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Uzbekistan is an authoritarian state with limited civil rights. The Constitution provides for a presidential system with separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches; however, in practice, President Islam Karimov and the centralized executive branch that serves him dominated political life and exercised nearly complete control over the other branches.

President Karimov was reelected in 2000 to a second term. The OSCE declined to monitor the presidential election on the grounds that the preconditions did not exist for it to be free and fair. A 2002 referendum, which multilateral organizations and foreign embassies refused to observe, extended the term of the presidency from 5 to 7 years.

On 26 December 2004, elections were held for seats in the lower chamber of the Supreme Assembly (Oliy Majlis) that fell significantly short of international standards for democratic elections. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the executive branch heavily influenced the courts and did not ensure due process.

The Ministry of Interior (MVD) controls the police and is responsible for most routine police functions. The National Security Service (NSS) deals with a broad range of national security questions, including corruption, organized crime, and narcotics. The civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. The police and the NSS have committed numerous serious human rights abuses.

The country has a population of approximately 25.5 million. The economy is based primarily on agriculture and agricultural processing, which remain heavily influenced by the state. For the year, the gross domestic product grew approximately 3 percent and inflation was approximately 15 to 20 percent. There are no reliable unemployment statistics, but the number of unemployed and underemployed was high and growing. Corruption remains a problem and had a negative impact on the economy.

In its campaign against extremism, the Government has concentrated its efforts on persons it suspected were associated with Hizb ut-Tahrir, an extremist political movement founded in 1952 in Jordanian-administered East Jerusalem. Although Hizb ut-Tahrir maintains that it was committed to nonviolence, the party's strongly anti-Semitic and anti-Western literature called for secular governments, including in the country, to be replaced with a borderless, theocratic Islamic state, or Caliphate, throughout the entire Muslim world.

The Government continues to use an estimated 12,000 local mahalla committees as a source of information on potential extremists. Mahalla committees serve varied legitimate social functions, but also link local society and the lowest levels of the Government and law enforcement. The influence wielded by mahalla committees varies widely, with committees in rural areas tending to be much more influential than those in cities. Each mahalla committee assigns a "neighborhood guardian," or "posbon," whose job it was to ensure public order and to maintain a proper moral climate in the neighborhood. In practice, this meant preventing young persons in the neighborhood from joining extremist Islamic groups.

Authorities treat individuals suspected of extreme Islamist political sympathies, particularly alleged members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, more harshly than ordinary criminals, and there are credible reports that investigators subjected persons suspected of belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir to particularly severe interrogation in pretrial detention, in many cases resorting to torture. After trial, authorities reportedly use disciplinary and punitive measures, including torture, more often with prisoners convicted of extremism than with ordinary inmates. Local human rights workers report that common criminals were often paid or otherwise induced by authorities to beat Hizb ut Tahrir members

Following a series of terrorist attacks in Bukhara and Tashkent in March and April 2004, the Government took into custody several hundred persons, the overwhelming majority of them identified as having belonged to the Hizb ut-Tahrir extremist political movement or various so-called Wahhabi groups, including imams in Kashkadaria and Margilon. The arrests were made for national security reasons, but according to sources in the human rights community and law enforcement, the police and security services relied on a list of approximately 1,000 individuals, most of whom had been convicted of extremism in previous years and subsequently amnestied. There were credible allegations that authorities tortured some detainees; however, the majority of those taken into custody were released after questioning, usually less than a day later. During 2004, approximately 115 persons were convicted of terrorism; dozens more were sentenced for anticonstitutional activity and extremism.

In May 2005 hundreds of people were killed in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon during clashes between protesters and security forces. The violence began on 17 May 2005, when an armed group attacked the police station and military barracks. The group took weapons and freed prisoners from a high-security prison. They then seized the regional administration building. Opposition activists say soldiers called to disperse an anti-government rally in Andizhan fired indiscriminately on the crowd, killing, by some counts, as many as 700 people.

The government says 169 people died in what it describes as a clash between Islamic radicals seeking to overthrow the government and law enforcement officers. Uzbek authorities deny there was indiscriminate killing and said most of those who died were Islamic extremists, but they have rejected outside appeals for an independent investigation of the clashes.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said there needs to be a credible and transparent investigation of the events, either undertaken or supported by the international community. He said, while the United States is still trying to develop a clearer picture of what occurred in Andijan, evidence is building that there were large-scale casualties among civilians: "I would have to say that reports being compiled paint a very disturbing picture of the events and the government of Uzbekistan's reaction to them. It's becoming apparent that very large numbers of civilians were killed by the indiscriminate use of force by Uzbek forces. We deeply regret that loss of life, and are deeply concerned of reports of indiscriminate firing by Uzbek authorities on demonstrators last Friday."

As a result of killings in Andijan, the United States threatened to withhold aid from the Uzbekistan government. Uzbekistan rejected this threat and in August 2005, their upper house of parliament voted for withdraw of US forces leave their airbase in the south of the country. The airbase at Khanabad was used to support the Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and other operations pertaining to the War on Terror.

In November 2005, the Uzbekistan Supreme Court convicted fifteen men thought to have orchestrated the disorder in Andijan. The men received between 14-20 years in prison. In addition to these fifteen men, numerous other men were convicted to long prison terms.

After the Andijan incident and pressure from the United States and other Western powers to initiate reforms, President Karimov and is partners in Uzbekistan pushed for closer toes with Russia. Toward the end of 2005, Uzbekistan signed an agreement with Russia for closer military cooperation.

In March 2006, Sanjar Umarov, leader of the opposition movement 'Sunshine Uzbekistan', was jailed for eleven years, which was later reduced by three years for 'economic crimes.' It was believed that the real motive behind the arrest was because Sanjar Umarov and his movement criticized the Andijan attack along with supporting and encouraging economic reforms within Uzbekistan. Additionally, in the same month, Mukhtabar Tojibayeva, a human rights activist and fellow a critic of the incident at Andijan, was also jailed for eight years for 'economic crimes.'

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:30:10 ZULU