HUMAN RIGHTS IN UZBEKISTAN
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 Abuses in Uzbekistan
According to Human Rights Watch: Authoritarian President Islam Karimov, who has been power for more than 25 years, “continued to employ a widespread security apparatus to monitor and crack down on activities of real and perceived opponents. Authorities repress all forms of freedom of expression and do not allow any organized political opposition, independent media, free trade unions, independent civil society organizations, or religious freedom. Those who attempt to assert rights, or act in ways deemed contrary to state interests, face arbitrary detention, lack of due process, and torture. Forced labor of adults and children continues. [Source: “World Report 2015: Uzbekistan”, Human Rights Watch]
According to the U.S. Department of State: “The most significant human rights problems included: torture and abuse of detainees by security forces; denial of due process and fair trial; an inability to change the government through elections; and widespread restrictions on religious freedom, including harassment of religious minority group members and continued imprisonment of believers of all faiths. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]
“Other continuing human rights problems included: incommunicado and prolonged detention; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; restrictions on freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association; government restrictions on civil society activity; restrictions on freedom of movement; violence against women; and government-organized forced labor. Authorities subjected human rights activists, journalists, and others who criticized the government, as well as their family members, to harassment, arbitrary arrest, and politically motivated prosecution and detention. \*\
Government officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights listed ongoing rights violations including child slave labour in the country’s large cotton industry, forced sterilisation of women, and arbitrary detention and torture. A Human Rights Watch report in September 2014 said Karimov’s government had locked up thousands of critics, including activists, journalists, artists and clerics. Of 34 prisoners profiled, 29 made credible allegations of torture and ill treatment, including beatings, electric shocks, and hanging from wrists and ankles.
Karimov and Human Rights
Karimov has relied on Stalinist methods to stay in power: the arrest of thousands on trumped up charges, torture, forced confessions, group trials, show trials. He controls the media and the courts. In 1992, shortly after a new constitution was established that called for multiparty democracy, an opposition leader was abducted in Kyrgyzstan and charged with sedition and the main opposition party, Birkkik, was crushed.
Human rights violations have included allegation of cracking down Muslims who worshipped outside state-run mosques, the mysterious deaths of people in custody, possibly from torture, and banning of religious political parties and human rights groups. Human rights groups have said that at least 7,000 people have been jailed on political and religious charges. As of 2005, there were thought to at least 6,000 people still in jail.
Karimov’s human rights record has been condemned by numerous countries as well organizations like the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Among the things the Karimov regime has been charged with doing are boiling enemies, slaughtering unarmed civilians and conscripting armies of children for slave labor.
Despite extensive constitutional protections, the Karimov government has actively suppressed the rights of political movements, continues to ban unsanctioned public meetings and demonstrations, and continues to arrest opposition figures on fabricated charges. The atmosphere of repression reduces constructive opposition and freedom of expression, and continues to distort 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. [Source: Library of Congress, March 1996 *]
Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch, and the United States Department of State consistently have 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.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. *
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. \*\
Arbitrary Arrest and Denial of Amnesty in Uzbekistan
According to the U.S. Department of State: “Authorities continued to arrest persons arbitrarily on charges of extremist sentiments or activities and association with banned religious groups. Local human rights activists reported that police and security service officers, acting under pressure to break up extremist cells, frequently detained and mistreated family members and close associates of suspected members of religious extremist groups. Coerced confessions and testimony in such cases were commonplace.[Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]
“In May the Russian Embassy in Tashkent informed the Interfax news agency that Russian businessman Aleksandr Pozdeyev, president of the West-Ural Machine-building Group, was detained for 10 days in Tashkent and that government officials prevented access to a lawyer or consular officials, ostensibly in an effort to recover the $36 million debt his Uzbek partners owed to Uzbekistan. Following a strident Russia-backed media campaign, authorities allowed Pozdeyev to leave the country. \*\
“There were reports that police arrested persons on false charges of extortion, drug possession, or tax evasion as an intimidation tactic to prevent them or their family members from exposing corruption or interfering in local criminal activities. Human rights activists expressed concern that individuals imprisoned for religious extremism or political grounds were not released under the amnesty, although they met criteria for inclusion. In March, for example, the family of Ganikhon Mamatkhanov, a representative of the Fergana region International Society for Protection of Human Rights, reported that officials extended his sentence by three years for allegedly disobeying the orders of the prison administration by using the toilet three times without asking. The government stated that, during his incarceration, Mamatkhanov “did not step on the path of correction, systematically disrupted the incarceration regime and internal institution rules” and therefore received an additional sentence of 27 months following a trial. Other examples included Salijon Abdurakhmanov, Isroil Holdarov, Murod Juraev, and Agzam Turgunov.
Freedom of Speech and Assembly in Uzbekistan
According to the U.S. Department of State: “ The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and press, but the government did not respect these rights, severely limiting freedom of expression. The law restricts criticism of the president, and publicly insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. The law specifically prohibits publication of articles that incite religious confrontation and ethnic discord or that advocate subverting or overthrowing the constitutional order. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]
“The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government often restricted this right. Authorities have the right to suspend or prohibit rallies, meetings, and demonstrations for security reasons. The government often did not grant the permits required for demonstrations. Citizens were subject to large fines for violating procedures for organizing of meetings, rallies, and demonstrations or for facilitating unsanctioned events by providing space, other facilities, or materials. Regulations issued in July require organizers of “mass events” with the potential participation of more than 100 persons to sign agreements with the Ministry of Interior for the provision of security prior to advertising or holding such an event. This regulation was broadly applied, even to private, corporate functions. \*\
“Authorities dispersed and occasionally detained persons involved in peaceful protests and sometimes pressed administrative charges following protest actions. In January authorities arrested the participants in an unsanctioned demonstration in support of Ukraine’s Maidan movement. Participants, including Umida Akhmedova, Timur Karpov, Ashot Danelyan, Aleksey Ulko, and Artyom Liudny, submitted a letter of support for the movement to the Ukrainian Embassy in Tashkent and photographed themselves holding Ukrainian and Georgian flags, in plain view of local police. After publication of the photographs on the internet, authorities arrested the participants, sentencing Ulko, Danelyan, and Liudny to 15 days’ detention each. In addition female participants were initially fined 1.92 million soum ($800) and male participants 2.88 million soum ($1,200) for holding an unsanctioned demonstration; the next day authorities doubled some of the fines. In March the Ministry of the Interior issued an official ban on a rally by the unregistered Day Laborers Union, citing concerns about possible provocations. \*\
Freedom of the Press in Uzbekistan
Uzbekistan doesn't have a free or independent press. The press is controlled by the government and reports the government’s agenda. The bureaucracy that censored the press during the Soviet era endured after independence. Terrorist attacks and protests and crackdowns in Uzbekistan are either barely mentioned or not mentioned at all in the local press. Reporters generally are only allowed to report on what the government allows them to.
According to the U.S. Department of State: “All media entities, foreign and domestic, must register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members. Print media must also provide hard copies of publications to the government. The law holds all foreign and domestic media organizations accountable for the accuracy of their reporting, prohibits foreign journalists from working in the country without official accreditation, and subjects foreign media outlets to domestic mass media laws. The government used accreditation rules to deny foreign journalists and media outlets the opportunity to work in the country. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]
“Amendments to the Law on Information Technologies, signed in September, hold bloggers accountable for the accuracy of what they post and prohibits posts potentially perceived as defaming an individual’s “honor and dignity.” Limitations also preclude perceived calls for public disorder, encroachment on constitutional order, posting pornography or state secrets, and “other activities which are subject to criminal and other types of responsibilities according to legislation. \*\
“The government prohibited the promotion of religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism as well as the instigation of ethnic and religious hatred. It prohibited legal entities with more than 30 percent foreign ownership from establishing media outlets in the country. \*\
“Articles in state-controlled newspapers reflected the government’s viewpoint. The main government newspapers published selected international wire stories. The government allowed publication of a few private newspapers with limited circulation containing advertising, horoscopes, and some substantive local news, including infrequent stories critical of government socioeconomic policies. \*\
“The government used large-circulation tabloids, such as Darakchi and Bekajon, as platforms to publish articles that criticized lower-level government officials or discredited “Western” ideas, such as mass culture and globalization. The government published news stories on the official internet sites of various ministries. A few purportedly independent websites consistently reported the government’s viewpoint. Government-owned media, such as the UzA and Jahon Information Agencies, frequently carried reports about reforms or visits to the country in which foreign experts’ comments were misquoted or embellished.” \*\
Censorship and Crackdowns on Culture in Uzbekistan
According to the OSAC: “Pro-government media outlets (radio, TV, newspaper) dominate the media landscape and control all local reporting on political events. Editors and journalists who have broached politically-sensitive topics have experienced repercussions (criminal libel charges, loss of employment), leading to self-censorship rather than risk losing their jobs. [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: “Journalists and senior editorial staff in state media organizations reported that some officials’ responsibilities included censorship. In many cases the government placed individuals as editors in chief with the expressed intent that they serve as the main censor for a particular media outlet. There continued to be reports that government officials and employers provided verbal directives to journalists to refrain from covering certain events sponsored by foreign embassies and in some cases threatened termination for noncompliance. As in past years, regional television outlets broadcast some moderately critical stories on local issues, such as water, electricity, and gas shortages as well as corruption and pollution. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]
The criminal and administrative codes impose significant fines for libel and defamation. The government used charges of libel, slander, and defamation to punish journalists, human rights activists, and others who criticized the president or the government. Government security services and other offices regularly directed publishers to print articles and letters under fictitious bylines and gave explicit instructions about the types of stories permitted for publication. There was often little distinction between the editorial content of a government and a privately owned newspaper. Journalists engaged in little investigative reporting. Widely read tabloids occasionally published articles that presented mild criticism of government policies or discussed some problems that the government considered sensitive, such as trafficking in persons. \*\
The government continued to limit academic freedom and cultural events. Authorities occasionally required department-head approval for university lectures, and university professors generally practiced self-censorship. Although a decree prohibits cooperation between higher educational institutions and foreign entities without the explicit approval of the government, foreign institutions often were able to obtain such approval through the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, especially for foreign-language projects. Some school and university administrations, however, continued to pressure teachers and students to refrain from participating in conferences sponsored by diplomatic missions. \*\
Censorship restrictions were relaxed in the spring of 2002 but they were mostly cosmetic intended to impress Western governments. In December 2005, U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)were denied accreditation, which effectively barred then from working in Uzbekistan. A few months earlier in October, the BBC closed down its office because, it said, authorities had intimidated them. RFE/RL and the BBC were the main sources of independent news in the Uzbek language during the Andijan massacre The government continued to refuse Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Voice of America, and the BBC World Service permission to broadcast from within the country, although the websites of Voice of America and the BBC were periodically accessible within the country.
Harassment of Journalists in Uzbekistan
According to the U.S. Department of State: “Police and security services subjected print and broadcast journalists to arrest, harassment, intimidation, and violence, as well as to bureaucratic restrictions on their activity. As in past years, the government harassed journalists from state-run and independent media outlets in retaliation for contacts with foreign diplomats, specifically questioning journalists about such contact. Some journalists refused to meet with foreign diplomats face-to-face because doing so in the past resulted in harassment and questioning by the NSS. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]
According to Human Rights Watch: “In January 2014, police detained and fined independent photographer Umida Akhmedova, her son, and five others for holding a peaceful demonstration near the Ukrainian embassy in Tashkent in support of Ukraine’s “Euromaidan,” a pro-democracy movement. Akhmedova and her son were released one day later; at least 3 others were sentenced to 15 days’ administrative detention. [Source: “World Report 2015: Uzbekistan” Human Rights Watch +++]
“In in June, a Tashkent court convicted journalist Said Abdurakhimov, who writes under the pseudonym “Sid Yanyshev” for FerganaNews, a site banned in Uzbekistan, on charges of “threaten[ing] public security,” among others. The charges stemmed from an article by Yanyshev describing the inadequate compensation the government provided to residents who lost their housing as the result of the construction of Tashkent’s largest mosque. The court fined Abdurakhimov 100 times the minimum wage (approximately US$3,200) and confiscated his video camera. In September, authorities introduced amendments that imposed new restrictions on bloggers, including a ban on “untrue posts and re-posts.” Dunja Mijatovic, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media, warned the measures would further undermine free expression in Uzbekistan.” +++
Freedom of Association and NGOs in Uzbekistan
According to the U.S. Department of State: “While the law provides for freedom of association, the government continued to restrict this right. The government sought to control NGO activity and expressed concerns about internationally funded NGOs and unregulated Islamic and minority religious groups. The operating environment for independent civil society, in particular human right defenders, remained restrictive. Activists reported increased government control and harassment. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State \*\]
“There are legal restrictions on the types of groups that may be formed, and the law requires that all organizations be registered formally with the government. Registration requirements were used to bar foreign NGOs from the country. The law allows for a six-month grace period for new organizations to operate while awaiting registration from the Ministry of Justice, during which time the government officially classifies them as “initiative groups.” Several NGOs continued to function as initiative groups for periods longer than six months. \*\
“NGOs intending to address sensitive issues, such as HIV/AIDS or refugee problems, often faced increased difficulties in obtaining registration. The government allowed nonpolitical associations and social organizations to register, but complicated rules and a cumbersome bureaucracy made the process difficult and created opportunities for government obstruction. The government compelled most local NGOs to join a government-controlled NGO association that allowed the government considerable oversight over the NGOs’ funding and activities. The government required NGOs to coordinate their training sessions or seminars with government authorities. NGO managers believed this amounted to a requirement for prior official permission from the government for all NGO program activities. \*\
“The degree to which NGOs were able to operate varied by region because some local officials were more tolerant of NGO activities, particularly when coordinated with government agencies. Civil society activists in some regions continued to report local officials were more willing to cooperate following a 2010 speech by the president on the need to expand democratization and strengthen civil society. Despite new regulations ostensibly simplifying registration requirements and lowering registration fees, independent civil society groups reported that these have not simplified registration procedures. In addition civil society groups reported that, once a group is registered, authorities put in place restrictive requirements, including obtaining advance permission for many public activities, from the Ministry of Justice. \*\
The administrative liability code imposes large fines for violations of procedures governing NGO activity as well as for “involving others” in illegal NGOs. The law does not specify whether “illegal NGOs” are those the government suspended or closed or those that were unregistered. The administrative code also imposes penalties against international NGOs for engaging in political activities, activities inconsistent with their charters, or activities the government did not approve in advance. \*\
The government continued to enforce the 2004 banking decree, ostensibly designed to combat money laundering, which complicated efforts by registered and unregistered NGOs to receive outside funding. The Finance Ministry required humanitarian aid and technical assistance recipients to submit information about their bank transactions. The Ministry of Justice required NGOs to submit detailed reports every six months on any grant funding received, events conducted, and events planned for the next six months. Leaders of NGOs may be fined for conducting events without explicit permission from the ministry. The fine is several times higher than those for some criminal offenses. \*\
The parliament’s Public Fund for the Support of Nongovernmental, Noncommercial Organizations, and Other Civil Society Institutions continued to conduct grant competitions to implement primarily socioeconomic projects. During the year the fund awarded 3.8 billion soum ($1.6 million) in grants to nongovernmental and noncommercial organizations. Some civil society organizations criticized the fund for primarily supporting government-organized NGOs. The law criminalizes membership in organizations the government broadly deemed “extremist.” \*\
Freedom of Religion in Uzbekistan
According to Human Rights Watch: “Authorities imprison religious believers who practice their faith outside state controls. In July, the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders (IGIHRD) estimated that more than 12,000 persons are currently imprisoned on vague charges related to “extremism” or “anti-constitutional” activity, with several hundred convicted in the past 12 months. Authorities also harass and fine Christians who conduct religious activities for administrative offenses, such as illegal religious teaching. [Source: “World Report 2015: Uzbekistan” Human Rights Watch]
According to the U.S. Department of State: There were reports of deaths in custody, beatings, mistreatment, and denial of the right to practice one’s religion, and other harsh treatment of prisoners whom the government considered religious extremists. The government continued to imprison individuals on charges of extremism, raid religious and social gatherings of unregistered and registered religious communities, confiscate and destroy religious literature, and discourage minors from practicing their faith. There were also reports that police beat members of unregistered religions. [Source: “Uzbekistan: 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom Report”; Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *^*]
“Members of registered and unregistered minority religious groups faced jail terms, heavy fines, and confiscation and destruction of religious literature. The government continued to deal harshly with believers who discussed religious issues outside of sanctioned religious organizations. It was generally more permissive toward the activities of worshippers at sanctioned mosques and permitted the regular activities of religious groups historically present in the country, but less tolerant of the activities of other groups. There were reports of raids on the homes of private worshipers and interference with the activities of even registered groups if conducted away from the formal premises at which they were registered to operate. A law signed by President Karimov May 15 gives wide-ranging powers (including preventing activities of unregistered religious organizations or propagation of religious views) to state bodies, including neighborhood committees, and non-state and non-commercial public organizations to further involve themselves in combating suspected “antisocial activity” in cooperation with police.” *^*
“A number of governmental and nongovernmental media published articles critical of proselytism and of believers who belonged to minority religious groups deemed by media outlets to be “non-traditional.” Although the government did not prohibit persons from changing religions, there were reports of social pressure, particularly among the majority Muslim population, not to do so. Some evangelical, Baptist, and Pentecostal Christian churches and churches with ethnic Uzbek converts reportedly encountered discrimination, and there were reports that ethnic Uzbeks who converted to Christianity faced discrimination and harassment. *^*
Independent human rights groups estimate that somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 individuals were imprisoned on charges related to religious extremism or membership in an illegal religious group. The government has not disclosed relevant data or provided access to the prisoners to independent observers. In 2004, the last year the government released data on individuals incarcerated on such charges, the government reported that the total number was 2,800 individuals. Independent groups were aware of approximately 200 individuals annually sentenced on such charges, but acknowledge the challenges in obtaining complete information.”
“Although the government did not prohibit persons from changing religions, there was social pressure, particularly among the majority Muslim population, not to do so. Ethnic Russians, Jews, and non-Muslim foreigners reportedly felt less societal pressure against choosing and changing their religion than did members of traditionally Muslim ethnic groups, particularly ethnic Uzbeks.” *^*
Human Rights Groups and Uzbekistan
Groups that monitor human rights in Uzbekistan include 1) Amnesty International; 2) the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor; 3) Human Rights Watch; 4) the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan; 4) the Center of Democratic Initiatives; 5) Uzbekistan's Civil Support Human Rights Society and 6) the Youth Movement for Human Rights. Domestic human rights groups have not been able to register with the government.
The Uzbekistan government began cracking down on international human rights and democracy groups more seriously after the Georgian Revolution. All such groups are required to register with the Uzbekistan Justice Ministry. Some where not allowed to register which effectively shut them down.
The office of George-Soros-funded pro-democracy group, the Open Society Institute, was shut down by Uzbekistan authorities in April 2004. Human Rights Wtach was kicked out of Uzbekistan in 2011. One prominent human rights activist was arrested on charges of homosexuality and later kidnapped by masked men and beaten up on the streets of Tashkent. A Russian worker with Norway-based Forum 18, a religious freedom group, was barred from entering the country. A representative of a the International Crisis Group fled the country after receiving threats from government security agents.
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.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated April 2016