive oral and written information from prison officials about the health and disciplinary records of their family members. Nonetheless, families of prisoners continued to report a lack of communication and information from family members in prison and stated that the government continued to withhold information about health and prison records. *\

“According to family members and some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), authorities failed to release prisoners, especially those convicted of religious extremism, at the end of their terms. Prison authorities often extended inmates’ terms by accusing them of additional crimes or of violating internal prison rules or claiming the prisoners represented a continuing danger to society. *\

Amnesty of Prisoners in Uzbekistan

Every year December the Senate approves a prisoner amnesty. According to the U.S. Department of State: “ According to its terms, women, underage offenders, men over 60, foreign citizens, and persons with disabilities or documented serious illnesses were eligible for amnesty. The bill also included first-time offenders convicted of participation in banned organizations and the commission of crimes against peace or public security who “have firmly stood on the path to recovery.” As in previous years, the amnesty foresaw (with some exceptions) reducing sentences by one-third for all convicts sentenced to up to 10 years’ imprisonment and by one-fourth for those sentenced to more than 10 years. The resolution excludes from the amnesty persons sentenced to life and “lengthy” terms in prison, repeat offenders, and those who “systemically have violated the terms of incarceration.” Amnesty options included release from prison, transfer to a work camp. Courts were also permitted to dismiss criminal cases at the pretrial or trial stage. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

“Amnesty for those eligible would actually be implemented in the coming year, subject to official, case-by-case review. Local prison authorities had considerable discretion in determining who qualifies for release, as they determine whether a prisoner is “following the way of correction” or “systematically violating” the terms of incarceration. Officials often cited “violation of internal prison rules” as a reason for denying amnesty and for extending sentences. *\

“According to government statements, almost 69,000 persons were eligible under the 2013 amnesty implemented in the first quarter of 2014. The vast majority of individuals had cases dismissed in the investigative phase or received reduced sentences if already imprisoned, but 2,095 individuals were released from incarceration.” *\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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