Despite releases, conditions remain dire for civil society in Uzbekistan

On the basis of information provided by International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and its partner the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), the global CIVICUS Monitor initiative has published an overview of the current state of civil society in Uzbekistan. This overview discusses the conditions faced by citizens who attempt to associate with one another, protest peacefully, communicate freely through the media and undertake human rights activism in the country. It highlights the continued dire conditions for civil society engagement in the country, despite a number of recent releases of government critics:


Article 29 of the Uzbek Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the right to seek and disseminate information, as well as freedom of the press; however, the Uzbek authorities have maintained tight control over the media and independent voices. The country currently ranks 166th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

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. Fellow journalist, Yusuf Ruzimuradov, who was sentenced with Bekjanov, remains imprisoned after his sentence was arbitrarily extended in 2014 for allegedly violating prison rules. No news has been received about his condition for some time now. On 1st March 2017, independent journalist, Jamshid Karimov, nephew of the late President Karimov was released from the psychiatric hospital in Samarkand, where he had been forcibly and secretly held since 2006.

Though the release of political prisoners is a welcome development, many more remain under government control. Human rights defender  Shukhrat Rustamov was diagnosed by Tashkent City Court as being “mentally incompetent” in August 2015 after he sent numerous complaints on human rights issues to the Uzbek authorities. For the last two years, he has been at risk of forcible incarceration in a psychiatric hospital. On 1st March 2017, well-known and outspoken human rights defender, Elena Urlaeva, was detained by law enforcement authorities and forcibly placed in a psychiatric clinic, without her relatives being informed.

Human rights activists’ monitoring and reporting on the forced labour used during the cotton harvest have come under particular pressure from the authorities. Activist  Uktam Pardaev was given a three-year suspended sentence in retaliation for his work monitoring the conditions of labourers during the harvest. Another activist working in the same field, Dmitry Tikhonov, was forced to flee the country in 2016 due to persecution.Uzbekistan still requires exit visas for its citizens to travel abroad, and authorities often withhold these visas to punish those critical of the regime. Uzbek citizens banned from travelling abroad in recent years include human rights activists Shukhrat Rustamov, Said Kurbanov, Elena Urlaeva and Uktam Pardaev.

Human rights defenders and critics who have fled Uzbekistan also face ongoing pressure and intimidation from the Uzbek authorities, and many have reported receiving threats of reprisals against their relatives still living in Uzbekistan.


The Uzbek constitution ensures the right to freedom of association and a 2007 law protects the activities of non-governmental and non-profit organisations. This law also prohibits the government from interfering in the work of NGOs. Nevertheless, in practice, 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. While registration is mandatory, most of the few independent human rights groups in the country have been unable to get registered. The Code of Administrative Responsibility regulates NGOs and the authorities can fine and penalise domestic and international organisations that fail to obtain all the proper permissions to conduct their activities. In 2015, the UN Human Rights Committee criticised the “unreasonable, burdensome and restrictive requirements for registration and the other obstacles to the work of human rights NGOs” in Uzbekistan.

Uzbek authorities strictly control the independent practice of Islam. Restrictive legislation on religion regulates religious clothing, the possession of religious literature and places mosques under the de facto control of the state. Over the past two decades, the state has arbitrarily imprisoned thousands of Muslims and key independent religious leaders who practiced their religion outside strict state control. In recent years, authorities have become increasingly suspicious of migrant labourers returning from abroad who may have had access to information on Islam which is censored or banned in Uzbekistan, resulting in an increased number of arrests and prosecutions for alleged “extremism.”

Peaceful Assembly

Article 33 of the Uzbek constitution and the Law on the Guarantees of Citizens’ Electoral Rights protect the right to participate in meetings and demonstrations, which the authorities can only prohibit if there are security concerns. In 2014, however, the government tightened its control over participation in such events by issuing a decree with the requirements and procedures for organising public events with more than 100 attendees, such as conferences, religious celebrations and cultural or sporting activities. Non-compliance with the required procedures is punishable by fines and detention of up to 15 days.

The country’s history of protest is marred by injustice and excessive force. To date, the Uzbek authorities have yet to carry out an independent and impartial investigation into the events of 13th May 2005, when law enforcement and security forces indiscriminately fired at a crowd of protesters in Babur Square, Andijan. Demonstrators had peacefully gathered to voice their grievances over repressive government policies and economic hardships. According to officials, 187 people were killed, but unofficial estimates put the number at between 500 and 1500. None of the officials involved in the shooting have been brought to justice.

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.


Uzbekistan: Newspaper editor freed after being held for 18 years

On the photo: first minutes after release. Muhsmmad Bekjanov is speaking on the phone with his relatives. Muhammad Bekjanov (left) and his brother Jumanazar Bekjanov
The Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA), Civil Rights Defenders (CRD), Freedom House, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the Uzbek–German Forum for Human Rights (UGF) are extremely relieved to learn that Uzbek journalist Muhammad Bekjanov, the winner of RSF’s Press Freedom Prize in 2013, was released today after 18 years in prison.

The onetime editor of what was Uzbekistan’s leading opposition newspaper, Bekjanov was one of the world’s longest imprisoned journalists. Now aged 62, he was repeatedly tortured following his arrest in 1999 and his sentence was extended just before he was due to be released in 2012. According to initial information, he will not be allowed to leave the country for one year, which means he would not be able to join his US-based family during this period.

“We are delighted and relieved that Muhammad Bekjanov has been freed,” said the signatories. “It is tragic and deeply unjust that he spent so much time in prison just for doing his job. His release will not be complete until he is allowed to join his family in the United States.”

“We reiterate our call for the immediate release of all other journalists and human rights activists who are unjustly imprisoned in Uzbekistan. Many of them have serious health problems. We are especially concerned about Yusuf Ruzimuradov, a colleague arrested at the same time as Bekjanov, as we have had no news of him for a long time.”

As the editor of Erk (Freedom) in the early 1990s, Bekjanov tried to initiate a debate on such taboo subjects as the state of the economy, the use of forced labor in the cotton harvest and the Aral Sea environmental disaster. His brother, the well-known poet and government opponent Muhammad Salikh, was the only person to run against President Karimov in the December 1991 election.

Karimov took advantage of a series of bombings in Tashkent in 1999 to silence outspoken critics by prosecuting them as accomplices to the attacks. Like many pro-democracy activists, Bekjanov was tried in this way and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was arbitrarily given an additional sentence of four years and eight months in prison in February 2012, just a few days before he was due to be released.

Bekjanov has lost many teeth and much of his hearing as a result of mistreatment in prison and a serious case of tuberculosis that was left untreated for a long time. In recent years, he has suffered from intermittent acute pain as well as permanent discomfort from an inguinal hernia that developed when he was assigned to prison work making bricks.

Uzbekistan is ranked 166th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. A few political prisoners including human rights defender Bobomurod Razzakov and politician Samandar Kukanov have been freed since Karimov’s death in August 2016. But many other journalists, human rights defenders, opposition politicians and civil society representatives continue to languish in prison.


Statement about prosecution of human rights activists

The civil society organisations of Kazakhstan express deep concern about the pressure exerted on the International Legal Initiative Public Foundation, the Liberty Public Foundation and the Kadir-Qasyet Public Association, which resulted in an unscheduled tax audit in all three organisations, additional corporate income tax and fines. In this manner, the PF International Legal Initiative was additionally taxed for a total of about 1 million 300 thousand tenge (about $ 4 thousand), and PF Liberty was additionally taxed for about 3 million tenge ($ 9 thousand). The audit in the Kadir-Qasyet was suspended, rather than completed.

We consider the decision of the tax authorities to compel the non-profit organisations to pay corporate income tax to be illegally, since this contravenes Art. 134 of the Tax Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan concerning tax and other mandatory payments to the budget, which expressly states that the income of non-commercial organisations is exempt from taxation, provided that the conditions set forth are strictly observed, which the above mentioned human rights organisations did. In addition, the tax authorities are manipulating the concept of a "grant" contained in Art. 12 of the Code, using the long-standing problem of all Kazakhstani legislation, i.e. non-observance of the principle of international law about legal certainty and predictability, as well as a result of unclear definitions and the possibility of interpreting the norms of the law inconsistently. Decisions of the tax authorities concerning these organisations will be appealed in court.

Of particular concern to the civil society of our country is the fact that these audits are carried out on the basis of a statement, and in our opinion, a "denunciation" of a person who, after reading the publication on www.nur.kz website published on 11 July 2016 (https://www.nur.kz/1184969-skolko-inostrannye-fondy-tratyat-na-p.html), reckoned that human rights organisations could pose a threat to the stability of Kazakhstan. In this manner the state encourages denunciation in the spirit of repression of the 1930’s. Human rights and organisations that protect and promote them are the basis of stability, not a threat in any developed country.

The pressure on independent organisations of the civil society is in essence a prosecution for their human rights activities. In a democratic state upholding the law, it is impossible to prosecute human rights defenders for upholding human rights. Today, three organisations have been hit, and tomorrow entire civil society will find itself under a threat.

We call on the legal institutions of the country in full compliance with international obligations to protect the rights of independent human rights organisations to freedom of association, freedom from state interference in their affairs and, ultimately, human rights in Kazakhstan.


  • Non-governmental organisations of Kazakhstan
1. International Legal Initiative Public Foundation

2. Kadir-Qasyet Public Association

3. International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law of Kazakhstan

4. Liberty Public Foundation

5. Charter for Human Rights Public Foundation

6. Legal Policy Research Centre Public Foundation

7. Cleanliness at Home Public Foundation

8. Adil Soz International Foundation for the Protection of Freedom of Speech

9. MediaNet International Journalism Centre

10. Youth Information Service of Kazakhstan Public Foundation

11. The Union of Crisis Centres of Kazakhstan Association of Legal Entities

12. Echo Public Association

13. Civil Expertise Public Foundation

14. Demos Public Association

15. Public Position Public Foundation

16. Zaman Public Association

17. Soros Foundation - Kazakhstan

18. Centre for Justice Public Association

19. Baikonur for Civil Rights Public Association

20. Leave Shelter for People - Pavlodar region

21. Aman-Saulik Public Fund

22. Foundation for Development of Parliamentarism in Kazakhstan Public Foundation

23. Legal Media Centre Public Foundation

24. Human Rights Monitoring Centre Public Foundation

25. Aktyubinsk Oblast Branch of Shanyrak NGO

26. The Vityaz Agency of Legal Information and Journalistic Investigations

27. Institute of Equal Rights and Equal Opportunities of Kazakhstan Public Foundation 

  • International non-governmental organisations that support the statement
28. Representative office of Freedom House in Kazakhstan

29. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights

30. Association for Human Rights in Central Asia


A citizen of Uzbekistan disappeared in the Crimea

Family of an Uzbek citizen, Murat Karimov, says that they no longer knows where he is.

Since January 2010, Murat Karimov has been living in Ukraine. On 29 December 2016, at 17:30, he called a friend in Kiev and said that he is crossing the border to get from the Crimea to Kiev. He promised to call back after he left the Crimea, but since then his whereabouts is unknown.

For about seven years, in the Crimea Mr. Karimov has been waiting for the UNHCR decision giving him a refugee status. After the occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, Centre for Refugees told him that his documents were lost due to force majeure and he has been for a long time looking for the opportunity to get into the jurisdiction of Ukraine. He vainly asked UNHCR to help him move to Ukraine.
Murat Nigmatovich KARIMOV was born on 13 July 1957, in Kokand, Ferghana region of the Uzbek SSR, he is Uzbek and has secondary education, he is married.
The authorities accuse him of involvement in Wahhabism (a religious movement banned in Uzbekistan). Previously, he was convicted. He was arrested in 2001 and convicted in 2002 by the Fergana Regional Court under Articles 159 (Attempts to Constitutional Order of Republic of Uzbekistan), 244-1 (Production and Dissemination of Materials Containing Threat to Public Security and Public Order), 244-2 (Establishment, Direction of or Participation in Religious Extremist, Separatist, Fundamentalist or Other Banned Organisations) and 276 (Illegal Production, Purchase, Storage, and Other Activities with Narcotic and Psychotropic Substances without Purpose of Sale) of the Criminal Code the Republic of Uzbekistan. He was sentenced to 12.6 years of imprisonment with serving his sentence in a high security penal colony. Murat Karimov was released in 2004 under an amnesty. Soon re-arrests of everyone who had been released began, and many were forced either to live in Uzbekistan hiding their whereabouts, or to leave for neighbouring countries. And as soon as Murat Karimov felt the threat of being arrested again, he decided to leave the country. In January 2010, he left Uzbekistan hiding his location from the Uzbek authorities.
In the autumn of 2016 in the presence of officers of the National Security Service of Uzbekistan home where Murat Karimov and his family lived was searched. They did not show their identity documents, but verbally presented themselves explaining the actions of the police officers as executing the in absentia judgment against Murat Karimov. However, his family could not find out whether there was the in absentia trial, and if so, what penalty was imposed against Mr. Karimov. Since then, the family had been subjected to pervasive harassment of the law-enforcement bodies, who extorted from all members of the family testimonies against Murat Karimov. And when they faced a threat of arrest, 10 members of his family left the country.

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia - AHRCA urges the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and the UN Working Group on Forced Disappearances to use the powers under their mandate to establish the whereabouts of the Uzbek citizen Murat Karimov, who is presumed arrested by Russia's de facto authorities in Crimea at the request of Uzbekistan, because he is in the wanted list of Uzbekistan.

Association for Human Rights in Central Asia - AHRCA calls on the government of the countries in whose jurisdiction the citizen of Uzbekistan Murat Karimov currently is to respect fundamental human rights and freedoms, including obligations under international agreements in the field of human rights, in particular:
 Protection against torture and other cruel treatment, as well as respect for human dignity;
 Respect for the principle of presumption of innocence;
 Ensuring freedom of religion, worship, rituals and etc.