Uzbekistan - Overview

Despite reasonably enabling laws on paper, in practice, basic rights are often violated by a state intent on suppressing dissent. Despite a wave of releases of human rights defenders in late 2016 and early 2017, activists continue to be targetted, sometimes through extreme measures which include false diagnoses of mental illness against human rights defenders, resulting in their enforced incarceration, and travel bans. The right to freedom of association is strictly controlled and restricted by the government. The authorities claim that there are over 6,000 NGOs operating in the country; however, an overwhelming majority of these are supported by or affiliated with the government. The few independent groups working on human rights issues continue to face serious obstacles, including cumbersome registration processes. The country's history of protest is marred by injustice and excessive force. Within such a repressive environment, many citizens are fearful of the possibility that the government will again crack down on protests, and are therefore reluctant to participate in demonstrations. In January 2017, however, a group of elderly men and women took to the streets of Denov, a town in the southern Surkhondaryo Province, petitioning the government to issue their pensions in cash payments, rather than in debit cards. The government has a well-established mechanism for curtailing freedom of expression. The authorities have used surveillance against human rights activists, independent journalists and government critics who speak out and voice their opinion or opposition to government policy. Such individuals are routinely subjected to police interrogations, arbitrary arrests and prosecution as well as imprisonment on trumped-up charges. Though President Mirziyoyev has mostly followed late President Karimov's heavy-handed rule, several government critics imprisoned on politically-motivated grounds have been released in the past few months. In October 2016, human rights defender Bobomurad Razzokov was released due to poor health, and a month later political activist, Samandar Kukanov, finally walked free after 24 years in prison. More recently, on 22nd February 2017, Muhammad Bekjanov, former editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Erk was released from prison.