Nations in Transit
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Democracy Score(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Electoral Process(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Society(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Independent Media(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Judicial Framework and Independence(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Corruption(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Governance(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Uzbekistan is an authoritarian state that exercises extensive government control over the private sector, human rights, political participation, and civil society. The country's Constitution provides for a presidential system with separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. It also sets forth guarantees of fundamental civil rights. In practice, however, the executive branch, under the leadership of President Islam Karimov, dominates all aspects of political life. The branches of government are not coequal, and the enforcement of civil rights is largely dependent upon the discretion of the executive branch.
During 2002, Uzbekistan's progress in the transition to international standards of political practice was dominated by the tension between efforts by the government to carry out political reforms and efforts by the government to isolate and neutralize threats to the political order. Government officials consistently expressed the position that the country was seeking to make accommodations to international standards of practice but was hampered in doing so by political conditions dominated by threats to the state and to the well-being of its citizens. Heavy-handed efforts in 2002 to combat both real and putative challenges from political opposition led the government increasingly to exercise more direct control over the economy and society.
Uzbekistan became an independent state as a result of the disintegration of the USSR in 1991. In the first stages of national independence, President Karimov, the former head of the Uzbek Communist Party during the Soviet period, pledged to set the country on a path toward democracy, free market economic relations, and the rule of law in a secular state. The fundamental institutions of democratic, civil society were soon adopted, including a new national Constitution with separation of powers and guarantees of civil rights.
Ultimately, Karimov's commitment to international standards of governance proved hollow. By the end of the first decade of independence, many critics of the Uzbek government charged that the adoption of democratic institutions was mere window dressing, designed for show rather than for real change. Many critics even claimed that the essence of the Uzbek government was in some respects more retrograde than in the Communist period. Moreover, critics claimed that the Uzbek government's stress on the "Uzbek path" of a go-slow approach to macroeconomic structural reforms undercut the expected benefit of true market liberalization. Uzbekistan's strategy emphasized self-sufficiency in energy and food grains, the export of primary commodities, particularly cotton and gold, and the creation of an internally oriented services market. Fundamental reforms in agriculture, state enterprises, state procurement, and the financial sector, including foreign exchange, were postponed.
By the mid-1990s, a significant political opposition had emerged within Uzbekistan, fueled by popular dissatisfaction with stagnating incomes, excessive government intervention in the economy, and a dearth of opportunities for meaningful participation in public affairs. As the Uzbek government consolidated political control during the mid-1990s with heavy-handed methods, many opponents of government policy either left the country or went underground. Some government opponents were drawn to Islam as a natural counterforce to the new regime. Others viewed President Karimov as a holdover from what was widely regarded as a period of foreign occupation by Russia. The Uzbek government began to identify Islam with political opposition, noting that many of its opponents were attempting to shield themselves by cloaking their resistance in the garb of Islam.
In response, the Uzbek government began a series of campaigns aimed at isolating and neutralizing opponents of the regime, branding them as criminals, Islamic political fanatics, and terrorists. The government's counterinsurgency campaign cast a wide net, ensnaring the regime's legitimate and illegitimate opponents alike. International human rights organizations reported numerous violations of human rights and Uzbek civil law at the hands of law enforcement authorities. The Uzbekistan government did not offer authoritative figures on the number of individuals caught up in the antiterrorist dragnet, but third parties have given an indication of the scale of the counterinsurgency detentions. Uzbekistan human rights activists estimated the number to be as high as 7,600 in 2001. Journalists suggested the number was as high as 6,000. The U.S. State Department indicated that by the end of 2000, well over 5,000 persons were in prison as a result of the crackdown.
The abrupt changes in international relations that followed the September 2001 terrorist attack on the United States and the formation of an international coalition to remove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan fundamentally altered Uzbekistan's role in international affairs and substantially affected its internal politics. The country's prominent role in the international coalition to normalize Afghanistan brought Uzbekistan considerable international goodwill within the international diplomatic community during 2002. In March 2002, President Karimov met with George W. Bush, the U.S. president, in Washington, D.C., and reaffirmed Uzbekistan's commitment to accountable, democratic government, to an open economy, and to the observance of international standards of civil rights. The year 2002 also witnessed a series of visits to Uzbekistan by high-level diplomatic and military delegations from a number of countries and international organizations, culminating with the visit to Uzbekistan of UN secretary-general Kofi Annan in October 2002.
The Uzbek government's leadership responded to the increased international attention by making highly visible efforts to improve its international profile. In 2002, for instance, the government took steps to rein in overzealous counterinsurgency efforts. In February, a Tashkent court sentenced four police officers to 20 years in prison for the extrajudicial execution of a prisoner in custody. The government has also made efforts to improve the professional qualifications of Uzbekistan's specialists in terms of civil practice and human rights. In November 2002, the Tashkent State Law Institute, Uzbekistan's leading law school, established a Human Rights Clinic based on a model provided by the American Bar Association. During 2002, the Uzbek government also registered a leading human rights group, announced amnesties for political prisoners, and increased its participation in international organizations. President Karimov personally issued an invitation for expatriates to return home.
At the same time, Uzbekistan's enhanced international profile brought greater scrutiny to the country's governance and human rights practices. Uzbekistan's critics claimed that the Uzbek government's newfound willingness to accede to international standards was little more than an opportunistic use of the threat of terrorism to deflect criticism from bogus democratic practice, routine violations of human rights, rampant corruption, nepotism and other conflicts of interest, and administrative incompetence. Critics maintained that in 2002, the legal environment for civil and human rights actually deteriorated, private enterprise grew more circumscribed by the domination of the state and by the influence of economic crime and corruption, and long-promised macroeconomic policy correctives continued to be delayed. Moreover, critics maintained that the government's heavy-handed efforts to combat political opposition indicated a desire by the regime to secure even more direct control over the economy and society, thereby undercutting much of the modest progress made during Uzbekistan's early years of independence in securing civil freedoms.
Elections in Uzbekistan are governed by regulations and practices that were established under the Law on Parliamentary Elections on December 28, 1993, and amended on December 26, 1997, and on August 19, 1999. The electoral system is overseen by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), a 14-member board established by the Oliy Majlis (Parliament) on the advice of the president. The CEC is responsible for oversight of the nomination process, campaigning, and the organization of elections. Campaign financing and publicity are also regulated by the CEC.
Although putatively independent, the CEC in fact has functioned since its establishment as a wing of the executive branch. The CEC channeled virtually all important political questions to government administrative bodies prior to the nomination process. In past years and in 2002, the CEC oversaw orderly but largely empty electoral procedures that served primarily to corroborate the government's administrative decisions. Elections in Uzbekistan have been managed to assure that no political competition can emerge that is capable of changing the government.
In Uzbekistan, national elections have taken place to select the president and deputies to Parliament and to adopt constitutional changes through popular referendums. The last presidential election was in 2000. The last legislative elections took place in 1999. Local elections have also been held at the regional and municipal levels. Many local posts, such as officers in the mahallas (quasi-governmental community organizations), are often determined through a selection process rather than competitive elections.
The right to nominate legislative candidates is reserved for registered political parties, the veliat (provincial) legislative councils, and the Karakalpakstan Parliament. Political parties are required to satisfy the additional condition that they must have been registered with the Ministry of Justice no less than six months prior to an election and have collected 50,000 voter signatures supporting the party's participation. The 1997 law also extended the right to nominate candidates to citizens who organize in groups of 100 or more from a single electoral district. The Center for Support of Independent Candidates was registered as a nongovernmental organization (NGO) with the goal of assisting independent candidates with the formation of citizen initiative groups, the registration process, and campaigns.
An election is considered valid if more than 50 percent of the electorate votes and if the winning candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes. Otherwise, a runoff election is held. As a consequence of these provisions, up to seven candidates could run in any given electoral district. This includes candidates nominated from the five registered political parties, one candidate nominated under the citizen's initiative provision, and one candidate nominated by the local authorities. Those qualified to stand as parliamentary deputies include members of the government (with the exception of ministers and the prime minister), judges, and the staff of the prosecutor's office. However, members of the government, with the exception of hokims (the provincial heads of administration), must relinquish their official positions to take a seat in Parliament.
On May 25, 2000, in a speech to Parliament, President Karimov proposed the creation of a second, higher parliamentary chamber called the Oliy Kengash, or Supreme Council (now often referred to as the Senate). In doing so, Parliament would be transformed into a professional legislature that meets more frequently. Karimov suggested that the new upper house would more fully represent the interests of the country's various regions.
The creation of a bicameral legislature was put to a popular referendum on January 27, 2002. Not only were voters called upon to approve the creation of a two-chamber Parliament, they were also asked to vote on the extension of the presidential term from five to seven years. According to the National Information Agency of Uzbekistan, turnout for the referendum was 13.3 million, or about 92 percent of the total electorate. Over 93 percent approved the creation of a bicameral Parliament, and nearly 92 percent approved the proposal to extend the presidential term from five to seven years--that is, until 2007.
Political parties that are registered and allowed to participate in elections are typically pro-government in their orientation. Opposition parties that espouse policies antagonistic to the government are not allowed to register. The People's Democratic Party (HDP), the successor to the Communist Party, is the dominant party. The HDP explicitly supports the president and the government. Other registered political parties include the Fatherland Progress Party, the Adolat Social Democratic Party, the Democratic National Rebirth Party, and the Self-Sacrificers Party (Fidokorlar). In 1996, President Karimov personally withdrew from party participation, claiming that the country's president should be above partisan politics.
The Ministry of Justice has refused to register the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) and Adolat (not to be confused with the Adolat Social Democratic Party) on the grounds that they do not comply with the constitutional mandate of separation of church and state and the 1996 Law on Political Parties. Abdulla Utaev led the IRP until his disappearance in December 1992. Since that time, the party's leadership has remained in exile or in hiding. The political movements Birlik (Unity) and Erk (Liberty) are not permitted to function in Uzbekistan but have active informational programs in exile. Provisions regulating the registration of political parties severely limit the development of new parties and circumscribe any real competition for political power.
Provisions regarding the registration of candidates favor self-recruitment and government manipulation. The Law on Parliamentary Elections establishes unequal conditions for the nomination of candidates, in effect creating three classes of candidates with different requirements. The candidates who were not nominated by legislative bodies face significant difficulty in collecting the required number of signatures unless they have the support of local authorities. They also encounter significant difficulty during the signature verification phase.
Party membership in Uzbekistan is difficult to gauge, especially if one tries to assess membership in unregistered parties. The HDP claims membership between 300,000 and 400,000, and the Fatherland Progress Party declares that it has at least 35,000 members. These numbers are quite possibly inflated, with actual membership in most political organizations numbering in the low thousands. The existence of multiple parties in Uzbekistan has not led to political competition.
Uzbekistan is a secular, unitary state that encourages national consolidation. While Uzbekistan is predominantly Uzbek in ethnic composition, there are numerous national minority groups. Of these, only the minority Karakalpakstan population enjoys formal guarantees of representation in the political system. Other national minorities, including Tajiks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Turkmen, Russians, and smaller minority groups enjoy representation in countrywide political institutions but do not have separate party representation based on nationality or ethnicity. All ethnic groups are entitled to cultural self-identification, the use of their native language, and the right of association, but political organizations based on ethnic criteria are discouraged and none are registered as political parties in Uzbekistan.
Religious political opposition groups play an important role in Uzbekistan. The goal of the Islamic Renaissance Party, for instance, is to establish an Islamic state in Uzbekistan. But the form of the state that this movement envisages, according to its chairman, Abdulla Utaev, more closely resembles the modern state of Pakistan than that of Iran or Saudi Arabia. Under the Pakistani model, the government has an obligation to uphold and preserve the Muslim style of life. Such practices as drinking, drug use, and prostitution are illegal. According to IRP spokespersons, within the broad outlines of an Islamic state, the Uzbek government should observe international standards of human rights, including the right to freedom of speech and religion as a matter of individual choice.
In addition to the nationalist and religious opposition, there is opposition based on policy differences. For instance, Faisulla Ishakov, chairman of the Organizing Committee of the Uzbek Social Progress Party, opposes the government on the grounds that it is pursuing policies of the Soviet period. Ishakov favors, among other things, a new agricultural policy that includes distributing land to landless farmers. But even Ishakov, reflecting widespread fears that land privatization will result in racial stratification, claims that there should be no right to resell the land for 20 years. Another party, Otechestvo, claims to be based upon a Western liberal democratic model. The goal of the Otechestvo Party, according to its general secretary, Uzman Azim, is to achieve the economic and spiritual independence of Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan's most recent legislative elections took place on December 5, 1999, but proponents of genuinely opposing political agendas played no role. The 1999 election concerned 250 seats in the unicameral Parliament. A total of 12,692,202 voters were registered to take part in the election. Turnout on Election Day was 12,061,266, or slightly more than 95 percent. In 184 constituencies, one candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote during the first round and was elected to Parliament. In 66 constituencies, no candidate was elected during the first round. Runoff elections in those constituencies took place on December 19, 1999.
International election-monitoring organizations found the 1999 legislative elections to be seriously flawed. During the preelection phase, individuals, groups, political parties, and NGOs that opposed the government were not permitted to freely associate, present their views openly, take part in the nomination process, or participate in the electoral process itself. Freedom of association was limited through the denial of registration by the Ministry of Justice to NGOs and political parties that criticized state authorities or state policies. Freedom of assembly was limited by a Soviet-era decree that permitted public meetings and demonstrations only indoors and with the prior consent of authorities. Electronic and print media were subject to structural censorship through direct control as well as licensing and registration obstacles. The next parliamentary elections are scheduled for December 2004.
Following the January 2002 referendum, Parliament adopted a resolution outlining the procedures for electing a new bicameral legislature in December 2004. The lower legislative chamber will consist of popularly elected deputies and will work fulltime. The Senate (upper chamber) will consist of members of local councils and 16 "widely respected citizens" nominated by the president.
The most important political office in Uzbekistan is the presidency. The president is elected by direct and secret, but not necessarily competitive, ballot. According to the Constitution, a president can hold office for no more than two terms. After state service, the president becomes a lifetime member of the Constitutional Court.
Karimov was elected president of Uzbekistan in March 1990 by the Soviet-era Parliament. In December 1991, as the Soviet Union was dissolving, Karimov was elected in a popular, competitive election in which he won 86 percent of the vote. The new Constitution, adopted in 1992, limited the presidency to two consecutive terms. In March 1995, a popular referendum was held to extend President Karimov's term in office until the year 2000. Parliament later interpreted the extension to mean that Karimov had run for president only once and was thus eligible to run again. The official results of the January 2000 presidential election showed that approximately 95 percent of registered voters (12,746,903) favored Karimov over his opponent, Abdulhafiz Dzhalalov. Leading international organizations refused to send observers, and the election was widely regarded as a travesty of the democratic process. On April 5, 2002, the Uzbek Parliament approved a resolution that specified holding the next presidential election in December 2007.
Civil society in Uzbekistan lags far behind the standards for countries in similar stages of economic development. A "citizen-subject" orientation rather than a "citizen-participant" orientation combines with Soviet-era traditions of a single hierarchical social structure to produce effects that stifle independent citizen initiative. While many nongovernmental, public service organizations have been officially recognized in Uzbekistan, the fact remains that many government-approved NGOs are indistinguishable from government-organized NGOs. The Ministry of Justice favors direct government control over citizen initiative.
In the late Soviet period and during the early stages of national independence, a number of NGOs informally and formally came together to address important social and political issues. The government's initial response was one of hostility and fear, for it saw social movements such as Birlik, the Committee to Save the Aral Sea, and Samarkand (an organization to assist ethnic Tajiks) as having essentially political rather than social goals. As a result, the government has refused to register these organizations. The Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan and the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan (IHROU) were also denied registration.
Although the Constitution guarantees citizens the right to association and legal participation in government, in fact the avenues for such activities are highly regulated by the government itself. Only gradually, and with considerable prompting from the international community, has the government adopted a more conciliatory approach toward NGOs.
The number of NGOs has grown considerably since the early years of independence. According to figures released by the Uzbek Ministry of Justice, by 2000 there were 2,300 registered NGOs in Uzbekistan. This number included 62 international organizations, 225 national organizations, and 2,023 organizations registered at the local level.
There are three main types of civic organizations in Uzbekistan. The first category includes indigenous civic organizations that play a public service role endorsed by the Uzbek government. These NGOs include nationwide organizations such as the Mahalla Foundation, the Association of the Disabled, and the Veterans' Fund "Nuroniy." There are also specialized organizations that focus on key environmental and social issues. These NGOs often are organized at the government's initiative and receive special privileges.
The second category consists of so-called implementing NGOs that receive funding from international donors to carry out the work of identifying and providing financial and technical support to indigenous citizen initiatives. Implementing organizations include the Counterpart Consortium, the National Democratic Institute, the Initiative for Social Action and Renewal in Eurasia, the American Bar Association Central and East European Legal Initiative, and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. These implementing organizations are unlikely to develop financial sustainability on the basis of own-source revenues from Central Asia. Consequently, when donor government assistance comes to an end, the support for indigenous NGOs in Central Asia can be expected to attenuate.
The third category consists of organizations directly engaged in the promotion of group or public interests by providing goods and services to a client population. NGO activity in the past year has focused on capacity building (training and other forms of knowledge-based technical assistance) and leverage grants that provide seed capital for previously existing or incipient civic initiative organizations. These foreign-supported NGOs include legal foundations, child assistance organizations, women's rights groups, advocacy groups for the rights of underrepresented portions of the population, and environmental activists.
In March 2002, Uzbek authorities formally registered the Independent Human Rights Organization of Uzbekistan, culminating five years of work on the part of human right activists to win the right to monitor and lobby human rights activities without direct government control. The IHROU had lobbied heavily on behalf of Uzbekistan's prisoners of conscience. The IHROU and other organizations have estimated that as many as 7,500 people have been imprisoned for political, religious, or national security reasons. These individuals are primarily members of unsanctioned mosques and Islamic groups, as well as members of the secular opposition and human rights community.
In November 2000, the U.S. House of Representatives expressed concern over human rights violations and the use of terrorism as a pretext for political repression. It also urged the Uzbek government to observe international law, to keep civilians and other noncombatants from harm, and to refrain from using antiterror campaigns to justify further crackdowns on political opposition or violations of the country's commitments to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Throughout 2001 and early 2002, the Uzbek government committed serious civil rights abuses, and testimony indicates that security forces tortured, beat, and harassed suspects. The security forces arbitrarily arrested or detained pious Muslims and other citizens on false charges, frequently planting narcotics, weapons, or forbidden literature on them.
On February 28, 2001, a well-known writer, Emin Usman, died in a detention cell of the Uzbek Interior Ministry. In July of the same year, Shoyruk Ruzimuradov, a human rights activist and former member of the Uzbek Parliament, also died while under detention. In response, a U.S. State Department spokesperson expressed "deep concern about the violation of international conventions outlawing torture and extrajudicial execution." In June 2001, the International Helsinki Federation published a report referring to a serious escalation of violations of basic human rights in three Central Asian states: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.
Zakat--assistance to the needy--is a key tenet of the Islamic faith. The Moslem world has developed many mechanisms for distributing largesse. Islamic religious institutions are major donors to Uzbekistan. Islamic religious philanthropy has supported projects ranging from the construction and maintenance of mosques (places of worship) and madrassas (religious schools) to regional road construction. However, the true scope and scale of Islamic religious assistance is difficult to assess owing to the fact that many financial transfers are informal and nontransparent.
Following the collapse of the USSR, the desire in Uzbekistan to diminish the cultural and political influence of Russia increased. The governments of Central Asia initially were eager to attract financial support from the Moslem world and to encourage the revitalization of the cultural institutions of Islam. In a short period of time, hundreds of mosques were constructed with donated funds. When religious activism began to take on a political hue, tensions between church and state grew as the government became suspicious of the financial influence of informal Islamic investment. There are reports that in the last few years the Uzbek government has closed as many as 900 mosques.
The legal framework for NGOs is found in the 1991 Law on Public Associations and the 1999 Law on NGOs. The laws provide the foundation for civic initiative and action in a way that protects the rights of citizens to freely organize and at the same time protect the state from irresponsible use of public resources for private gain. Despite the fact that the laws are on the books, there have been complaints that the government has dragged its feet by not implementing them fully.
One complaint is that the laws provide for the right of legitimate noncommercial, public interest organizations to register. However, many NGOs complain that the registration process is complicated and threatening. It also has been reported that there is a widespread assumption within the Ministry of Justice and the Tax Service that many not-for-profit enterprises are merely fronts for tax evasion. Similarly, there is an assumption within the public order ministries that many NGOs are fronts for political activities. Taxation is the most problematic side of civic activity. Tax avoidance, if not evasion, is commonly viewed as one of the primary motivations of individuals involved in local NGOs.
The distribution of income in contemporary Uzbekistan precludes many citizens from engaging in direct public interest activities. As a result of this, local NGOs have a keen appreciation for the approaching horizon of declining foreign donor assistance. However, there have been few creative and realistic attempts to confront this eventuality. Proposals for the establishment of externally funded, local NGO support centers have met with caution due to concerns about the interference of the government (or other actors) after the withdrawal of managers representing the foreign donor organizations.
Trade unions exist in Uzbekistan as an instrument of management rather than as a means of interest group-based collective bargaining. About 25 percent of the country's labor force is in the main trade union that is under the aegis of the Ministry of Labor. Farmers' groups and small-business associations also exist but are primarily mechanisms for the dissemination of information rather than interest promotion.
Colleges and universities fulfill primarily a pedagogical function and have not traditionally supported research institutes. Public policy research institutes associated with government agencies tend to facilitate rather than analyze government policy. A few externally sponsored think tanks, such as the Center for Economic Research sponsored by the United Nations Development Program, have acquired a reputation for professionalism, but even these institutions do not represent themselves as independent of government policy.
The educational system is state supported, and universal primary education is guaranteed. State certification of educational content is carried out through the Ministry of Education. Higher education is also state supported, but it is not universal. While most students study on government support, an increasing proportion of students are enrolled in pay-for-service courses administered on a cost-recovery basis. All institutions of higher learning must be registered by the state as not-for-profit organizations. In 2002, the University of Westminster in London helped open the Westminster International University in Tashkent, an English-language institution that will offer classes in business, economics, law, and other subjects.
Uzbekistan is a challenging political environment for the media. Although the government officially eliminated state censorship in May 2002, harassment of journalists and self-censorship persist. Public criticism of the government remains limited. According to the Azerbaijan-based Journalists' Trade Union, "Sources in Tashkent report that self-censorship is still predominant among journalists, and most reporters still do not feel that they operate free of outside control...Newspaper editors continue to be appointed by the government and therefore remain under the control of President Islam Karimov's repressive regime."
The constraints on openness begin with the highly bureaucratic annual reregistration process that is required of all media organizations. In late 1999, the republic's licensing commission closed two of the country's most progressive TV stations over licensing issues. Station directors claimed that the closures were politically motivated, citing their commitment to producing balanced reportage according to international standards. Government officials argued that the stations were not cooperative during the annual reregistration process. Media rights organizations charged that such closures and manipulation had a chilling effect upon independent TV stations in what was already a difficult media atmosphere. In 2001, the Uzbek InterAgency Coordinating Committee denied a broadcasting license renewal to ALC, an Urgench-based private television company that had provoked government suspicions and had been administratively shut down in the days just before the presidential elections in 2000.
The regulatory structure for the media includes a number of agencies and committees subordinate to the Cabinet of Ministers. The Agency for the Post and Telecommunication oversees telecommunications. The government recently established the Republic Radio and TV Industry Corporation (RTRC), which offers technical broadcasting services on contract to the state UzTeleRadio Company. UzTeleRadio provides about 80 percent of the revenue of RTRC. Empowered by a decree of the Cabinet of Ministers, the State Communication Inspection Committee carries out annual inspections of media organizations.
According to the Ministry of Justice, the country has 477 newspapers, 136 journals, 4 information agencies, 25 television studios, and 2 radio studios. Leading newspapers include Tashkentskaya Pravda, Pravda Vostoka, Vremya I My, Toshkent Okshomi, Khalk Suzi, and Business Vestnik Vostoka.
Since government policy prohibits live programming, all shows are prepared on tape. Government regulators say that the policy is intended to assure quality programming. Some broadcasters, however, feel that this is a mechanism for reserving the right to censor programming, which in turn encourages self-censorship.
Uzbekistan has a challenging economic environment for private commercial media organizations. Government-sponsored outlets are subsidized and thus not dependent upon advertising revenue. Some commercial stations complain that their low advertising income results in unfair competition, given that they find it impossible to maintain the technical standards of the government's subsidized organizations.
The newspaper distribution system remains under government control. There are several minor independent papers, particularly in Tashkent, that have a limited circulation and are available at some kiosks. These tend to be business-oriented papers. There are also occasional appearances of illegal papers published by opposition groups in exile, usually in Moscow or Istanbul, that find their way into the country.
Libel, public defamation of the president, and irresponsible journalism--that is, spreading falsehoods--are all subject to financial penalty and possible imprisonment. This was underscored in the December 1997 Law on Media, which specifies the responsibilities and obligations of journalists. The Uzbek government has criticized foreign journalists, principally Russian journalists, for reporting libelous stories and has either pressured them to leave Uzbekistan or prohibited the distribution of their papers. This has been the case for journalists working for Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Izvestiia, and Interfax.
In 2002, Oleg Sarapulov, a freelance journalist and the deputy executive director of the Union of Independent Journalists of Uzbekistan, was detained by the Internal Affairs Department in the Yakasaray district, which claimed that Sarapulov was homeless. Sarapulov, who ironically was taken from his home, claimed that he was detained and beaten for his work as a journalist. Similarly, members of the Uzbek special security services harassed journalist Yevgheniy Dyakonov and his family for much of the year. Dyakonov is the founder of the online magazine Zone, which the government apparently wants shut down.
Also in 2002, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) conducted a nine-day mission to Uzbekistan and concluded that "the government's harsh policies have succeeded in creating a culture of self-censorship in the country. Local journalists rarely cover official corruption, human rights abuses, or the activities of opposition political parties and Islamic organizations." The CPJ mission also released recommendations for improving press freedom in Uzbekistan. These include releasing imprisoned journalists, ending the use of lawsuits to harass journalists, creating a "culture of openness and transparency in the government," and abolishing or reforming the State Press Committee and the InterAgency Coordination Committee, which together license and regulate the press.
A 1999 decree required all Internet service providers to route connections through a government server. The government maintained that the primary purpose of the measure was to protect citizens from information that the government considers harmful. Nevertheless, private Internet providers have increased in number and have taken advantage of the technological ease with which they can circumvent the law. In October 2002, Uzbekistan abolished the state monopoly on Internet access. Although a new system of Internet regulation is developing swiftly, the new law no longer requires users to access the Internet through the centralized state provider.
Uzbekistan's Constitution, adopted in December 1992, consists of a preamble and 6 main divisions, including 26 chapters and a total of 128 articles dealing with the sovereignty of the republic, civil rights, the social contract, and the state legislative, administrative, and judicial systems. The Constitution describes a secular, democratic state in which "the people are the sole source of state power." The highest organ of power is the legislature, but the actual functioning of the government is better described as a unitary, presidential system. The Constitution guarantees freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion, as well as the right to express one's national heritage.
The judicial system consists of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Economic Court. There is also an arbitration court of the Republic of Karakalpakstan. Judges of these courts are elected for five-year terms. The three-tiered judicial system is subordinated to the Ministry of Justice. The court system is funded from the state budget. To avoid partisanship, no judge may belong to a political party. The procurator's office is responsible for public observance of the laws. Procurators are appointed by the president and are restricted from any political or party activity. There are also local and neighborhood conflict resolution committees--the mahallas--which are reported to function effectively, particularly in rural areas.
The Uzbek criminal code was revised in 1994. The law initially included 13 articles envisaging capital punishment. In 1998, 5 of these articles were removed. In October 2001, the government announced that Uzbekistan had amended the criminal code to narrow the range of crimes punishable by the death penalty from eight to four. The death penalty now may apply only to crimes of first-degree murder and terrorism. The government also announced a reduction in prison terms and an increase in the number of offenses punishable by fines rather than prison sentences.
The government enforces criminal law energetically. At the same time, President Karimov has sought to present himself as a gracious and forgiving leader, issuing amnesties to prisoners on a periodic basis. For instance, prior to his June 1996 visit to the United States, he released over 80 prisoners, including 2 political prisoners. In August 2001, over 400 Uzbek women whose relatives have been convicted of being members of the outlawed Islamic organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir appealed to Karimov to include their relatives in a forthcoming amnesty. At a parliamentary session in August 2001, Karimov appealed to the parliamentarians to pass an amnesty in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of Uzbekistan's declaration of independence. Most female convicts, invalids, persons suffering from serious diseases, men over 55, foreign nationals, and persons who were minors at the time of their sentence were eligible for release, with the exception of those convicted of murder, terrorism, drug trafficking, or crimes against the Constitution.
The Constitution lists a wide range of rights (Chapters 7-10), including the rights to assembly, free speech, freedom of religion, due process, ownership of property, and gender and ethnic equality. Legislation also has progressed on these fronts, especially since 1996. In that year, new laws on the ownership of private property, the establishment of businesses, and the taxation of businesses were introduced. Economic rights have been of particular importance because the government continues to entice foreign investment in Uzbekistan.
Search warrants are authorized and issued by provincial or local police. There have been no successful challenges to the legality of such warrants. The Constitution guarantees accused parties the right to a legal defense at all stages of investigation and judicial proceedings. Legal defense is offered to citizens, enterprises, institutions, and organizations by the College of Barristers. The organization and procedure of the College of Barristers is described in the Law on Advocacy.
Judicial decisions are routinely enforced. Informal procedures seem to be in place that limit the extent and severity of decisions that tend to conflict with government policy. Accordingly, the executive branch of government seems to ensure effective enforcement of judicial decisions.
There is separation of public and private roles, but the lines tend to be drawn on an ad hoc basis. The president withdrew from party participation, citing the need to maintain a separation of powers and noting that it would be inappropriate for a sitting president to also influence party competition. Major officials may not play a role in politics. Lobbying is considered illegal. However, these superficial rules do not relate well to a political culture that rests above all on personal interactions.
Since medieval times in the heavily populated Central Asian cities, government positions have been sold rather than earned. While it may seem backward that a person has to pay to receive a job, in fact this could be economically rational in many cases because government positions carry high prestige and an official can earn an income to pay his superiors by levying "extra" taxes, fines, and service fees. Such practices are alive today and constitute a significant drain on the efficiency and equity of government. As one observer noted, "At almost every level of government, 'extra' rates and tariffs are set for otherwise free services, and no query can be resolved without under-the-table cash. The mechanisms that were created to cope with corruption do not punish the wrongdoers but only serve to eliminate the undesirables."
Financial disclosure and conflict-of-interest law is underdeveloped in Uzbekistan. Routine practices of close connections between business and government regulators are seldom regimented by the legal system. Close connections based on family, clan, and regional patronage networks similarly evade the scrutiny of the legal system. On the other hand, those in positions of authority frequently abuse the existing legal statutes on conflict of interest. Highly politicized cases of corruption often involve vague violations of conflict of interest, financial reporting, and improper personal gain. Due to the nature of the allegations and the lack of evidence, few of these cases are ever discussed openly in the press. The legislature has an auditing commission, but there have been public revelations of investigations leading to dismissals of high officials.
The Uzbek government has undertaken a number of initiatives to respond to negative reporting on the prevalence of official corruption. The government announced in September 2000 an analysis of investigations concerning 11,430 cases of customs violations by businesspeople. This included 9,300 cases by organizations and 176 cases of officials who committed violations. Of these cases, 1,319 involved smuggling or drug trafficking. A customs whistle-blower hot line was established to identify violations.
Since 1996, Uzbekistan has upheld strict government controls over currency operations and maintained a tiered system of convertibility with an overvalued currency. The system benefits the government, and most likely certain government officials, at the expense of the country's foreign trade relationships. The bureaucratic burden of maintaining strict currency controls can be expensive and unavoidably creates an unfavorable climate for trade. A policy of overvaluation creates a rationale for extending police sanctions even to the extent of replacing the goal of public safety with that of regulating private behavior. This can give rise to an incentive structure in which private parties have an interest in avoiding or evading the legal framework through various forms of side payments and inducements. An overvalued currency also can be expected to lead to the depletion of foreign reserves, which, in turn, can bring about pressures for severe import restrictions and, eventually, the collapse of the free trade policy.
Official corruption within the civil service is widely regarded as extensive. Civil service compensation is considered by many to be inadequate, and civil servants often cite the need to supplement their official salaries. Uzbek citizens report that routine acts such as entering university, being admitted to the hospital, having a telephone installed, obtaining a business license, and applying for a passport or other official document are all subject to requests for bribes.
Only the government or government-sponsored organizations have carried out public surveys of corruption and economic crime. No fully independent and autonomous organizations have been permitted to conduct more objective surveys. With a score of 2.9, Uzbekistan ranked 68th out of 102 countries in Transparency International's 2002 Corruption Perceptions Index. The index measures public perceptions of corruption in a numerical range from 10 ("highly clean") to 0 ("highly corrupt").
The surface indicators of political stability in Uzbekistan are numerous. For instance, reported approval ratings of the president and the government are high. But the level of control exercised by the government over the media, civil society groups, public associations, and private enterprise suggests that the actual situation is much more tenuous.
The Uzbek Constitution outlines the powers of Parliament, calling it the political authority of the country (Chapter 17). It is charged with initiating and passing legislation as well as executing policies through committee work. Parliament meets on a regular basis--two times a year plus special sessions--and has both public and closed sessions. Similar authority is given to the president--a fact that calls into question the actual powers of the legislature. In addition, the legislature spends most of its two sessions per year discussing and passing presidential proposals and decrees, suggesting that it is not a true rule-making body, but rather a ceremonial institution. The drafting of legislation takes place outside the deliberative process and exclusively under the control of the executive branch of government.
In terms of territorial organizations, Uzbekistan has a centralized political system of government, with ultimate authority resting at the national level. Within this system, there are 12 veliyats, 1 autonomous republic, and 1 city government (Tashkent). The president has the power to appoint and dismiss the hokims, the highest executive officers in the veliats. All policies made and enforced at the veliat level must comply with national laws. This also holds true for policies made and enforced at the level of the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan. Hokims serve at the pleasure of the president. In turn, local officials serve at the pleasure of the hokims. In 1997 alone, over half of the regional hokims were dismissed for a variety of reasons, usually owing to poor harvest figures from their respective veliats.
Subnational political institutions below the veliat level are considered not as part of the government as such, but as a sphere of "local control." The mahalla, in particular, was identified in the 1992 Constitution as the elementary unit of political power. In 1993, Parliament adopted a Law on Local Self-Government relating to the mahallas. A new, more extensive Law on Local Self-Government was adopted in 1999. Under this law, the government shifted greater emphasis to local public order activities by adopting a community-based approach to public law and order. The mahalla's novelty lies in its intensification of preventive measures in local communities and residential areas. This work is carried out by so-called prevention inspectors who combine the duties of a neighborhood police officer, a public health inspector, and a Good Samaritan.
In a short period of time, mahallas have obtained a level of autonomy that has not been known for many years. Throughout the country there are 8,043 mahallas, each typically consisting of 2,000 to 3,000 people. Mahalla leaders are elected on the principle of competitive elections with secret ballots. In December 2002, speaking at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Uzbek Constitution, President Karimov declared 2003 the "Year of the Mahalla." Karimov vowed to take steps in 2003 to increase the status of the mahalla by expanding the scope of the legal authority of mahalla officials.
The financial system is unitary. Veliats and municipalities are responsible for collecting revenue (taxes and other mandatory payments), but expenditure decisions are made at the national level. Although few categories of legitimate own-source revenue are available to local officials for local policy programming, local officials wield exceptional interference powers. Lower-level bureaucrats, firms, and private parties that do not see eye-to-eye with local political officials find great difficulty in acquiring the necessary government approvals, licenses, and permits needed to carry out their activities.
Official government positions are highly sought after. Professional training institutions such as the Academy of Public Administration provide training in the theory and practice of government. However, the selection of government officials is not yet based on meritocracy. Top-down political pressure on the civil service continues to be seen as a mechanism to assure accountability. Moreover, there are frequent reports that the most sought-after civil service posts are routinely purchased rather than appointed. Although there are criminal penalties for such practices, there are few examples of prosecutions.