|DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage||4.17 100|
|DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score||1.25 7|
In 2021, Uzbekistan’s political leaders sought to freeze the country’s politics in place, fearing the effects that destabilization and discontent might have as they prepared for the reelection of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Since coming to power in 2016, President Mirziyoyev had promised democracy and genuine, “irreversible” reforms in Uzbekistan. Events during the year, however, showed the tenuous nature of these reforms and put their trajectory in question, illustrating that such political reforms are reversible. This was especially true in the arenas of civil society and the media, both of which came under threat in the run-up to the October 24 presidential election.
In the end, Mirziyoyev handily won reelection with 80.1 percent of the vote in a competition the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) evaluated as “not truly competitive.” Yet this result was lower than the 88.61 percent garnered when he was first elected in 2016. Neither election was deemed free or fair. Unlike past elections under his predecessor, Islam Karimov, Mirziyoyev welcomed international observers like the OSCE to the country. In his inauguration speech, Mirziyoyev mentioned the role of these observers in certifying his elections but made no mention of the OSCE criticism.
Although Uzbekistan attracted significant attention for the pace and nature of its reforms over the past few years, the lack of independent candidates running in the presidential election indicated the limits of political reform in the country. The OSCE, which sent a long-term mission to observe the elections, said that the country had not yet addressed important concerns, especially on freedom of association, assembly, suffrage rights, citizen election observation, and registration of independent political parties.1 The organization also said there was “no direct or meaningful engagement between contestants” in the presidential election.2
Independent voices and parties were kept out of the election. There were sustained efforts by Uzbekistani authorities to suppress and intimidate potential candidates from independent opposition parties. Thus, two unregistered formations—Truth and Progress Party and Erk Party—were not allowed to field candidates or participate. Uzbekistani law states that only registered political parties have the right to nominate candidates. While both parties demonstrated their intention to field candidates, authorities refused to register either one. Furthermore, authorities put pressure on party activists and potential candidates that dissuaded them from participating more actively in politics.3
The election campaign was lackluster and featured little discussion of substantive issues. Unlike the dynamic parliamentary elections two years earlier, which featured live televised debates between party representatives, the presidential election included no candidate debates.4 Mirziyoyev took advantage of his incumbency and relied on the largely government-controlled news media to travel around the country, garnering intense media attention. As a result, other candidates and their platforms garnered little similar attention.
After the 2019 parliamentary elections, there was also anticipation that the new parliament would be more active in serving as an effective check on executive power. On the contrary, during the past year, Uzbekistan’s Oliy Majlis remained quiescent and failed to raise serious objections to any initiatives raised by the president.
Although economic reforms continued to move ahead, progress on issues related to most aspects of democratic governance, including civil society, media, local governance reform, judicial independence, and anticorruption efforts, ground to a halt. Government officials appeared seriously concerned about outbreaks of protest and violence in response to the election, triggering a Belarus-type reaction, and preemptively placed strong formal and informal constraints on civil society and the media.
For example, the criminal code was changed to include new penalties for those who insult the president of up to five years in prison. New laws went into effect that more strictly regulate information flows and social media, creating stiff penalties for those who call for the overthrow of the government as well as penalties for those who call for public disorder or violence. Such changes suggest that authorities feared criticism of the election outcome and any possible delegitimation of the government that might follow—as had followed elections in some other post-Soviet republics in recent years.
In fact, the year did feature a rise in mob-like violence, but these attacks were directed at civil society activists and potential opposition leaders, capturing national and international attention. In March, Miraziz Bazarov, a prominent civil society leader, was attacked by a violent mob after he called for greater LGBT+ rights. Rather than find the perpetrators who physically attacked him, the government charged Bazarov with slander. Uzbekistan is one of only two countries in the post-Soviet space that criminalizes relationships between men.
Similarly, threats of physical violence faced leaders of the two independent political parties that sought to register for the 2021 election. At the end of March, unknown assailants disrupted a party meeting and attacked members of the Truth and Progress Social Democratic Party, who had met in a town outside the capital Tashkent to develop their platform and garner signatures to register as an official political party. Additionally, Jahongir Otajonov, a well-known Uzbek singer, had announced his intention to run for president as a member of the long-banned Erk Democratic Party. Three men came to his office in Istanbul where they hinted at the violence he would face if he pursued his candidacy further. Shortly after these threats, he renounced his candidacy and stated that he would leave politics altogether.
Uzbekistan’s nascent media also faced hardening limits on the ability to operate freely and threats to journalist safety. New regulations stipulate prison time for people who call for the overthrow of the government or call for unsanctioned public demonstrations. In the run-up to the presidential election, the government also limited access to social media sites, including Twitter, TikTok, and VKontakte. In October, immediately following the presidential election, the government pulled the switch on Telegram, Uzbekistan’s most popular social media site. The government official responsible for making this decision was removed from his position.
Individual journalists faced increasing threats during the year. Otabek Sattoriy, a citizen journalist in Surxondaryo, was arrested and charged with fraud. In May, he was sentenced to six and a half years in prison on charges of libel and extortion. His popular YouTube channel focused on protests over land confiscation, state demolition of private property, and energy shortages. Similarly, three journalists from the independent news website Effect.uz were arrested and charged with libel, accused of interfering in Sattoriy’s trial by publishing videos of courtroom discussions. One of the journalists was sentenced to three years in prison.
- 1OSCE, “ODIHR Needs Assessment Mission Report” (Warsaw: Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, July 19, 2021), https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/d/0/493348.pdf.
- 2OSCE, “Interim Report: 15 September-- 5 October 2021” (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, October 8, 2021), https://www.osce.org/files/f/documents/0/3/500509.pdf.
- 3HRW, “Uzbekistan: Opponents Barred from Presidential Ballot,” Human Rights Watch (blog), October 13, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/10/13/uzbekistan-opponents-barred-preside….
- 4Joanna Lillis, “Uzbekistan: Spot the Invisible Election Campaign,” Eurasianet, October 12, 2021, https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-spot-the-invisible-election-campaign.
|Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches.||1.001 7.007|
- In 2021, Uzbekistan’s level of democratic governance remained largely unchanged from the previous year, and there was little forward momentum in the sphere of national democratic institutions. On October 24, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev was reelected with 80.1 percent of the vote,1 lower than the 88.61 percent garnered when he was first elected in 2016 after the death of his predecessor, long-time ruler Islam Karimov. The 2021 election did not allow independent opposition parties to participate but instead featured five political parties that were sanctioned and established by the government.2 These are the same parties that participated in the country’s 2019 parliamentary elections.3 In August, the president’s Liberal Democratic Party announced its nomination of Mirziyoyev for reelection. In his party acceptance speech, he vowed to make deeper changes and reforms than during his first term in office, but he offered few specifics beyond promises to double per capita income from $1,700 to $4,000, high-speed internet access in every home, and protection for journalists.4
- The presidential election’s four other candidates were Bahrom Abduhalimov, leader of Adolat (“Justice”) Social Democratic Party; Maqsuda Vorisova, deputy leader of the People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan; Narzullo Oblomurodov, leader of the Ecological Party; and Alisher Qodirov, outspoken leader of the right-wing Milliy Tiklanish (National Revival Democratic Party). Although multiple candidates ran for election, there were no debates among them, nor any meaningful challenges to or criticism of the incumbent president.
- Government officials stymied efforts by opposition parties to register. In February, a newcomer to politics, Khidirnazar Allakulov, was arrested by officials as he tried to organize a party congress for an unregistered political party. In June 2020, he had announced the founding of the Truth and Progress Party and stated that he would run for president.5 The arrest came on the same day he was to hold a public meeting of his party representatives and supporters in Tashkent. He had invited the press, human rights activists, and members of the international diplomatic community, posting his intentions on social media.6 At the end of March, the group held another meeting in the town of Kibray, just outside the capital, to gather signatures to register officially as a party.7 Dozens of people showed up to support the party, while another crowd came to disrupt the meeting,8 where furniture was destroyed and some party members were beaten by unknown attackers.9 In May, the Justice Ministry denied Allakulov’s application to register his party. Officials rejected his appeal on a technicality, claiming that several people who had signed petitions to register the party were now deceased.10
- Long-standing opposition parties, such as Erk (“Freedom”) Party, were also prevented from participating in the presidential election. A well-known Uzbek singer who had become involved in politics, Jahongir Otajonov, said he was threatened with violence after he announced he was considering running for president as an Erk candidate.11 Security camera footage taken in his office in Istanbul showed three men threatening him with violence if he pursued a run for president.12 Weeks later, he announced that he would not run due to the stress caused to his family each time he made an online political statement.13 On Instagram, he posted that his “parents’ tears are too high a price to pay.”14 Days before the election, Otajanov was prevented from boarding a plane from Tashkent to Istanbul on accusations of failing to pay child support.15
- Although Erk representatives said they would try to field a candidate in the 2021 elections, the party’s efforts to register were stymied by government officials. In 2020, the Uzbek Justice Minister said that Erk could not register because it was previously banned and could not restart its activity.16 After the election, all opposition newspapers and political parties were closed in the country.
- 3file (oscepa.org)
- 6Eurasianet, “Uzbekistan: Opposition Politician’s Detention Undermines Democracy Pledges,” February 28, 2021, https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-opposition-politicians-detention-unde….
- 7Радио Озодлик, “Блогеры и женщины сорвали собрание новоучрежденной оппозиционной партии в Узбекистане,” Радио Озодлик, March 16, 2021, https://rus.ozodlik.org/a/31152366.html.
- 8Bruce Pannier, “New Uzbek Opposition Party Runs Into The Same Wall As Its Predecessors,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 24, 2021, sec. Qishloq Ovozi, https://www.rferl.org/a/new-uzbek-opposition-hits-same-wall-as-others/3….
- 9Озодлик, “Янги таъсис этилган ‘Ҳақиқат ва Тараққиёт’ партияси фаоллари яна ҳужумга учради,” Озодлик радиоси, March 31, 2021, sec. Кун мавзулари, https://www.ozodlik.org/a/haqiqat-va-taraqqiyot-partiyasi-faollari-yana….
- 10RFE/RL Uzbek Service, “Uzbek Opposition Party Denied Registration As Presidential Poll Nears,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, May 18, 2021, sec. Uzbekistan, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-opposition-party-rejected/31260880.h….
- 11RFE/RL, “Uzbek Activist Reveals ‘Threatening’ Video As He Prepares To Run For President,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 30, 32021, sec. Uzbekistan, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-activist-reveals-threatening-video-as-he-….
- 12Ozodlik Radiosi, “‘Сен Учун Пул Таклиф Қилишган’ - Жаҳонгир Отажонов Туркияда Таҳдидга Учради,” March 30, 2021, https://www.ozodlik.org/a/31175977.html.
- 13Ҳурмат Бобожон, “Жаҳонгир Отажонов сиёсатдан чекиниши ва онаси учун концерт беришини айтди,” Озодлик радиоси, July 11, 2021, https://www.ozodlik.org/a/31352843.html.
- 14Bruce Pannier, “Eliminating Presidential Candidates In Central Asia,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, July 18, 2021, sec. Qishloq Ovozi, https://www.rferl.org/a/presidential-candidates-central-asia/31364532.h….
- 15Khurmat Babajanov, “Uzbekistan Clamps Down On Activists, Critics Ahead Of Presidential Election,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, October 23, 2021, sec. Uzbekistan, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-election-clampdown-mirziyoev-activis….
- 16RFE/RL Uzbek Service, “Erk, Uzbekistan’s First Opposition Party, Says It Will Attempt To Field A Presidential Candidate,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 12:19:30Z, sec. Uzbekistan, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-opposition-party-presidential-electi….
|Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process.||1.251 7.007|
- Uzbekistan’s elections remained tightly controlled in 2021, but unlike in previous eras, the government allowed unfettered access of international observers such as the OSCE. There was also greater room for discussion of candidates and criticism of authorities on social media, leading to a slightly more open environment than under the previous regime.
- The presidential election saw Shavkat Mirziyoyev handily reelected. Originally scheduled for December 2021, the election was moved up to October 24. Although no reason was given for the change, observers speculated that officials anticipated a popular backlash against winter energy shortages, which have become an annual challenge for the government.1
- The country’s voter registration process is largely inclusive. All adults are automatically registered to vote unless they are deemed ineligible for some reason, such as being convicted of a serious crime. The Central Election Commission reported over 21 million registered voters, and passive registration is followed up by door-to-door verification of voter data.2
- All election-related expenses are funded by the state, and all parties received the same amount of public funds in 2021.3 Nevertheless, the president clearly benefited from his incumbency advantage. During the campaign, he traveled extensively across the country, often berating local officials for their inability to implement his reform agenda, and garnering the majority of media attention. Very little coverage was given to Mirziyoyev’s rivals or their platforms. The OSCE noted concerns that intimidation and harassment of journalists, along with a restricted legal framework for the media, resulted in unequal coverage for candidates.
- A major shortcoming with the current electoral code is that although observation by international organizations, party agents, media representatives, and members of neighborhood (mahalla) committees is allowed, the regulations do not allow citizen groups to observe elections. This change had been recommended by previous OSCE missions, yet still only officially accredited observers have that right at all stages of the electoral process, barring citizens and most civil society organizations.4
- In the run-up to the presidential election, the Oliy Majlis (Uzbekistan’s parliament) modified the criminal code to include new sanctions for people who insult the president, with additional provisions for online statements (see “Independent Media”). Under the new laws, insulting the president may lead to a prison sentence of five years.5
- 1RFE/RL Uzbek Service, “Uzbek President Signs Law On Moving Forward Election,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, February 9, 2021, sec. Uzbekistan, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-president-signs-law-on-moving-forward-ele….
- 2OSCE, “Interim Report: 15 September-- 5 October 2021,” 1.
- 3OSCE, “ODIHR Needs Assessment Mission Report.”
- 4OSCE, “Interim Report: 15 September-- 5 October 2021,” 2.
- 5Халк сузи, “О Внесении Изменений и Дополнений в Некоторые Законодательные Акты Республики Узбекистан,” Халк сузи, March 31, 2021, https://xs.uz/ru/post/o-vnesenii-izmenenij-i-dopolnenij-v-nekotorye-zak….
|Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups.||1.502 7.007|
- Despite a challenging formal environment for civil society organizations (CSOs), informal civil society was more active than at any time in Uzbekistan’s independent history. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have had difficulty registering for many years, but despite such challenges, there is a vocal civil society that exists in small groups, online, and through spontaneous organization, which helps to raise awareness of important issues. Citizen collective action has become an important feature of Uzbekistani society, even though citizen organizations still struggle to register, especially in areas related to the environment.
- In 2021, Uzbekistan saw the first violent protest in many years. A mob gathered in downtown Tashkent to protest calls for the decriminalization of same-sex relationships and greater acceptance of LGBT+ issues. On March 28, a small group of men surrounded by police began chanting anti-gay slogans and shouting “Allahu Akabar” in response to a rise in LGBT+ discussion and activism in the country.1 Miraziz Bazarov had been leading this activism on social media and calling for the end of the criminalization of sodomy. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are the only two countries in the post-Soviet space that criminalize same-sex relationships. On March 29, a group of men violently attacked Bazarov outside his home, seriously injuring the activist. In response, authorities blamed him for inciting the attack.2 Afterward, he was arrested on charges of libel and public insult.3 In April, Bazarov was released from the hospital and put under house arrest.4 In a video message on YouTube, the Interior Ministry accused him of instigating the attack after he called for a demonstration near a mosque to advocate for LGBT+ rights.5
- There was never a serious investigation into the Bazarov attack; instead, he faced prosecution.6 In response to the controversy, Alisher Qodirov, prominent politician and chairman of the right-wing Milliy Tiklanish (National Revival Democratic Party), suggested stripping Uzbekistan’s LGBT+ population of citizenship and deporting them as a way of ending debate on the issues. While Qodirov said he did not support violence against the LGBT+ community, he argued that their sexual orientation was against Islam.7
- There were no major changes during the year to the “burdensome” regulations facing NGOs and CSOs seeking to register. Under stiff requirements, independent organizations routinely have their applications rejected on what appear to be “trivial grounds.”8
- Over the past several years, labor strikes have increased against both state and private enterprises. In January, refinery workers in Altyaryk, an urban settlement in Ferghana Province, went on strike due to decreased wages and potential layoffs.9 The plant involved in the dispute is an Uzbek-Russian joint venture.10
- The winter saw increased demonstrations over energy shortages and power outages that left many homes in the cold and dark. Protesters demanded accountability,11 with civil society activists staging road blockades around the country with some success.12 Regional authorities in Jizzax Province, for example, offered cheap coal to women protesting the lack of natural gas and electricity after they blocked a highway.13
- In March, nearly 300 workers formed Uzbekistan’s first independent labor union. Named Xalq Birligi (Unity of the People), the group was composed of workers on a cotton farm operated by Indorama Agro, owners of cotton cluster farms throughout the country, but this move by organizers was poorly received by the authorities.14
- In July, President Mirziyoyev signed a new law on religion that somewhat loosens restrictions on religious dress in public. However, the state can still enforce dress codes in offices and universities. The law continues existing bans on teaching religion without state sanction, while easing restrictions on the number of people required to establish a new religious institution. The new statute was adopted with no public discussion.15 In September, the Ministry of Education issued a clarification that permits school-aged girls to wear Islamic head coverings, removing an ambiguity in the original law.16
- At the end of March, President Mirziyoyev signed a set of new laws related to the criminal code. Human Rights Watch remarked that while the legislation made some advances in certain areas, there were many provisions that continued to violate freedom of speech, association, and religion. Furthermore, protections for women, torture victims, and the LGBT+ community are still not ensured. The new statutes eliminated previous provisions that punished “illegal production, storage, import or distribution of religious materials” and “violating rules for teaching religion,” while retaining penalties for public demonstrations as well as “unlawful formation of a public association or religious organization.”17
- 1Фергана информагентство, “Митинг” Против ЛГБТ-Сообщества в Ташкенте, 28 Марта 2021 Года, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lSZhLgfmVk.
- 2Eurasianet, “Uzbekistan Police Blame Victim in Violent Attack on Pro-LGBT Activist,” n.d., https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-police-blame-victim-in-violent-attack….
- 3RFE/RL Uzbek Service, “Severely Beaten Uzbek Blogger Under House Arrest After Release From Hospital,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 30, 2021, sec. Uzbekistan, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-beaten-blogger-bazarov-house-arrest-….
- 4Ҳурмат Бобожон/Озодлик, “ЛГБТ ҳуқуқларини ҳимоя қилган блогер Миразиз Бозоров уй ҳибсига олинди,” Озодлик радиоси, April 29, 2021, sec. Кун мавзулари, https://www.ozodlik.org/a/лгбт-ҳуқуқларини-ҳимоя-қилган-блогерга-жиноят….
- 5Ichki ishlar vazirligi, Ёлғон Чақириқларга Алданманг!, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nidRd0RNIU.
- 6Eurasianet, “Uzbekistan: Target of Hate Crime Assault Facing Prosecution,” May 1, 2021, https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-target-of-hate-crime-assault-facing-p….
- 7Eurasianet, “Uzbekistan: Top Lawmaker Calls for Deporting the LGBT Community En Masse | Eurasianet,” June 7, 2021, https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-top-lawmaker-calls-for-deporting-the-….
- 8Human Rights Watch, “Uzbekistan: Registration Barriers for Independent Groups,” January 7, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/01/07/uzbekistan-registration-barriers-in….
- 9Мехрибон Бекиева/Озодлик, “В Алтыарыке с 10 января бастуют сотни рабочих Ферганского нефтеперерабатывающего завода (видео),” Радио Озодлик, n.d., https://rus.ozodlik.org/a/31051567.html.
- 10Eurasianet, “Uzbekistan: Refinery Workers Strike over Alleged Layoff Plans,” n.d.
- 11Газета.uz, “В Джизаке жители района перекрыли дорогу из-за проблем с газом,” Газета.uz, January 11, 2021, https://www.gazeta.uz/ru/2021/01/11/jizzakh-gas/.
- 12Eurasianet, “Uzbekistan: Temperatures Plummet, Tempers Soar,” n.d., https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-temperatures-plummet-tempers-soar.
- 13“Uzbek Women Offered Cheap Coal After Blocking Highway Ahead Of President’s Visit,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 13:40:53Z, sec. Uzbekistan, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-women-offered-cheap-coal-after-blocking-h….
- 14Bruce Pannier, “Celebrations Over Uzbekistan’s First Independent Union Cut Short By Threats, Harassment,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 27, 2021, sec. Qishloq Ovozi, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-trade-union-agricultural-workers/311….
- 15Eurasianet, “Uzbekistan Disappoints with Secretively Adopted Religion Law,” July 7, 2021, https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-disappoints-with-secretively-adopted-….
- 17Human Rights Watch, “Uzbekistan: Draft Criminal Code Offers Little Meaningful Reform,” Human Rights Watch (blog), March 10, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/10/uzbekistan-draft-criminal-code-offe….
|Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media.||1.251 7.007|
- In March, President Mirziyoyev updated the criminal code,1 including new regulations on information flows, websites, blogs, and social media channels. Platforms and individuals now face strict penalties for sharing anything calling for the violent overthrow of the government or unsanctioned public demonstrations.2 The law stipulates a penalty of 5 years in prison for those insulting the president or calling for public disorder and violence, and up to 10 years for those who make such calls on the internet or on social media.3
- In the run-up to the presidential election, the government limited access to a number of social media sites, including Twitter, TikTok, VKontakte, and Skype.4 On July 2, the state agency responsible for telecommunications oversight announced that it would limit access to social media sites for violating personal data laws.5
- In the days before the October 24 election, RFE/RL Uzbek service staff received death threats. On October 16, dozens of threatening social media posts appeared on the service’s Uzbek-language Telegram channel. While most the threats came from anonymous accounts, two came from users promoting government policies.6 The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned the wave of threats as “unprecedented and repugnant.”7
- In November, two senior IT officials were fired when it was revealed they were responsible for blocking social media networks just after the election.8 President Mirziyoyev fired the head of the state communications agency for “erroneous and uncoordinated actions” after his agency blocked Telegram, which is the country’s most popular social media platform for commerce and personal use.9
- Otabek Sattoriy, a citizen journalist in the southern province of Surxondaryo, was arrested and accused of fraud. On May 10, he was sentenced to six and a half years in prison on charges of libel and extortion for criticizing the provincial governor on his YouTube channel.10 Parliamentarian Rasul Kusherbayev spoke up in Sattoriy’s defense, stating that the arrest appeared to be an attempt to silence those critical of local officials.11 Observers believe Sattoriy’s case was intended to put limits on the country’s burgeoning citizen journalist, “blogger” community, which is largely unregulated.12 Sattoriy’s conviction on “trumped-up” charges was condemned by both the CPJ13 and Reporters Without Borders.14
- In December, Fazilhoja Arifhojaev, a blogger on religious issues, was charged with threatening public security and faces an eight-year prison sentence.15 He has been held in pretrial detention since June 2021 on charges of petty hooliganism. Arifhojaev has criticized the Uzbek government’s policies that restrict religious practice. He was arrested shortly after confronting the progovernment religious leader Abrorjon Abduazimov, calling him a hypocrite for supporting the government.
- Correspondents from the news website Effect.uz were charged with libel, insulting a public official, and interfering in an ongoing court investigation. The charges resulted from a published video shot at the Otabek Sattoriy trial where a judge and journalists debated the legality of media presence in the courtroom. The correspondents were sentenced to several years in prison. The Uzbek Association of Journalists condemned the arrests, saying they violated the journalists’ freedom to report.16
- The Tashkent-based Polish journalist Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska was deported from Uzbekistan for unknown reasons in November. This followed months of alleged harassment from authorities after her public criticism of the government for its stance towards the LGBT+ community. In January 2022, when her accreditation was not renewed, she filed an allegation of sexual harassment against an official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. NGOs ultimately secured her accreditation, 17 and the Oliy Majlis speaker issued a statement condemning the sexual harassment.18
- In June, Kun.uz, one of the country’s most established independent news organizations, ceased operations for a day to protest a government fine levied against a reporter for an article that appeared to violate the state law on violent extremism.19 The newspaper issued a statement claiming it should not be subjected to pressure or censorship, adding that such legal “shortcomings can be used at any time as a weapon against freedom of speech.”20
- 1Халк сузи, “О Внесении Изменений и Дополнений в Некоторые Законодательные Акты Республики Узбекистан,” Халк сузи, March 31, 2021, https://xs.uz/ru/post/o-vnesenii-izmenenij-i-dopolnenij-v-nekotorye-zak….
- 2Eurasianet, “Uzbekistan Tightens Rules for Media as President Braces for Re-Election,” March 31, 2021, https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-tightens-rules-for-media-as-president….
- 3RFE/RL, “Ahead Of Vote And Amid Attacks On Critics, Uzbek President Criminalizes Online Insults,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, April 1, 2021, sec. Uzbekistan, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-crime-online-insults/31181519.html.
- 4RFE/RL, “Uzbekistan Restricts Access To Several Social Media Sites,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, July 3, 2021, sec. Uzbekistan, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-restricts-social-media/31339492.html.
- 5O’zkomnazorat, “Ограничено использование ряда социальных сетей в связи с нарушением требований законодательства при обработке персональных данных граждан Республики Узбекистан,” July 2, 2021, http://gis.uz/ru/news/997.
- 6RFE/RL Uzbek Service, “Online Death Threats Against RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service Staff On Rise Ahead Of Presidential Poll,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, October 19, 2021, sec. Uzbekistan, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-rferl-threats-journalists-election-/….
- 7CPJ, “RFE/RL’s Staff Receive Death Threats Ahead of Uzbekistan Presidential Election,” Committee to Protect Journalists (blog), October 21, 2021, https://cpj.org/2021/10/rfe-rls-staff-receive-death-threats-ahead-of-uz….
- 8Podrobno.uz, “После Блокировки Соцсетей Уволены Министр По Развитию Информационных Технологий и Коммуникаций, а Также Помощник Премьер–Министра,” Podrobno.uz, November 4, 2021, https://podrobno.uz:443/cat/politic/posle-blokirovki-sotssetey-uvoleny-….
- 9Joanna Lillis, “Uzbekistan: Outraged Netizens Win Partial Victory over Social Media Blocks,” Eurasianet, November 3, 2021, https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-outraged-netizens-win-partial-victory….
- 10Eurasianet, “Uzbekistan: Blogger Arrest Tests President’s Pledge on Defending Journalists,” n.d., https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-blogger-arrest-tests-presidents-pledg….
- 11Rasul Kusherbayev, “Юқоридаги Расмдаги Бола Сурхондарёлик Блогер Отабек Сатторий,” February 5, 2021, https://t.me/deputat_kusherbayev/1321.
- 12Eurasianet, “Uzbekistan: Citizen Journalist’s Prison Sentence Horrifies Reform Advocates,” May 10, 2021, https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-citizen-journalists-prison-sentence-h….
- 13CPJ, “Uzbek Blogger Otabek Sattoriy Sentenced to 6.5 Years in Prison,” Committee to Protect Journalists (blog), May 10, 2021, https://cpj.org/2021/05/uzbek-blogger-otabek-sattoriy-sentenced-to-6-5-….
- 14RFE/RL Uzbek Service, “Watchdogs Blast Uzbek Blogger’s Prison Sentence On ‘Trumped-Up’ Charges,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, May 11, 2021, sec. Uzbekistan, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-blogger-watchdogs-criticize-jail-sen….
- 15Human Rights Watch, “Uzbekistan: Muslim Blogger Faces Eight-Year Prison Term,” Human Rights Watch (blog), December 9, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/12/09/uzbekistan-muslim-blogger-faces-eig….
- 16Journalist.uz, “Ўзбекистон Журналистлари Ижодий Уюшмасининг Муносабати,” July 7, 2021, https://t.me/journalistUz/5561.
- 17Peter Leonard, “Uzbekistan: Harassment Case Highlights Wariness over Foreign Reporters,” February 2, 2021, https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-harassment-case-highlights-wariness-o….
- 18Regnum, “Глава Сената Узбекистана Прокомментировала Инцидент с Польской Журналисткой,” February 2, 2021, https://regnum.ru/news/3180072.html.
- 19Eurasianet, “Uzbekistan News Site Protests at Fine over Religious Reporting,” June 23, 2021, https://eurasianet.org/uzbekistan-news-site-protests-at-fine-over-relig….
- 20Kun.uz, “Kun.Uz Жамоаси Баёноти,” June 22, 2021, https://kun.uz/news/2021/06/22/kunuz-jamoasi-bayonoti.
|Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities.||1.251 7.007|
- There were minimal changes in Uzbekistan’s local self-governance during the year since most political activity focused on the October election. Yet President Mirziyoyev has long stressed the importance of local government reform, and during the election campaign, he spent significant time traveling the provinces and meeting with local officials and citizens. On many of these trips, he criticized the performance of local leaders for not effectively promoting his reform program. In this way, local authorities, who operate in a highly centralized system, appeared to become scapegoats for the president’s reform efforts.
- In fact, Mirziyoyev seemed to backtrack on promises for greater local government autonomy in the run-up to the October election. In previous years, he had vowed to hold elections for provincial and district governors. In 2021, however, he said that communities were unable to hold mahalla elections (mandated by the state) in a “competent manner,” raising doubts that local units could successfully steward elections for officials at the subnational level.
- This backtracking was accompanied by the president’s deep criticism of provincial and district governors for the lack of growth in small- and medium-sized enterprises during his reign. In a videoconference with governors in April, he said he would fire those who do not support the development of small businesses.
- Facing protests over gas and power shortages, local officials were under greater scrutiny for their ability to understand the plight of people in their communities. In response, the governor of Namangan Province moved to an impoverished village in the region to better understand people’s daily lives and needs.1 There was a push from the central government to have mayors live in mobile homes in order for them to move around their regions to better understand the challenges faced by citizens.2
- 1Bruce Pannier, “Uzbek Governor Moves To Destitute Village But Will Bring His Own Toilet,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 5, 2021, sec. Qishloq Ovozi, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-governor-bunyodkor-poverty-abdurazza….
- 2RFE/RL Uzbek Service, “Вагончеллендж: После главы Наманганской области хоким Бухары также решил переехать в контейнер,” Радио Озодлик, March 3, 2021, https://rus.ozodlik.org/a/31130603.html.
|Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions.||1.251 7.007|
- In 2021, there were a few positive changes in rules governing the Uzbek justice system and judicial independence. Since coming to power in 2016, President Mirziyoyev had touted judicial reform as one of his priorities, specifically, to end torture in prisons and pretrial detention.
- In June, the president signed a resolution marking the International Day for Victims of Torture as a way to help prevent systemic torture. Yet, shortly after the decree was signed, the media reported accounts of three people killed in custody.1 In July, Bakhtiyar Dauletmuratov was detained in Karakalpakstan where he died in custody, and Nursoat Muhammadiev of Nishan District, Qashqadaryo Province, was beaten to death while in custody. Finally, Hasan Husmatov of Denau District, Surxondaryo Province, was killed in custody. Two officers were arrested in relation to the death.2 In September, Aziz Ahmedov, a 40-year old tax collector accused of drunk driving, died in custody after police held him down for 10 minutes. Two officers were charged when bodycam videos were released showing their attacks on Ahmedov.3
- In August, the parliamentary lower house passed a bill that toughens punishment on those who resist law enforcement. The statute sets a fine of up to $230 for those resisting officers, doubling the previous rate. During parliamentary debate, some argued the fees were too high and would penalize those protesting illegal police actions that have become common, especially involving evictions and the forced demolition of homes.4
- Despite Uzbekistan’s promise of greater religious freedom, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reported that around 2,200 people remain imprisoned on trumped-up religious or political charges, which is approximately 10 percent of the country’s total prison population. Although some changes have been made, the commission’s report argues that “imprisonment of persons on religiously and politically motivated charges remains widespread.”5
- 1RFE/RL Uzbek Service, “Президент Қароридан Кейинги Уч Ўлим. Қийноқлар Яна ‘Мунтазам Тус Олмоқда,’” Озодлик Радиоси, 14:06:10Z, sec. Кун мавзулари, https://www.ozodlik.org/a/31389817.html.
- 2RFE/RL Uzbek Service, “Two Uzbek Police Officers Arrested On Charges Of Beating Detainee To Death,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 15:47:54Z, sec. Uzbekistan, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-police-beating-death/31391836.html.
- 3RFE/RL Uzbek Service, Uzbek Officers’ Body Cameras Show Disturbing Scenes Of Detention That Turned Deadly, 2021, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-police-death-in-custody/31465184.html.
- 4RFE/RL, “Uzbek Lawmakers Move To Toughen Punishment For Resisting Police,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, August 11, 2021, sec. Uzbekistan, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-punishment-resisting-police/31404264….
- 5U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, “Uzbekistan’s Religious and Political Prisoners: Addressing a Legacy of Repression” (Washington, DC: U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, 2021).
|Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives.||1.251 7.007|
- The issue of corruption gripped the public discourse following the collapse of the Sardoba Dam in 2020, which leveled villages, caused six deaths, and displaced up to 70,000 people. As a consequence of the disaster, 17 mid-level officials were put on trial in January 2021 in Tashkent; they were charged with a range of crimes, including forgery, embezzlement, abuse of office, and violation of safety regulations.1 In May, all were found guilty.2 The defendants included top energy and state railways officials, as well as leaders of the construction companies that built the dam.3
- In a surprise decision, a Tashkent court ruled that the capital city’s mayor, Jahongir Ortiqxo’jayev, a longtime ally of President Mirziyoyev, was guilty of breaking the law when he handed over land in the city center to a firm associated with Mirziyoyev’s son-in-law. A group of local business owners filed the suit, claiming that development plans for the land would harm their businesses.4 Uzbekistan’s mayors are appointed by the president, and Ortiqxo’jayev is an entrepreneur known to have murky ties to public sector investments.5
- In January, Murodjon Mamaraimov, a local man displaced by the Sardoba Dam collapse, was sentenced to seven days in jail after he accused local authorities of malfeasance in their distribution of new houses to victims. In a video posted online, he claimed that new apartments and other financial aid were given to individuals unaffected by the dam collapse.6 Such claims are difficult to verify.
- In a rare move, a government official was arrested on charges of embezzlement and violation of construction regulations. Akram Rahmonqulov, deputy governor of Jizzax, was arrested for allegedly neglecting his duty in response to the collapse of an apartment building under construction in the provincial capital. Mirziyoyev criticized him of “betraying presidential politics,” while others argue he is a “scapegoat” for officials seeking to absolve themselves of responsibility for their own role in the building collapse.7
- This was the first full year of the State Anti-corruption Agency, launched in mid-2020. Led by Akmal Burhanov, the agency met with international organizations but did not tackle any significant cases. The agency is developing a series of reforms and policies based on international best practice.
- 1RFE/RL Uzbek Service, “Uzbek Jailed After Questioning Compensation Following Deadly Dam Accident,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, January 15, 2021, sec. Uzbekistan, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-jailed-after-questioning-compensation-fol….
- 2O’zbekiston Respublikasi Oliy Sudi, “Ўзбекистон Республикаси Олий Суди ‘сардоба Иши’ Бўйича Расмий Баёнот,” May 10, 2021, https://sud.uz/.
- 3RFE/RL, “Prison Terms For 17 In Deadly Uzbek Dam Burst,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, May 11, 2021, sec. Uzbekistan, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-sardoba-dam-disaster-officials-sente….
- 4“Tashkent Mayor’s Decisions On Land Linked To President’s Son-in-Law Ruled Illegal,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 10:46:15Z, sec. Uzbekistan, https://www.rferl.org/a/tashkent-mayor-decisions-on-land-linked-to-pres….
- 5Tashkent Mayor's Decisions On Land Linked To President's Son-in-Law Ruled Illegal (rferl.org)
- 6Озодлик, “Сардоба: Жабрланганларга Уй Беришда Коррупциядан Шикоят Қилган Йигит 7 Суткага Қамалди(ВИДЕО),” Озодлик Радиоси, Jnaury 2021, https://www.ozodlik.org/a/sardoba-jabrlanganlarga-uy-berishda-korrupsiy….
- 7RFE/RL Uzbek Service, “Uzbek Regional Deputy Faces New Charges After Mirziyoev’s Criticism,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 15:07:02Z, sec. Uzbekistan, https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbek-regional-deputy-faces-new-charges-after-m….
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Global Freedom Score12 100 not free
Internet Freedom Score25 100 not free