Uzbekistan is stable but has an eery calm. On the surface fear keeps people from rocking the boat. Under the surface resentment and hostility fester but to what degree is hard to tell. Soviet-style repression is pervasive. Human rights violations have included allegation of torture, lack of civil liberties, the signing of bogus confessions and crack downs on Muslims practicing outside state-run mosques. There have been mysterious deaths while in custody of members of banned religious parties and human rights groups, possibly from torture.

According to the U.S. Department of State: “ Uzbekistan is an authoritarian state with a constitution that provides for a presidential system with separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The executive branch under President Islam Karimov dominated political life and exercised nearly complete control over the other branches of government. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported that elections did not “address main concerns with regard to fundamental freedoms that are critical for elections to fully meet international commitments and standards.” The government enforced restrictions on eligible candidates and maintained control of media and campaign financing. Authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.

A Human Rights Watch report says that political repression has been a “constant feature of life” in Uzbekistan for the past two decades. It suggests the government in the capital Tashkent has pursued various “overlapping” campaigns of persecution. The Central Asian state has seen a crackdown on the political opposition (1992-1997); the persecution of religious Muslims (from 1997 until present); and the Andijan massacre and its aftermath (2005-2007), when hundreds of protesters in the eastern Fergana Valley city of Andijan were shot dead. [Source: Luke Harding, The Guardian, September 26, 2014]

The civil war in Tajikistan, the fighting in Afghanistan and rise of Islamic extremism gave the leaders in other Central Asian nations an excuse to use repression against opponents. In the 2000s, the United States chose to ignore Uzbekistan's human rights record in return for Uzbek support in the United States’s war on terrorism. Human rights abuses reportedly increased after September 11th.

Human Rights in Uzbekistan in the 2000s

In 2004 the government responded to ongoing international allegations of human rights abuses by making modest improvements, including nominally intensified government oversight of prisons and law enforcement procedures. However, the Andijon upheavals in mid-2005 brought a new wave of oppression, reportedly more severe than that before 2004. Freedom House rated Uzbekistan among the eight nations with the worst human rights records for 2005. [Source: Library of Congress February 2007 **]

Members of the Tajik minority have suffered discrimination, in some cases being forced to change official identity from Tajik to Uzbek. Media censorship is not explicit, but in fact citizens’ access to conflicting views is limited severely by state control of information sources and self-censorship based on fear of official retaliation. Unauthorized public meetings and demonstrations are forbidden, and police disrupt peaceful protests. The compulsory residence registration system (“propiska”) hampers movement of citizens within the country. **

In 2006 the government held an estimated 5,000 political and religious prisoners. The activity of civic and religious groups is circumscribed by rigid registration requirements. Groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses have been denied registration. The government controls all activities of the mainstream Muslim organizations, which fall under the jurisdiction of Uzbekistan’s chief mufti. Unauthorized Islamic groups have been prosecuted on charges of “extremism.” Proselytizing and the teaching of religion in schools are illegal, as is all unregistered religious activity. **

The government has harassed or closed numerous domestic and foreign nongovernmental organizations, establishing more strict regulation after similar organizations were involved in democratic government changes elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. Police and security troops have the legal right to arrest individuals without a warrant. Arbitrary arrest, torture, and extended pretrial detention are common. Although the constitution guarantees many aspects of a fair trial, in fact defendants face arbitrary court procedures, and the rate of conviction is extremely high. The quality and quantity of defense lawyers are low. Prison conditions are poor. Although women nominally have full rights to property and employment, discrimination and violence against them are common, and trafficking in women from Uzbekistan has increased in the early 2000s. **

Human Rights in Uzbekistan in the 1990s

In the 1990s, Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch, and the United States Department of State consistently identified the human rights record of Uzbekistan as among the worst in the former Soviet Union. With the exception of sporadic liberalization, all opposition movements and independent media are essentially banned in Uzbekistan. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]

The early 1990s were characterized by arrests and beatings of opposition figures on fabricated charges. For example, one prominent Uzbek, Ibrahim Bureyev, was arrested in 1994 after announcing plans to form a new opposition party. After reportedly being freed just before the March referendum, Bureyev shortly thereafter was arrested again on a charge of possessing illegal firearms and drugs. In April 1995, fewer than two weeks after the referendum extending President Karimov's term, six dissidents were sentenced to prison for distributing the party newspaper of Erk and inciting the overthrow of Karimov. Members of opposition groups have been harassed by Uzbekistan's secret police as far away as Moscow. *

Despite extensive constitutional protections, the Karimov government actively suppressed the rights of political movements, banned unsanctioned public meetings and demonstrations, and arrested opposition figures on fabricated charges. The atmosphere of repression reduced constructive opposition and freedom of expression, and distorted the political process, even when institutional changes have been made. In the mid-1990s, legislation established significant rights for independent trade unions, separate from the government, and enhanced individual rights; but enforcement is uneven, and the role of the state security services remains central.

Harassment and Big Brother Tactics in Uzbekistan

Children, parents, and wives of government critics have are arrested as enemies of the state for being related to someone accused of a crime. Karimov once declared, "The fathers who have brought them up will be brought to account together with their children."

According to the U.S. Department of State: “There were reports that police and other security forces entered the homes of human rights activists and members of some religious groups without a warrant. On multiple occasions members of Protestant and other minority churches who held worship services in private homes reported that armed security officers raided services and detained and fined church members for religious activity deemed illegal under the administrative or criminal code. Among such incidents were raids in Samarkand and Tashkent in March and in Bukhara in April. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

Human rights activists and political opposition figures generally assumed that security agencies covertly monitored their telephone calls and activities. The government continued to use an estimated 12,000 neighborhood committees (mahallas) as a source of information on potential extremists. The committees served varied social support functions, but they also functioned as a link from local society to government and law enforcement. Mahallas in rural areas tended to be more influential than those in cities. There continued to be credible reports that police, employers, and mahalla committees harassed family members of human rights activists. Examples included harassment directed against family members of human rights activists Uktam Pardaev, and Gulshan Karaeva. *\

“Although the constitution and law forbid such actions, authorities did not respect these prohibitions. The law requires that prosecutors approve requests for a search warrant for electronic surveillance, but there is no provision for judicial review of such warrants. *\

Text Sources: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated March 2022

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