While reforms adopted since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev took office in 2016 have led to improvements on some issues, Uzbekistan remains an authoritarian state with few signs of democratization. No opposition parties operate legally. The legislature and judiciary effectively serve as instruments of the executive branch, which initiates reforms by decree, and the media are still tightly controlled by the authorities. Reports of torture and other ill-treatment persist, although highly publicized cases of abuse have resulted in dismissals and prosecutions for some officials, and small-scale corruption has been meaningfully reduced.
- Presidential elections held in October had predictable results: Mirziyoyev won reelection with over 80 percent of the vote.
- Uzbekistan officially became a member of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in January, after being elected in October 2020. The country’s membership prompted mixed reactions, including criticism of existing legislature curtailing religious freedom, overly burdensome registration requirements for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the lack of meaningful support for press freedom.
- After the fall of the government in neighboring Afghanistan in August, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev announced that Uzbekistan would not accept Afghan refugees, but offered the country as a transit hub for humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
The president, who holds most executive power, is directly elected for up to two five-year terms. Longtime prime minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev was named acting president through an irregular parliamentary process in 2016, after Islam Karimov, who had held the presidency since Uzbekistan’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, suffered a stroke and died. The constitution called for the Senate chairman to serve as acting president, but the chairman declined the post. Mirziyoyev won a special presidential election at the end of 2016, taking a reported 88.6 percent of the vote and defeating nominal challengers whose parties in some cases openly campaigned for the incumbent.
Mirziyoyev was reelected in the October 2021 presidential elections with 80.1 percent of the vote. Though five candidates participated, the election was not competitive, and candidates avoided challenging or criticizing Mirziyoyev. Only registered parties may nominate candidates, and the parties of two individuals who intended to run were denied registration, preventing any opposition or independent candidates from contesting the election.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) election observation mission found the 2021 presidential elections to be neither fair nor free, noting a lack of meaningful engagement among candidates and an absence of transparent electoral procedures. OSCE observers also reported significant irregularities during the campaign and on election day, including the registration of voters on election day without employing safeguards; people voting without presenting the required identification documents; people voting on behalf of others; and ballot box stuffing in many polling stations.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
Uzbekistan has a bicameral legislature. The lower house is composed of 150 seats, with members directly elected in individual constituencies. The 100-member upper house, or Senate, includes 84 members who are elected by regional councils and 16 who are appointed by the president. All members of the parliament serve five-year terms.
The December 2019 lower house elections offered voters no meaningful choice, as all participating parties supported the government. The final results that followed January 2020 runoffs in 25 districts closely mirrored those from the previous lower house elections. The president’s party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (O’zLiDeP), maintained the largest share with 53 of 150 seats. Milliy Tiklanish (National Revival) won 36, the Adolat (Justice) Social Democratic Party won 24, and the People’s Democratic Party (XDP) won 22. The Ecological Party of Uzbekistan, which directly competed for the first time after previously having its seats automatically allocated, won the same total of 15 delegates that it had been granted in the previous parliament. OSCE election monitors noted numerous irregularities, including procedural violations, the use of multiple ballots by voters, and ballot-box stuffing.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
The electoral laws and framework are implemented in ways that offer no opportunities for independent political actors or parties to participate in elections at any level. Election management bodies are closely controlled by the government.
Mirziyoyev has presided over some electoral reforms during his tenure. A 2017 law allowed the election of 11 district councils within Tashkent, in addition to the existing council for the city as a whole; Tashkent has the status of a region, and districts in the country’s other regions already had elected councils. Another set of reforms enacted in 2019 ended indirect representation for the Ecological Party, removed voting restrictions on those with past criminal convictions, and allowed voters to add their names to more than one party roll; these lists are required for political parties to participate in elections.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
Only five political parties are registered—O’zLiDep, the XDP, Adolat, Milliy Tiklanish, and the Ecological Party. They engage in mild criticism of one another and occasionally of government ministers, but all are effectively progovernment. Two opposition parties, the Erk Democratic Party and the Truth and Development Party, operate unofficially, having been repeatedly denied registration.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
No genuine opposition parties operate legally. Unregistered opposition groups function primarily in exile. Domestic supporters or family members of exiled opposition figures have been persecuted, and they are barred from participating in elections.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?
Regional alliances of political elites hold the levers of government at all levels, creating economic oligarchies and patronage networks that stifle political competition. There is some intra-elite competition, but without the patronage of the established networks, political and economic advancement is all but impossible.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
No registered party represents the specific interests of ethnic or religious minority groups, and no other parties or actors have the opportunity to achieve political representation. Women formally enjoy equal political rights, but they are unable to organize independently to advance their political interests in practice, and they remain underrepresented in leadership positions.
A component of the electoral reform package enacted in 2019 required 30 percent of legislative candidates to be women. Women now hold 33 percent of the seats in the lower house and 23 percent of the seats in the Senate. One woman, a member of the XDP, ran for president in 2021, taking 6.6 percent of the vote.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
The country’s leadership is not freely elected, and the legislature serves as a rubber stamp for the executive branch.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
Corruption is pervasive. Graft and bribery among low- and mid-level officials remain common and are at times conducted overtly and without subterfuge. However, petty corruption among traffic police and officials granting identification documents and registrations has been notably reduced in recent years by pilot programs that introduced video surveillance and traffic cameras.
President Mirziyoyev has overseen an ongoing purge of the notoriously corrupt security and law enforcement services. Analysts contend that the purge is largely meant to neutralize security officials from the Karimov era and shift power to the president’s personal security service and the reformed National Guard, both of which are overseen by Mirziyoyev’s family members.
In November 2021, Mirziyoyev removed former security services chief Rustam Inoyatov from his cabinet; Inoyatov, at the time one of Uzbekistan’s longest serving officials, is widely associated with abuse and corruption within the security services, for which a number of his former subordinates have been prosecuted in recent years.
Media discussion of corrupt practices has cautiously expanded since Karimov’s death, but in some cases the journalists and commentators involved have come under pressure. In 2020, the Senate admitted that public health officials in five different regions may have embezzled COVID-19 emergency funds. A few weeks earlier, Miraziz Bazarov, a Tashkent-based blogger, had been summoned for questioning by the security services after he made similar allegations on social media and called on Uzbekistan’s international creditors to investigate. Evidence to support Bazarov’s claims was later provided to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) by Bankwatch, an international anticorruption organization.
In March 2021, Bazarov was seriously injured in an assault committed by unknown attackers. Following the attack, police charged Bazarov with hooliganism and slander, and placed him under house arrest, where he remained at year’s end. Bankwatch has publicly linked Bazarov’s anticorruption activism to his current legal charges.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
Government operations remain mostly opaque, but one of Mirziyoyev’s first acts as president in late 2016 was the creation of new online mechanisms that offered citizens the opportunity to file complaints, report problems, and request services. The initial program was overwhelmingly popular and was quickly expanded to all ministries and local government offices, requiring local officials to interact with citizens and demonstrate responsiveness. The innovations contributed to a cultural change in governance, though they frequently encountered resistance at the local level.
While the government was considered to have communicated well with the public during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, dubious official statements and statistics during later outbreaks conflicted with direct evidence of a more severe crisis that temporarily overwhelmed the health care system.
|Are there free and independent media?
Despite constitutional guarantees, press freedom remains severely restricted. The state controls major media outlets and related facilities, and independent outlets were mostly shuttered or blocked under Karimov. However, domestic media, including news websites and live television programs, now cautiously discuss social problems and criticize local officials, reflecting a slight reduction in media repression since Mirziyoyev took power. Some independent news sources have emerged and are not subject to overt censorship, though most outlets still avoid openly criticizing Mirziyoyev and the government.
The presence of independent international outlets is limited; several foreign reporters have been granted press passes since 2017, although other journalists working for outlets like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) have been denied entry. One of the few international journalists based in the country, Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska, was effectively deported in November 2021, one day after the newly reelected Mirziyoyev promised to enact further reforms enhancing press freedom; authorities had previously refused to renew her press accreditation, accusing her of violating Uzbek media laws with her coverage of LGBT+ rights in Uzbekistan. Pikulicka-Wilczewska had earlier reported she had faced sexual harassment from the security services and pressure from officials to report positively about Uzbekistan.
Access to news and information via popular social media sites like YouTube and Facebook has become more reliable in recent years, and social media platforms have become lively forums for political discussion. However, in July 2021, the state communications agency, Uzkomnazorat, blocked access to almost all major international platforms, claiming the social networks had violated legal requirements in the processing of Uzbek citizens’ personal data. After the restrictions were briefly reimposed in November, Mirziyoyev announced that access to the social media networks would be restored, and fired the head of Uzkomnazorat, claiming that he had illegally and unilaterally imposed the restrictions. Despite public outcry, some restrictions remained in place at year’s end.
Journalists continue to face criminal penalties for a variety of possible offenses related to their work. In 2020, the president signed legal amendments that eliminated prison terms for libel and insult, but compulsory labor and other penalties remained in place, and dissemination of false information was added to the criminal and administrative codes. An earlier law adopted the same year had criminalized dissemination of false information related to COVID-19.
Under Mirziyoyev, a number of journalists have been released from prison, and 2018 marked the first year in two decades that no journalists were imprisoned, but the government handed down a jail sentence to a blogger in 2019. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), two journalists were imprisoned in Uzbekistan in 2021. The state has also continued to occasionally use the Soviet-era practice of forced psychiatric hospitalization against journalists.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
The government permits the existence of approved Muslim, Jewish, and Christian denominations, but treats unregistered religious activity as a criminal offense. Suspected members of banned Muslim organizations and their relatives have faced arrest, interrogation, and torture. Arrested believers are frequently accused of founding previously unknown religious organizations, a charge that carries high penalties. In most cases, little evidence of the existence of such organizations is presented at the closed trials. Since Mirziyoyev became president in 2016, government regulations curtailing religious freedom have lessened, though significant restrictions remain in place as of 2021.
In July 2021, Mirziyoyev signed new amendments to the law on religious freedom, relaxing a controversial prohibition on wearing religious clothing in public, including in state and educational institutions, as well as simplifying the registration requirements for religious organizations. However, human rights activists and international monitors have noted that the reforms do not fundamentally change the state’s authority to license religious organizations, censor religious literature, and prosecute anyone participating in religious activities or teaching outside state-approved forums.
Despite the changes to the law on religious freedom, in December 2021, following the presidential election, Muslim bloggers and activists published multiple videos taken in state universities showing staff attempting to convince female students not to wear the hijab and telling others they were not allowed to pray in dormitories or on other university property. There were also reports during the year from Tashkent and other regions, both before and after the changes to the law on religious freedom, that police were forcibly shaving some young men who had grown beards. In addition, mahalla committees in several provinces were pressuring girls to remove their hijab. The government denied that the events were related to a national policy.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
The government has long limited academic freedom, in part by controlling contacts between universities or scholars and foreign entities. Universities in Uzbekistan have slowly expanded their cooperation with foreign counterparts since 2016.
Texts that glorify former president Karimov are no longer required reading at universities.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
The freedoms of personal expression and private discussion have long been limited by mahalla committees—traditional neighborhood organizations that the government transformed into an official system for public surveillance and control. The government also engages in extensive surveillance of electronic communications.
Through its various reforms since 2016, the Mirziyoyev administration has signaled a greater tolerance for public criticism, modestly improving the climate for expression of personal views on sensitive topics. However, the 2020 legal amendments that criminalized dissemination of false information, including about COVID-19, indicated ongoing pressure to set limits on public debate.
|Is there freedom of assembly?
Despite constitutional provisions for freedom of assembly, authorities severely restrict this right in practice, breaking up virtually all unsanctioned gatherings and detaining participants.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
Unregistered NGOs have faced severe repression and harassment. Though the government claims that many NGOs operate in Uzbekistan, most are state-sponsored organizations; excessive registration requirements prevent independent NGOs from legally operating, and allow authorities to interfere in the work of human rights organizations.
A new organization designed to oversee the activities of registered NGOs, the Center for the Development of Civil Society (CDCS), was formed in 2019. The following year, new legislation governing NGO registration was finalized; however, the draft law, which did not remove existing registration restrictions, had yet to be adopted as of 2021.
In March 2021, Mirziyoyev issued a decree approving the Concept on Development of Civil Society in 2021–2025, a proposal introducing measures that would improve the legal framework for civil society groups and provide for partnerships between NGOs and the government; he also approved a road map for the proposal’s implementation.
The government frequently and arbitrarily denies registration requests made by both local and international NGOs that engage in human rights-related work. In September 2021, Human Rights House, a local human rights NGO, filed a lawsuit against the Ministry of Justice after being denied official registration eight times since 2019.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
The Federation of Trade Unions is controlled by the state, and no genuinely independent union structures exist. Organized strikes are extremely rare.
|Is there an independent judiciary?
The judiciary remains subservient to the president. In 2017, however, a number of judicial reforms were enacted through constitutional and legislative amendments, establishing specific terms in office for judges and creating a Supreme Judicial Council (OSK) to oversee appointments and disciplinary action, among other changes. The council, whose chairperson is approved by the Senate on the president’s recommendation, replaced a commission that was directly subordinate to the president.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
Due process guarantees are extremely weak. Law enforcement authorities have routinely justified the arrest of suspected religious extremists or political opponents by planting contraband, filing dubious charges of financial wrongdoing, or inventing witness testimony. The Lawyers’ Chamber, a regulatory body with compulsory membership, serves as a vehicle for state control over the legal profession. The judicial reforms adopted in 2017 gave judges rather than prosecutors the authority to approve certain investigative steps, such as exhumations and some forms of surveillance. In 2020, a presidential decree introduced an option for defendants to enter plea bargains for a range of offenses and included provisions to improve detainees’ access to lawyers.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?
A 2016 law on police prohibits torture, and a 2017 presidential decree that bars courts from using evidence obtained through torture took effect in 2018. In both 2020 and 2021, Mirziyoyev issued additional decrees introducing mechanisms to eliminate the use of torture against detainees. Despite the reforms, credible reports of physical abuse against detainees continued to appear in the media throughout 2021.
In June 2020, the family of Andijon businessman Alijon Abdukarimov, who had been detained the previous month by police investigating a theft, published videos on social media showing him in an intensive care unit as a result of severe torture during interrogation. Abdukarimov died from his injuries days later, sparking widespread public outrage. The prosecutor general’s office brought charges against the officers implicated in the case, and six officers received sentences ranging from one to 10 years in prison. The prosecutor general’s office publicized data on torture investigations for the first time in June 2020, admitting that of 757 cases investigated in three years, only 33 had led to prosecution. It promised additional reforms and a state commission to prevent police torture. The human rights ombudsman acknowledged the same month that torture remained a serious problem, and the Interior Ministry announced that video cameras would be installed in police interrogation facilities across the country.
Prisons suffer from severe overcrowding and shortages of food and medicine. As with detained suspects, prison inmates—particularly those sentenced for their religious beliefs—are often subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
Although racial and ethnic discrimination are prohibited by law, the belief that senior positions in government and business are reserved for ethnic Uzbeks is widespread. Women’s educational and professional prospects are limited by discriminatory cultural and religious norms. Women are also barred from certain jobs under the labor code.
Sex between men is punishable with up to three years in prison. The law does not protect LGBT+ people from discrimination, and social taboos deter the discussion of LGBT+ issues.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
Permission is required to move to a new city, and bribes are commonly paid to obtain the necessary documents. Bribes are also frequently required to gain entrance to and advance in exclusive universities. The government took steps to ease travel within the country and to neighboring states beginning in 2017, when it removed police checkpoints at internal borders, resumed direct flights to Tajikistan, and opened border crossings as part of an agreement with Kyrgyzstan. The Mirziyoyev administration abolished exit visas in 2019, ending a system that was used to proscribe travel beyond other member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?
Widespread corruption and extensive state control over the economy limit private business opportunities and make property rights tenuous in practice.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
While the law generally grants men and women equal rights in matters such as marriage and divorce, women often face de facto disadvantages. Extralegal child marriage is reportedly practiced in some areas. Victims of domestic violence are discouraged from pressing charges against perpetrators, who rarely face prosecution. Rape is also seldom reported or prosecuted, and spousal rape is not explicitly criminalized.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?
Economic exploitation remains a serious domestic problem, as does the trafficking of men and women abroad for forced labor and sex work. A 2009 law imposed stronger penalties for child labor, and in 2012 Mirziyoyev, then the prime minister, pledged to end the practice completely. In 2017, the president issued a decree to formally ban forced agricultural labor by students, health workers, and teachers. During the subsequent cotton harvests, the government increased incentives for voluntary labor and granted access to international observers. In 2018, the International Labor Organization (ILO) noted that 93 percent of cotton workers were voluntarily employed for that year’s harvest, while child labor was not an issue.
In 2020, President Mirziyoyev signed a decree to fully end the state quota system for cotton that had motivated local officials to require forced labor. Despite these improvements, some evidence of forced labor has continued to be reported in recent years, and prosecutions of suspected traffickers remain rare.
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Global Freedom Score12 100 not free
Internet Freedom Score25 100 not free