Authoritarian Uzbekistan President Islam Karimov was in power for more than 25 years from 1991 to 2016, According to Human Rights Watch: he employed “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. *

Death in Custody in Uzbekistan

Human right groups have reported at least 16 people have died in prison or police custody as a result of torture between 1991 and 2001. One torture victim died of "acute failure of the left stomach." Two 32-year-old men died within a day of each other in a prison in Tashkent. Their case of death was listed as heart failure. In May 2004, torture was believed to have been a factor in the death of 50-year-old man in police custody.

According to the U.S. Department of State: “Officials also reportedly did not grant prisoners’ requests for medical evaluation and treatment. For example, after his release on May 30, Abdurasul Khudoynazarov told human rights activists that, in the eight years he was incarcerated, authorities “consistently ignored” his repeated requests for medical treatment. On the day of his release, Khudoynazarov was diagnosed with liver cancer and tuberculosis. He died on June 26. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

“Relatives reported the deaths of several prisoners. In some cases family members reported the body of a prisoner showed signs of beating or other abuse, but authorities pressured the family to bury the body before examination by a medical professional. In June the Uzbek service of BBC Radio reported that authorities passed the body of former Hizb-ut-Tahrir party leader Abdurakhim Tukhtasinov to his relatives on the night of June 18 and demanded an immediate secret burial. According to Tukhtasinov’s relatives, his body showed signs of severe torture.” *\

According to Human Rights Watch: In October, Forum 18 reported the death in custody at a women’s prison outside Tashkent of Nilufar Rahimjonova. Rahimjonova, 37, had been serving a 10-year sentence on “terrorism” charges—apparent retaliation for her links to her father, theologian Domullo Istaravshani and husband, both based in Iran and critics of the Uzbek government. After her arrest in 2011, Rahimjonova was forced to give an incriminating TV interview against her family and was sentenced following a flawed trial and allegations of ill-treatment. She was not known to have suffered any chronic illnesses prior to her death on September 13, 2014, the cause of which remains unknown. Authorities ordered her brother to bury her body quickly without an autopsy. Human rights activists fear Rahimjonova may have died of torture. [Source: “World Report 2015: Uzbekistan” Human Rights Watch]

Disappearances in Uzbekistan

“Unconfirmed reports persisted regarding previous disappearances of persons who were present at the 2005 violence in Andijon. In its 2014 annual report, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances noted it had eight outstanding cases from previous years, with one case “clarified” during the period between November 2012 and May 2014. The government did not respond to the working group’s 2014 request to visit. *\

“There were several reports that persons sought by the country’s law enforcement bodies were abducted abroad by Uzbekistan’s secret services, with the acquiescence of national security structures abroad, even when granted asylum status, and forcibly returned to Uzbekistan to stand trial. Lawyers for Mirsobir Hamidkariev, who left the country to escape accusations of association with banned religious organizations, reported to the press that, on June 9, three days before a Russian court decision granting him asylum took effect, Hamidkariev was kidnapped from a taxi in Moscow and forcibly returned by Uzbekistan’s security services, reportedly with the acquiescence of Russian authorities. The government, however, stated that Hamidkariev voluntarily turned himself in to the police on June 17, following an in absentia charge of participation in an extremist organization. On November 18, according to press reports, the Tashkent City Criminal Court convicted Hamidkariev of organizing and participating in the banned religious extremist organization “Islom jihochilari” and sentenced him to eight years in prison. As of December 29, however, the government stated that his case was still with the court awaiting disposition. *\

“The government continued to reject an independent international investigation of the alleged killing by government forces of unarmed civilians in Andijon in 2005. The government did conduct its own investigation of the Andijon incident and produced a report. The death toll varied between the government’s report of 187 and eyewitnesses’ reports of several hundred, for which the government has not held anyone publicly accountable. During its 2013 Universal Periodic Review before the UN Human Rights Council, the government reiterated that it considered the Andijon matter “closed.” *\

Political Prisoners in Uzbekistan

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 still in jail. 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." Human Rights Watch said in 2015: “The Uzbek government has imprisoned thousands of people on politically motivated charges to enforce its repressive rule, targeting human rights and opposition activists, journalists, religious believers, artists, and other perceived critics.”

Luke Harding wrote in The Guardian, “Since 2008 the regime has targeted those suspected of links with western and other governments. Some 10,000-12,000 political prisoners are estimated to be in jail. The exact figure is difficult to determine: the Uzbek regime has banned Human Rights Watch and the International Committee for the Red Cross, as well as foreign journalists, UN human rights experts and the BBC.Hugh Williamson, Human Rights Watch’s director for Europe and Central Asia, said that “broadly speaking” the rights situation had got worse over the past ten years. “There are thousands of people in prison for political or religiously motivated reasons. Since the early 2000s there has been a pattern of Uzbekistan locking away its critics,” he observed. [Source: Luke Harding, The Guardian, September 26, 2014 ==]

According to the U.S. Department of State: “Most international and domestic human rights organizations estimated that authorities held hundreds of prisoners on political grounds, but some groups asserted the number was in the thousands. The government maintained that these individuals were convicted of violating the law. Officials released five high-profile prisoners–Nabijon Juraboev, Nematjon Siddikov, Hasan Choriev, Isok Abdullaev, and Abdurasul Khudoynazarov–during the year. Abdurasul Khudoynazarov and Hasan Choriev, both released due to illness, died within one and two months of their release, respectively. Family members of several political prisoners reported abuse in prison and deterioration of the prisoners’ health. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

Poor Treatment of Political Prisoners in Uzbekistan

Human Rights Watch says the government of president Islam Karimov has jailed human rights activists, journalists, religious clerics and numerous other perceived critics, the report says. Luke Harding wrote in The Guardian, The Human Rights Watch report “profiles 34 victims, some of whom were kidnapped from abroad and locked up following sham trials. Others wrongly behind bars include cultural figures, artists and entrepreneurs. Most were branded “enemies of the state” and jailed for nebulous offences such as “anti-constitutional activity” or “religious extremism”. The prisoners’ sentences are often extended arbitrarily for years, the report says. The dossier is the fullest audit for a decade of the conditions inside Uzbekistan’s jails. It is based on 150 interviews with former detainees, relatives of serving prisoners and newly obtained court documents. It paints a bleak picture. [Source: Luke Harding, The Guardian, September 26, 2014 ==]

“According to Human Rights Watch, at least 29 of the 34 prisoners have made credible allegations of torture or ill-treatment. They allege beatings with rubber truncheons or plastic bottles filled with water. Several complain of being given electric shocks and of hangings from wrists and ankles. Others say they have been subjected to threats of rape, sexual humiliation, and hurt to relatives. They were also denied food and water. ==

“One prisoner is Muhammad Bekjanov. In 1999 agents from Uzbekistan’s feared National Security Service, the SNB, kidnapped him from his apartment in Kiev, Ukraine. Bekjanov was a member of Erk, a peaceful opposition party, and the editor of one of the country’s leading independent newspapers. He had fled a government crackdown two years earlier. A closed court sentenced him to 13 years in prison for “threatening the constitutional order”, among other charges. Days before he was due to be released in 2012, he was given another five years for unspecified “violations of prison rules”. ==

“According to court documents, other inmates have suffered similar arbitrary term extensions, often for ludicrous offences such as “failure to keep one’s slippers in the proper place” and “wearing a white shirt”. Another peaceful opposition figure, Murod Juraev, imprisoned since 1994, has seen his sentence extended four times. In 2012 he was given a new term for “incorrectly peeling carrots” in the prison kitchen. ==

“At least 18 of those profiled were denied access to counsel at critical stages of their cases, and eight were held incommunicado for up to a year. Others were denied medical treatment. Authorities have refused to reveal the whereabouts of Akram Yuldashev, a religious leader, since 2009, and it is unclear whether he is dead or alive. Under international law, authorities commit an enforced disappearance when they refuse to acknowledge holding someone in custody or conceal the person’s fate or whereabouts, thereby placing them outside the protection of the law. “Disappearances” increase the likelihood of torture or other ill-treatment, Human Rights Watch says.” ==

“Torture, kidnapping, incommunicado detention, solitary confinement, and extension of sentences are all unspeakable abuses that no one should suffer,” Human Rights researcher Steve Swerdlow, added. “Whether behind bars for 20 years or a shorter time, these people have been wrongfully imprisoned and shouldn’t spend even one more day behind bars.” ==

Torture in Uzbekistan

Of The 34 prisoners profiled in a Human Rights Watch report, 29 made credible allegations of torture and ill treatment, including beatings, electric shocks, and hanging from wrists and ankles. In November 2013, the United Nations Committee against Torture stated that torture is “systematic,” “unpunished,” and “encouraged” by law enforcement officers in Uzbekistan’s police stations, prisons, and detention facilities run by the SNB. Methods include beating with batons and plastic bottles, hanging by wrists and ankles, rape, and sexual humiliation.[Source: “World Report 2015: Uzbekistan” Human Rights Watch]

According to Human Rights Watch: “Although authorities introduced habeas corpus in 2008, there has been no perceptible reduction in the use of torture in pretrial custody or enhanced due process for detainees. Authorities routinely deny detainees and prisoners access to counsel, and the state-controlled bar association has disbarred lawyers that take on politically sensitive cases.

Torture is widely used to obtain confessions in Uzbekistan. There have been reports of electrocution, chlorine-fulled gas masks, drowning, rape, shooting and beatings. The tearing off of fingernails and the pouring of scalding-hot water over the naked bodies of prisoners are among the most brutal methods reported. The CIA is believed to have brought captured terrorist suspects to Uzbekistan for interrogations.

According to the U.S. Department of State: “While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, law enforcement and security officers routinely beat and otherwise mistreated detainees to obtain confessions or incriminating information. Sources reported torture and abuse were common in prisons, pretrial facilities, and local police and security service precincts. Reported methods of torture included severe beatings, denial of food, sexual abuse, simulated asphyxiation, tying and hanging by the hands, and electric shock. There also were continued reports that authorities exerted psychological pressure on inmates, including by threats against family members. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

“In 2010 the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concerns that the definition of torture in the criminal code was not in conformity with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which the country is a party. The UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment’s most recent country assessment was in 2003.” *\

Victims of Torture in Uzbekistan

According to Human Rights Watch: “ A lawyer for imprisoned activists Nuriddin Jumaniyazov and Fahriddin Tillaev told Human Rights Watch that, in January 2014, authorities stuck needles between Tillaev’s fingers and toes during an interrogation to force a false confession related to trumped-up charges. In July, the wife of imprisoned rights activist Chuyan Mamatkulov told Human Rights Watch that on April 20, a prison captain named Sherali had repeatedly struck Mamatkulov on the head with a rubber truncheon in his office after Mamatkulov had asked to see a dentist. He was then put in solitary confinement for 24 hours.” Tillaev and Nuriddin Jumaniyazov were tried in March 2013 on human-trafficking charges. [Source: “World Report 2015: Uzbekistan” Human Rights Watch]

According to the U.S. Department of State: In January 2014, “Nematjon Siddikov of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan offered a press interview describing detention conditions at Penal Colony No. 61. Siddikov contended that upon arrival convicts were beaten and their heads and hands forcibly immersed in used and unwashed toilets. [Source: “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014: Uzbekistan ,” Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State *]

“In June, Andrey Vazhenin, recently released from prison, described treatment designed to extract a false confession: three police officers in civilian clothes beat him for two days in the second-floor office of the Mirzo-Ulugbeksky Internal Affairs Department in Tashkent. After the beatings, he said, authorities administered repeated electric shocks and put a plastic bag over his head, in each case resulting in the loss of consciousness. In August, Ruhia Bajitova from the Dustlik district of the Jizzakh region reported to human rights advocates that police officer Abdunabi Shakarbaev beat her within days of complaining about shortages in the residential water supply. *\

“In June human rights activists reported that local Ministry of Internal Affairs’ officials used the pretext of an interview with Alikul Sarymsakov, a Jizzakh farmer and human rights activist, to detain him and forcibly hospitalize him in a psychiatric institution for 16 days. The government stated that Sarymsakov was placed in psychiatric care at the request of his wife and sister “due to his worsening psychological state.” According to the government statement, the medical commission that treated Sarymsakov diagnosed him with “paranoidal psychopathy” and treated him in accordance with the law. In May human rights activist Elena Urlaeva reported to international press that she was subjected to a forced course of psychotropic injections based on a court order. Within approximately one week of the public statement, she reported that a panel of psychiatrists cancelled the treatments. *\

Dmitry Solovyov of Reuters wrote the Human Rights Watch report “cited the case of Kayum Ortikov, a former employee of the British embassy in the capital Tashkent, who said he had been tortured for nine months in 2009 after being convicted on what he said were fabricated charges of human trafficking. He said his torturers in the Tashkent city jail had burned his genitalia with flaming newspapers, pushed needles under his fingernails, and threatened to have allegedly HIV-positive prisoners rape him if he did not confess to being a spy. Ortikov said he had tried to cut open his wrists with his own teeth, and used a razor blade to cut his head and neck. After a public campaign by his wife, human rights groups and British journalists, Ortikov was released in May 2011. He and his family fled Uzbekistan and finally resettled as refugees in the United States. [Source: Dmitry Solovyov, Reuters, September 26, 2014]

Torture of Islamists in Uzbekistan

According to the U.S. Department of State: Nongovernmental sources reported the government severely mistreated persons arrested on suspicion of “religious extremism” or those who participated in underground Islamic activity. This included subjecting them to torture, beatings, and harsh prison conditions...Aauthorities reportedly meted out harsher-than-typical treatment to individuals suspected of Islamist extremism. Local human rights workers reported that authorities often offered payment or other inducements to inmates to beat other inmates suspected of religious extremism.[Source: “Uzbekistan: 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom Report”; Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State ^]

Human rights groups estimated in the early 2000s that more than 7,700 people, nearly all of them Muslims, had been imprisoned for their religious beliefs in Uzbekistan. Muslims have been arrested for things like praying at unregistered mosques, holdings meetings in homes, and reading or distributing religious materials. The most intense crackdowns have occurred in the Fergana Valley. Many have been arrested in trumped up charges.

Muslims have reportedly been hung by their feet or wrists, beaten, given electric shocks and raped. One Muslim devotee died in his prison bed at the age of 32 after being arrested for attending Koran discussion meeting that was not officially sanctioned. The official cause of death was listed as a heart attack. His family believed he was starved and tortured because of his belief in Islam. In another case a man was arrested for being connected with an Islamic group and his body was sent home with a broken neck the next day.

Many arrested on religious charged are taken to Jaslyk prison in western Uzbekistan, 800 kilometers northwest of Tashkent, described as “the most horrible prison” in Uzbekistan. A woman whose husband was kept there said, “My husband had become very thin. He said the guards humiliate and beat prisoners routinely. But the worst thing is that don’t allow them to perform prayers. He is suffering a lot, but they didn’t break his conviction.”

Deaths of People Arrested on Muslim Extremism Charges

According to the U.S. Department of State: Family members reported that prisoners serving sentences on charges related to what the government considered religious extremism died in custody. They also stated that the bodies of the prisoners showed signs of beatings or other abuse. Authorities reportedly pressured the families to bury the bodies before medical professionals could examine them. Reported cases that fit this pattern included the death of Abdurakhim Tukhtasinov, a prisoner charged with membership and leadership in the banned religious organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, in June. [Source: “Uzbekistan: 2014 Report on International Religious Freedom Report”; Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, U.S. Department of State ^]

On September 13, Nilufar Rahimjanova, sentenced in 2011 to 10 years’ imprisonment for connections to terrorism, died in a female labor camp near Tashkent. According to her husband, she was imprisoned as a rebuke to her Iran-based husband and Tajikistan-based father, both Muslim theologians who drew the ire of Uzbek authorities. Authorities returned Rahimjanova’s body to her brother in Tashkent, with the admonition that he should bury her quickly in Uzbekistan, without a post-mortem examination. Rahimjanova’s husband stated that her family in Uzbekistan did not cooperate in establishing the facts of her death due to fear of authorities, and has avoided all contact with him since her death.

Islamists in Uzbekistan Tortured and Boiled to Death

One elderly mother who was sought by police told the Los Angeles Times her husband and two sons were arrested. When she was detained she said she was stripped in front of her sons by police who threatened to rape her and their wives if they didn’t confesses to being Wahabbis. She said her sons were ultimately sentenced to death for being religious extremists but she was never told whether the sentence was carried out.

The Islamic activist and Hizb ut-Tahrir member, Muzafar Avazov was reportedly boiled to death after he was beaten severely and had his fingernails pulled out. His mother, Fatima Mukhadirova, was sentenced to six years of hard labor for reporting the death of her son to the international press. The government said Avazov died in a fight with another prisoner at Jaslyq prison were he was kept. Mukhadirova received letters from other inmates at the prison that he was tortured.

After being shown pictures of her son with huge bruise covering his entire back, Mukhadirova told the Time of London, “He didn’t want to confess to praying five times a day because he didn’t consider it a crime, so they put long metal spikes in a canvas bag and beat him with it. Still he didn’t confess, so they attached electrodes to his abdomen, he didn’t die. So he was put into 25 liters of boiling water, in a bath. When his skin was off they poured disinfectant on him. They removed his fingernails and broke his nose and teeth. There was nowhere on his bod that was not covered with bruising or signs of torture.”

Nabieva’s middle son was arrested and sent to Jaslyq prison after refusing to stick his hand in excrement . He was forced to breath through a urine-soaked clothe until he passed out and was subjected to a maneuver designed to break his ribs, called the “bird,” in which he was dropped from a height by four men onto a cement floor.

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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