Uzbekistan - Security Agencies
The single most important event of the recent years was the sudden death of Islam Karimov in September 2016, who had ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist since before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. President Karimov created a kleptocratic dictatorship where the chosen few held absolute political and economic power while relentlessly persecuting and silencing independent civic and political voices. President Karimov evidently believed even a little liberalization would be dangerous, even though Uzbekistan had been peaceful and stable for years. The war in Afghanistan, the continued uncertainty in neighboring Tajikistan, official concerns about the alleged threat of Islamic fundamentalism, and Moscow's undiminished imperial designs are all cited as dangers to Uzbekistan's security, which, apparently, militate against loosening the state's grip on society.
Observers watched with trepidation the first six months of President Mirziyoyev’s ascent to power in late 2016 and early 2017. What has followed since then is a series of official statements promising a broad range of much needed reforms.
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 crimes. The Prosecutor General’s Office investigates violent crimes such as homicide as well as corruption by officials and abuse of power. The State Security Service, headed by a chairman who reports directly to the president, deals with national security and intelligence issues including terrorism, corruption, organized crime, border control, and narcotics.
Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces, but security services permeated civilian structures, and their interaction was opaque, making it difficult to define the scope and limits of civilian authority. 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 crimes. The Prosecutor General’s Office investigates violent crimes such as homicide as well as corruption by officials and abuse of power. The State Security Service, headed by a chairman who reports directly to the president, deals with national security and intelligence issues including terrorism, corruption, organized crime, border control, and narcotics.
Human rights issues included torture and abuse of detainees by security forces, arbitrary arrest, and incommunicado and prolonged detention; harsh and sometimes life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; restrictions on freedom of speech, the press, and the internet, including censorship, criminal libel, and site blocking; restrictions on assembly and association, including restrictions on civil society, with human rights activists, journalists, and others who criticized the government subject to harassment, prosecution and detention; severe restrictions on religious freedom; restrictions on freedom of movement; restrictions on political participation in which citizens were unable to choose their government in free, fair, and periodic elections; criminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) conduct; and human trafficking, including forced labor.
International and domestic human rights organizations estimated that authorities held hundreds of prisoners on political grounds. The government allows limited access to such persons by human rights or humanitarian organizations such as the Tashkent-based independent human rights organization Ezgulik. According to Human Rights Watch and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, Uzbekistan continued to release prisoners of conscience during the year, which resulted in no imprisoned journalists or civil society activists for the first time in more than two decades. Also according to Human Rights Watch, since September 2016 Uzbek authorities have released approximately 40 persons imprisoned on politically motivated charges; however, many others are still being held. The exact number of political prisoners has not been determined.
According to numerous former political prisoners, the government provides released prisoners with material compensation upon parole. Such compensation includes travel expenses to one’s place of residence, health benefits, and the issuance of a passport, which is the primary form of identification in the country. Upon release, convicts sign a document acknowledging they understand the terms of their parole. This typically includes a prohibition on travel abroad for up to one year. Several former prisoners reported that authorities levied a fine against them as a condition of their parole. Failure to abide by the terms of payment may result in the termination of parole. One former prisoner, for example, was reportedly required to pay 20 percent of his monthly salary to the government for 18 months following his release.
HRW reported that “though Uzbek authorities have amnestied some political prisoners and released others early, in some cases such prisoners were unable to obtain materials necessary to appeal their unlawful convictions.” In May, Samandar Kukanov, a former member of parliament released in November 2016 after a 23-year sentence that human rights organizations claimed was the result of peaceful opposition activity, filed an appeal with the Tashkent Regional Court to review his criminal conviction. According to HRW, in September, Kukanov received a letter from the court informing him that in April the “materials of his criminal case” had been “destroyed in accordance with established procedure” by the Tashkent Region State Archive and thus his requests for “full rehabilitation” could not be reviewed.
The government continued to use an estimated 12,000 neighborhood (mahalla) committees as a source of information on potential “extremists.” The committees provided various social support functions, but they also functioned as an informational link from local society to government and law enforcement. Mahallas in rural areas tended to be more influential than those in cities.
In June 2018 the Oliy Majlis approved a new law “On Countering Extremism.” The bill states that it aims to provide for individuals’ security, protect the society and the state, preserve the constitutional order and the territorial integrity of the country, retain peace, and provide for multiethnic and multireligious harmony among citizens. The law provides a framework of basic concepts, principles and directions for countering extremism as well as responsibility for carrying out extremist activities. Civil society groups expressed concern that the law’s definition of extremism remains too broad.
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