Uzbekistan | Freedom House

Nations in Transit



Nations in Transit 2006

2006 Scores

Democracy Score
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


National Democratic Governance
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Electoral Process
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Society
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Independent Media
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Local Democratic Governance
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Judicial Framework and Independence
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Executive Summary: 

The president of Uzbekistan, Islom Karimov, began 2005 with a promise to rid the country of "alien ideologies."In a January 28 speech before the first joint session of the legislative assembly and the newly convened Senate, Karimov promised that "democracy and various so-called open society models"along with other "alien"ideas espoused by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) would not be tolerated.  In the speech, Karimov linked NGOs and human rights activists to "revolutions and fundamentalism." The speech was an inauspicious way to begin the year and augured the repressive actions that came later. By the end of 2005, several international NGOs had been suspended or evicted. Still others were on trial facing a similar fate. Leading journalist organizations were removed or had to suspend their activities. Worse still, by year's end several of the most prominent human rights defenders in the country were under arrest, with some being held incommunicado for a period of months. Political opposition remained banned, and the state more fully exerted its control over the media and Internet technology. The speech even revealed Karimov's foreign policy plans for the coming year by praising countries like Russia and China and omitting the United States from a list of potential allies.   The speech's importance was not lost on some executive agencies as by midyear university students were tested by being required to recite it.  Despite the speech's prominence in signaling the government's policy, the year 2005 will be remembered for the events at Andijan on May 13, when unknown hundreds of protesters were massacred and detained without trial by government troops.

Uzbekistan has not dealt well with the transition from Soviet republic to independent country. In economic terms, annual per capita income in Uzbekistan is US $460 and in the region exceeds only Tajikistan,  a country that just recently overcame a civil war. Its economic growth, however, lags far behind that of its neighbors. Where its neighbors have embarked on some modest programs of economic liberalization, Uzbekistan has responded to the challenge of independence by clamping down on border trade, escalating licensing fees, and more rigidly enforcing internal registration controls. Consequently, the World Bank ranks Uzbekistan 138th out of 155 countries for ease of doing business.  Uzbekistan's neighbors fare better in the survey. In addition to limiting business and enforcing registration requirements, Uzbekistan has limited freedom of expression and political dissent since independence. The administration has stridently resisted reforms that would devolve presidential power to other branches of government. Since independence, Uzbekistan has also had to confront Islamic fundamentalism. The mixture of all these elements--oppressive economic regulations, severe political repression, and the threat of Islamic fundamentalism--contributed to the events of Andijan and continue to shape Uzbekistan today. 

National Democratic Governance. Although Uzbekistan's Constitution contains language that promises the separation of powers and individual rights, in both law and fact the president is able to control all branches of government and through this power is able to dominate the country. The Constitution subordinates individual rights to legislative enactments and presidential decrees and provides virtually no protection for these rights. As the president's authority is able to trump individual rights, he is also able to control the other branches of government. All judges owe their position to the president and serve for limited terms, and regional judges can be dismissed at will. Through various constitutional provisions, the president is able to control speech and decide which political groups are legal and which are not. Cumulatively, citizens have no effective recourse against state authority. In 2005, the full force of the state stifled dissent throughout the country and turned aside all demands for an investigation into one of the worst incidents of state violence in recent years. Uzbekistan's rating for national democratic governance worsens from 6.50 to 7.00 owing to the centralization of power, the lack of public accountability, and the ability of the executive to dominate all areas of Uzbek society.

Electoral Process. No national elections were held in 2005. Nevertheless, there has been no effort to reform any of the systemic failings that have caused every election in Uzbekistan since independence to be judged neither free nor fair. Restrictions on political speech and criminal liabilities for parties that are not registered have crushed dissent and prohibited the development of meaningful alternatives to the current regime. Owing to the onerous nature of election laws and limits on petitions, private citizens have neither the means to express dissatisfaction through elections nor the possibility to work for reform through the political process. Uzbekistan's electoral process rating remains unchanged at 6.75.

Civil Society. In the wake of the Andijan events, no sector of Uzbek society has faced a higher level of government harassment, intimidation, and oppression than civil society. Numerous human rights defenders have been arrested and some held incommunicado for months at a time. Human rights defenders who have not been charged with a crime have often been detained for short periods or have been placed under house arrest. Several international NGOs were suspended during 2005 or faced the threat of suspension. The government also stepped up its propaganda campaign in universities and clamped down more vigorously on civil society organizations. Uzbekistan's civil society rating worsens from 6.50 to 7.00 owing to the severe level of repression directed against human rights defenders, NGOs, and their employees and to the intensified campaign of personality worship instigated by the authorities.

Independent Media. Prior to 2005, local media in Uzbekistan faced severe restrictions. Throughout the course of 2005, the government of Uzbekistan launched a "smear campaign"against international media that resulted in the expulsion of the BBC, Radio Liberty, Internews, Forum 18, and other groups. Journalists were arrested and their families threatened. Moreover, the government increased its controls over the Internet, often blocking Russian- and Uzbek-language Web sites based in other countries, and restricted programming from foreign news organizations being made available in Uzbekistan. Owing to the arrest of several journalists, the harassment and/or arrest of individuals who published statements critical of the regime, the number of criminal libel actions brought against journalists and activists, and the pervasive state control over all forms of media, Uzbekistan's rating for independent media worsens from 6.75 to 7.00.

Local Democratic Governance. An uninterrupted line of authority consolidates the president's power and dominance over every region of Uzbekistan. Owing to the structure of local government, local governors (khokims) owe their position, either directly or one step removed, to the president's largesse. Consequently, citizens have little recourse to appeal abuses by the national executive when their local officials owe their position to the president. Further, local opposition is prevented from forming bona fide political parties because of the same registration requirements that hobble the development of national political parties. Finally, in the wake of Andijan, local authorities have joined the national authorities in targeting potential dissenters and members of civil society. Because of the failure of local authorities to subject themselves to democratic reforms and because of their increased harassment of potential sources of opposition, Uzbekistan's local democratic governance rating worsens from 6.25 to 6.75.

Judicial Framework and Independence. If a trial is power submitting itself to reason , the government of Uzbekistan held reason in abeyance and captured the judicial process.  The authorities conducted several trials that featured large numbers of defendants--often without opening the proceedings to the public. Several defendants were held incommunicado for months at a time. Even when petitioned, judges ignored the pleas of family members and defense attorneys to visit those held in secret locations. Judges did not object to the authorities holding large numbers of citizens under the auspices of administrative or witness detentions, all the while subjecting these citizens to intense questioning without benefit of counsel or independent observation. The financial well-being of judges is dependent on the executive, as they serve for limited terms at the pleasure of the president. Judges can make few decisions in the absence of executive scrutiny. Even during civil trials, judges are observed by representatives of the Procuracy, an executive agency with the power to bring criminal charges against judges who defame the judiciary or violate the law in the course of a trial. These factors have enabled the executive to direct the judicial process. Uzbekistan's rating for judicial framework and independence worsens from 6.25 to 6.75, given the government's refusal to provide a remedy to violations of fundamental rights against citizens by state officials, the failure of judges to protest the executive's use of their courtrooms to harass and persecute those who question the regime, and the power of the executive to appoint, dismiss, or punish judges.

Corruption. Extensive regulations of economic activity have not only stifled economic growth, but created abundant opportunities for civil servants to augment their meager incomes. Citizens must have permission from the state to live or work in a particular location or to work in a specific field and must seek the state's permission to leave the country. Entrepreneurs must comply with a slew of regulations--many of which are not even published. Failure to be in compliance, even on trivial matters, can result in severe penalties. Consequently, the pressure on individuals to pay for the favor of civil servants is tremendous. Bribery and other offenses are serious crimes in Uzbekistan, but prosecutions tend to focus on political dissenters rather than on those who warrant punishment for their venality. Moreover, the president's family and senior members of the government continued their practice of using state power to gain financial reward. Owing to Uzbekistan's continued failure to reform its regulatory scheme, the enactment of additional regulations through internal decrees, the failure to liberalize registration requirements on individuals, and the selective enforcement of these regulations, Uzbekistan's rating for corruption worsens from 6.00 to 6.50.

Outlook for 2006. Civil society will continue to be in peril in 2006, as the government has not slackened its efforts to persecute any source of dissent. Indeed, the expulsion of many international NGOs from the country may increase the government's confidence in attacking civil society members because it may believe that its actions will be less scrutinized. No national elections are scheduled until 2007, when Uzbekistan will vote for its president. Karimov, currently limited to two terms, will finish his second term in 2007. Uzbekistan has not been averse to amending its Constitution, however, and may therefore waive or alter the presidential term limit provision. Accordingly, 2006 will witness either a movement to allow Karimov to stay in power beyond 2007 or the selection of a successor. Regardless of how this choice is resolved, the persecution of democratic opposition, the severe constraints on economic activity, and the state's willingness to use armed force combined with its power to dole out economic benefits to supporters reflect a system that will prevent meaningful reform from taking place in 2006.

National Democratic Governance: 

Uzbekistan's Constitution provides the legal framework for the executive branch to dominate the country. The individual rights enumerated in the Constitution are made subordinate to legislative enactments or executive decrees. General endorsements of international norms, such as Article 11's pledge to honor the doctrine of separation of powers, are undercut by several articles that give the president the power to rule by decree (Article 94), the power to dismiss the legislature (Article 95), the power to limit speech and assembly in accordance with security needs (Articles 29 and 33), and the ability to appoint and dismiss local and regional judges at will (Article 93[11]). 

Several articles are key to giving the president insuperable power to dominate the state. Article 94 of the Constitution gives the president the power to issue national decrees. The Constitution does not limit the president's power to issue decrees either in substance or in duration; consequently, the president's decrees have the full force and effect of law.

The president's decree power enables the executive to limit or curtail the individual rights set forth in the Constitution. Article 25 of the Constitution promises that individuals cannot be taken into custody "except on legal grounds."Article 28 guarantees freedom of movement "except as specified by law."Freedom of assembly and the right to petition the government can similarly be limited or denied on the basis of law. Therefore, the president's decree power combined with the administrative capacity of the executive branch can substantially circumscribe or prevent the realization of these rights.

The president is able to appoint the senior leadership for each executive agency. He is also able to direct the activities of each agency through the issuance of internal decrees. These decrees need not be made available to the public, even though the decrees control how the various executive agencies interact with the public.

These internal decrees often have a substantial impact on the governmental structure of Uzbekistan. By following various internal decrees, executive agencies have been able to detain or hold under house arrest people they deem to pose a risk of committing a crime.  Often these decrees create complicated licensing regimes for various activities such as prison monitoring by private citizens or forming NGOs. Since these decrees are not shared with the public, citizens have virtually no chance of meeting the licensing regulations stipulated in them. Nevertheless, individuals or organizations that conduct activities in violation of undisclosed internal decrees face possible sanctions by the authorities.

The president's unfettered power to appoint and dismiss all local and regional judges under Article 93(11) transforms the relationship between the president and the judges to that of principal and agent. Consequently, citizens even in remote courts stand not before a neutral judge, but in front of someone representing the power of the presidency. Moreover, through the agency of the Procuracy, a quasi-judicial executive ministry, the president has the power to send a representative to every court proceeding. Therefore, the executive is able to monitor any trial while maintaining the power to dismiss any judge.

Executive agencies are able to control even the routine aspects of daily life. Article 28 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of movement, but like so many other rights, it can be obviated by legislative enactment. In Uzbekistan, the law restricting freedom of movement requires every citizen to obtain permission from the state to live in a particular location. Every citizen must have a propiska, the document evincing this permission, or be in violation of the law. Roadblocks, frequent police checks, and the necessity of dealing with the state on a regular basis mandate that citizens have this document at the ready. The propiska represents the power and willingness of the state to regulate and monitor even the minute habits of its citizens. Therefore, the constitutional structure of Uzbekistan enables the president to rule without obstruction and regulate the lives of individuals whether they are engaged in mundane activities or in major political events.

The Constitution places control of the military in the president's office as well. Even following the events of Andijan, there has been no basis to assume that the president's authority is questioned by the military. Of the many controversies surrounding Andijan, there is no report, either from the Uzbek authorities or from independent observers, that anyone doubted the president's control over the military's action in the city. The lines of authority that stretch from the president to senior military leaders are not well delineated, but there is little doubt that the president is able to direct the military's actions.

Although the country is rife with rumors of possible political turmoil, little has happened since Andijan to give substance to those rumors, and little seems to threaten President Islom Karimov's hold on power. Nevertheless, there has been substantial reallocation of internal resources among some of the executive agencies. After Andijan, the Ministry of Interior had many of its personnel transferred to the National Security Service. Karimov has offered little explanation for this transfer of resources. Likewise, he has had little to say regarding the resignation of the Minister of Interior, Zokirjon Almatov, in December. Regardless, this transfer of resources and minor cabinet reshuffle have not appeared to diminish the president's power in any way.

Terrorist groups are reportedly active in Uzbekistan. The threat posed by such groups prompted the U.S. embassy to evacuate nonessential personnel during the month of June. Fortunately, no attack occurred. Although the government of Uzbekistan still blames the loss of life in Andijan on terrorist groups, its rhetoric in this regard is so extreme, such as contending that the United States is funding extremist groups, that its pronouncements in this area are not credible.

Despite Karimov's lengthy rule, he has yet to provide an adequate answer to the fundamental question of why the citizens should recognize his government. He has not won any competitive election and owes his position to his success in the Soviet bureaucracy. Perhaps realizing that the absence of an answer to this fundamental question is a cause for domestic insecurity, in 2005 Karimov sought alliances with countries that would not question the legitimacy of his domestic policies.

During a January 28, 2005, speech, Karimov announced his intention to be allied more closely with countries that have strong or even authoritarian executives rather than those that embrace democracy and limited government.   In his speech, Karimov pledged closer cooperation with the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Shanghai Cooperation Group--a hitherto dormant organization comprising other Central Asian countries, China, and Russia. In January, when Karimov made the speech, the United States (which still had an active military base in Uzbekistan) called Uzbekistan a strategic partner in the war against terror. Karimov, however, made no mention of the United States as a potential ally in his January speech--a telling omission. In July, largely at Karimov's instigation, the Shanghai Cooperation Group met and issued a decree demanding that the United States set a timetable to vacate its bases in Central Asia. Shortly after the meeting of the group, Uzbekistan ordered the United States to abandon its base within 180 days. Cumulatively, not only has Karimov quelled domestic dissent, he has through his choice of allies demonstrated his intolerance toward criticism even from other states. The government's policies in 2005 prove that it continues to embrace a system in which the executive dominates the country, dissent is not tolerated, and little prospect of credible reform exists.

Spotlight on Andijan

Andijan is a city located in the Ferghana Valley, an area of eastern Uzbekistan that extends into Kyrgyzstan.  Trade has always been a part of the tradition of the region. In June 2004, a group of 23 independent businessmen who lived in the region were arrested for being part of a group called Akromia. Although the principles of Akromia are under dispute, there is no question that the populace of Andijan regarded the arrest of the businessmen as part of an effort to punish them for being successful and creating an independent power base in the region. The 23 businessmen were popular in Andijan in part because they reputedly paid higher wages than other employers in the region. They openly embraced Islam and reportedly conducted their business affairs in a manner that was in accordance with their religious beliefs. The government considered the group extremist and arrested them on charge of religious extremism.

The trial of the Akromia members began in February 2005 at the district courthouse in Andijan. By early May, growing protests were being held before the courthouse. On May 11 and May 12, perhaps more than 1,000 local residents were engaged in the protest outside the courtroom. Events in the early morning hours of May 13 become less clear. According to various sources, a group of armed men stormed the prison in Andijan where the Akromia defendants were held. By daybreak, large numbers of protesters had returned to areas near the courthouse to continue the protest. Witnesses report that the protesters were greeted by Uzbek military forces firing indiscriminately into the crowd. The government maintains that the military fired only at the armed men who stormed the prison.

Government troops eventually took control of central Andijan by the afternoon of May 13. The government maintains that "only"169 people died on May 13 and no civilians were killed by the military. Witnesses to the event maintain that many hundreds died. Lists of the missing compiled by residents far exceed the figure of 169 given by the government. Numerous witnesses interviewed by Western journalists expressed concern that relatives that had disappeared were among the dead in the square. Many Western journalists reported that they were brought to sites containing freshly dug mass graves.

Following the events of May 13, the international community called for an independent investigation. By the end of 2005, the government of Uzbekistan had rejected all such requests.

Soon after May 13, 2005, the government of Uzbekistan held the United States, international NGOs, the international media, and human rights activists responsible for the slaughter. Numerous articles published in official media accused NGOs of sponsoring terrorism. The government of Uzbekistan stated that the United States was trying to establish a caliphate in Central Asia by funneling support to Islamic extremists through NGOs.  The chief prosecutor in the first trial of those accused of crimes related to the Andijan incident repeated the government's theory in his opening statement. 

The arguments and conspiracy theories set forth by the government of Uzbekistan to explain the events of Andijan are plainly not credible. The administration has also rejected all calls for an investigation that would provide reliable information regarding that which transpired at Andijan. Furthermore, it has pursued a severe crackdown on civil society, NGOs, and political dissenters under the auspices of defending its sovereignty and combating "alien ideologies."By year's end, Karimov's government was even more hostile to reform than it had been when he gave his January 28 speech.

Electoral Process: 

The most recent parliamentary elections were held in December 2004 and were judged neither free nor fair by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The Constitution initially limited the presidency to a term of five years; however, in 2002 the Constitution was amended to lengthen the term of the president to seven years.  The next scheduled election for the presidency is in 2007.

Only five political parties are registered in Uzbekistan, all expressly supportive of the president. The unregistered parties either failed one of the substantive requirements of the registration law (for example, by being affiliated with a religious belief) or failed to follow all of the various registration requirements. All unregistered parties face prosecution for carrying out their activities.

In addition to controlling the registration of parties, the executive is able to maintain strict control over political discourse in the country through its power to regulate speech. Article 29 of the Constitution gives the executive the power to prevent speech critical of the "constitutional order,"and Article 67 gives the president the duty to ensure that all mass media comply with their obligation to "bear the trustworthiness of information in the prescribed manner."Consequently, the president is able to eliminate political opposition by denying registration, or (as has been Karimov's wont) the president can categorize political opposition as a threat to the constitutional order.

An example of the government's persecution of political opposition occurred during the second half of 2005. Opposition leaders formed a group called the Sunshine Coalition. They urged economic liberalization and the devolution of power from the executive to other branches of government. The group was not registered, however, and by October all of the senior leaders of the group, Sanjar Umarov, Nodira Khidoyatova, and Nigora Khidoyatova, were arrested; Umarov and Nodira Khidoyatova were still in custody at year's end.  The continued hostility to political opposition indicates that Uzbekistan's disdain for openly contested elections and free political campaigns is likely to continue.

With regard to the legislative branch of the government, the newly commissioned Senate of Uzbekistan, the upper chamber of the legislature, convened for the first time in 2005. The president is able to have a strong influence in the Senate as well. Of the 100 senators, 16 are appointed directly by the president, with the remainder elected.  The Senate has not provided a serious challenge to the president, as it is hobbled by the same speech constraints that control political discourse in Uzbekistan.

Citizens who disagree with the positions of the registered political parties have little opportunity to voice their dissent in any meaningful or legal way. The Constitution of Uzbekistan does not enable private citizens to introduce legislation into the Parliament. As an alternative to direct legislative representation, Uzbek law does provide for a referendum-type procedure enabling citizens to comment on laws that have been proposed to the legislature but not enacted. However, the referendum procedure's strict requirements make it impracticable for citizens to express their opinion to their representatives. Referendum legislation requires 5 percent of all eligible voters to sign in favor of the petition. Currently, there are approximately 14 million eligible voters in Uzbekistan. Thus, a successful petition would require the signatures of at least 700,000. Furthermore, the law requires that the signatures be drawn in a proportional manner from around the country. Given the current political situation in Uzbekistan, it is not realistic to expect citizens to gather such national support if the citizens' position is contrary to the state's.

Civil Society: 

No sector of Uzbek society has been as severely affected by the Andijan events as civil society. Human rights defenders were arrested by the score after Andijan. Few human rights defenders escaped detention of some kind. Many were held for a period of six to eight hours and have since been subject to these short-term detentions numerous times. Many others have been subject to prolonged periods of house arrest. Even more alarming, many have been subject to criminal indictment, held without being able to contact their families, and at times tried and sentenced in secret.

One of the most egregious cases of abuse after Andijan concerns Saidjahon Zaynabitdinov, director of the organization Appealiatsia and a member of the Rapid Reaction Group of human rights activists.  Mr. Zaynabitdinov covered the trial of the Akromia defendants prior to May 13, 2005, witnessed the events of May 13, and reported them to international media. Shortly after May 13, Mr. Zaynabitdinov went to the neighboring Kyrgyz city of Osh to give an interview about Andijan and was arrested upon his return to Uzbekistan on May 21, 2005. As of this writing, no member of his family has been able to see him since his arrest.

The particulars of Mr. Zaynabitdinov's case typify the severity of the crackdown against human rights defenders and civil society generally. The crimes he is charged with all relate to speech and not to any action. Mr. Zaynabitdinov offered testimony to international media that directly contradicted the official Uzbek version of events. He described the context of the Akromia trial and provided physical evidence that scores of innocent people were killed in the crackdown. For these interviews and for previously published pamphlets, the state charged him with "undermining the constitutional order,"slander, and disseminating information harmful to the state.

The irregularities in the case against Mr. Zaynabitdinov begin from the outset of his detention. In a pattern that has repeated itself for many human rights defenders, the authorities arrested Mr. Zaynabitdinov and did not notify his family or his attorney. Moreover, the charges against him were not clear for several months following his detention.  Despite numerous requests from his family, foreign diplomats, and international NGOs, none have been able to meet with Mr. Zaynabitdinov since he was initially detained. It is reported that Mr. Zaynabitdinov was not tried until January 2006, when he was sentenced to a seven-year prison term.

The arrest of another prominent Uzbek human rights defender, Mutabar Tojibaeva, reveals the government of Uzbekistan's obsession to quash dissent. Ms. Tojibaeva is the director of the Fiery Heights human rights organization. She criticized the government over the events in Andijan and publicly called for an impartial investigation of the events of May 13. In the weeks after Andijan, she was detained in several instances for short periods of time. She was also placed under house arrest for a period. During these bouts of detention, the authorities warned her to stop her criticism or face severe penalties. In late September, Ms. Tojibaeva gave an interview to Radio Liberty and voiced criticism of the government. On October 8, 2005, Ms. Tojibaeva was to fly to Dublin to attend an international human rights conference. Late in the evening of October 7, the authorities arrested her on charges related to the conduct of her private business, a fish farm. The authorities' past conduct toward Ms. Tojibaeva and the timing of the arrest reveal the charges to be nothing more than another effort to attack dissent.

In addition to these cases, perhaps as many as 100 less prominent human rights defenders have been arrested and charged with a crime.  Aside from the physical detentions, Freedom House has chronicled more than 30 instances of human rights defenders who have been subjected to house arrest. These house detentions can be severe. One human rights defender had a sick infant and was denied permission to obtain medical care for her child. The human rights defender then called an ambulance to treat her child. The authorities guarding her apartment refused to let the ambulance gain entry. As the infant's condition worsened, a brave neighbor was able to take the child to the hospital for treatment. Many human rights defenders in Uzbekistan are older and suffer medical conditions. Consequently, house detentions that deny them medical care can be life threatening. The incident involving the denial of care to the infant represents the seriousness with which the authorities enforce these detentions.

The authorities' assault on civil society is not confined to human rights defenders. In 2005, the legislature amended Article 157 of the criminal code of Uzbekistan, making it a criminal offense for private citizens to give information or support to international organizations. The authorities used this article to intimidate the local staffs of several NGOs, bluntly informing staff members that if they continued to work for NGOs, they could be sent to jail. The authorities often told staff members that this crime could be obviated if they were to give regular reports to the security services on the internal activities of NGOs.

Over the course of 2005, several NGOs faced severe scrutiny from the authorities. Internews, Radio Liberty, the International Research & Exchanges Board, and Freedom House all faced the prospect of suspension. The violations often concern minor infractions of Uzbek regulations but are vigorously prosecuted nonetheless. Freedom House Uzbekistan's alleged violations included the failure to properly register its logo. After a trial in December, the court issued its decision to suspend Freedom House in January 2006.

In addition to suspending NGOs, the authorities obstructed their work by delaying the processing of visas or by increasing reporting and registration requirements. These and other intimidation tactics against international staff were common during 2005.

Religious groups also face severe constraints. All religious leaders and religious organizations must be registered with the state. Unregistered groups and religious practices that are not sanctioned by the authorities, even if hosted in a private home, are subject to criminal penalties.  Uzbekistan is a predominantly Muslim country, where even private religious journeys, such as the Hajj pilgrimage, are controlled by the government. 

In addition to controlling the activities of religious groups through the registration process, in 2005 the president issued a decree through the Department of Religion requiring all imams in the country to make a statement during Friday prayers giving thanks to Karimov for his kindness and support. The state's intrusion into the substance of religious worship seems confined so far to Islam.

As with other areas of civil society, the state's presence in education is rather blunt. All university students must take a course entitled National Ideology. During this course, students are taught items that range from the innocuous (that Uzbekistan grows the best fruit and vegetables in the world) to the hagiographic (that Karimov is the wisest person in the world). In the past year, the course has taught students that Uzbekistan's allies are Russia and China and its "greatest adversary"is the United States. The course has incorporated the government's position that the United States was responsible for funding the Islamic extremist groups that precipitated the events at Andijan.

State propaganda has also infiltrated courses that have no connection to state ideology. Students of the World Languages Institute reported that during their final exams in May and June 2005, they were asked to recite or write down in its entirety Karimov's January 28, 2005, speech condemning NGOs. The courses that had this as their final exam ranged from history to foreign language studies.

Academic freedom and scholarly inquiry are severely circumscribed in Uzbekistan. Students who took internships at international organizations such as Freedom House faced intimidation by university authorities and teachers. Several interns were called "terrorists"by their university instructors and told they had to leave the internship immediately. Many interns were summoned to discuss their affiliation with international organizations by university officers and others who identified themselves as officials from the Ministry of Education. They made the interns report on their activities with international organizations, told them that by working for international NGOs they were supporting terrorism, and threatened them with dismissal from the university if they did not either continue their reporting activities or leave the internship.

Cumulatively, these government attacks make it impossible for private citizens to find places of contemplation, solace, or intellectual growth. The traditional arenas where individuals learn, share ideas, or simply seek guidance from peers or elders have either been co-opted by the state or made illegal. Educators and religious leaders must be state actors or violate the law. Organizations that promote individual rights and transparency in government have either been suspended or so encumbered by administrative responsibilities that they have been forced into maintaining a mere presence rather than practicing constructive advocacy.

In this environment, the only groups able to voice authentic criticism of the state are those that operate clandestinely. Traditional civil society groups that celebrate life and individual dignity cannot operate by limiting their message to a few secret whispers and stay true to their mission. Those groups that can spread their message in a clandestine manner have a comparative advantage over traditional civil society organizations. Although the government surely perceives itself as the beneficiary of its policy to subordinate civil society, Islamic fundamentalists are beneficiaries of this repression as well. An analysis of why certain individuals choose to belong to fundamentalist groups is beyond the scope of this report, but in a country where NGOs, academics, religious leaders, and ordinary citizens are silenced, Islamic fundamentalists are well positioned to spread their message. Those individuals who reject both the government and the fundamentalists must therefore find solace within themselves despite the intellectual and spiritual isolation that exists when civil society is under such distress.

Independent Media: 

In 2005, the government of Uzbekistan launched a severe campaign against journalists both international and domestic. By the end of 2005, Radio Liberty, the BBC, and Internews had to end their presence in the country either because of severe intimidation or because the authorities refused to accredit the press agencies. In October, the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the harassment and intimidation tactics used by the Uzbek authorities against journalists. The committee called the Uzbek strategy "a smear campaign"to discredit foreign media. 

After Andijan, the Uzbek official media aired several television programs and ran several news articles accusing the BBC, Agence France-Presse (AFP), AP, Deutsche Welle, Radio Liberty, and others of conspiring with Islamic extremists to stage the Andijan events and topple the government of Uzbekistan.  The Uzbek campaign against journalists carried more impact than mere words. Some of Radio Liberty's staff members and their families were arrested and threatened.  BBC staff were similarly threatened, resulting in its decision to shut down its office in the country.  A Forum 18 reporter was detained, threatened with criminal charges, and finally deported.  These attacks against reporters and the hostility they evinced have made independent reporting in Uzbekistan exceptionally difficult and dangerous.

Strict enforcement of libel laws and the legal obligation of all media to follow their constitutional obligation to ensure the "trustworthiness of information in the prescribed manner" have long eviscerated the independence of media based in Uzbekistan. Those who publish articles critical or skeptical of official accounts often face criminal libel charges. The charges are brought not by the state directly, but by the state-employed reporters who publish the state's version of events. 

It is often difficult for private Uzbek citizens to get independent accounts of events in Uzbekistan. Russian- and Uzbek-language Web sites based in neighboring countries are generally blocked by the Uzbek authorities. Web sites such as,, and that have posted articles critical of Uzbekistan have all at one time or another had their Web sites blocked to residents in Uzbekistan. Nevertheless, technically savvy Uzbeks have been able to access many of these articles by working through other sites that have archived them. This is one area where the government's repressive policies and leaden ways have slowed its own agents' abilities to keep critical information from reaching its people through the Internet. Perhaps aware of its inefficiency in this sphere, the government has been particularly harsh in suppressing NGOs that offer free Internet services to individuals.

The government has had comparatively more success limiting television media. All cable programming is routed through government-controlled entities. During crises, the authorities shut down cable news channels, including both the BBC and CNN. Programs about Andijan aired by foreign media, including programming aired by the Russian television network NTV, have been similarly blocked.

Local Democratic Governance: 

The Constitution carries the president's power to the local level. Article 104 gives khokims, governors of regional and local areas, the power to bind all individuals and organizations under their jurisdiction to local and national rules. The president, through Articles 102 and 93(12), has the ability to nominate and dismiss all regional khokims. These regional khokims in turn have the power to appoint and dismiss local khokims. Consequently, the president is able to extend his control from the national level to the local level, as the position of every khokim is contingent on placating the president or currying favor with the regional khokim, who must in turn appease the president.

Prior to 2005, the interaction between local government officials and civil society representatives was minimal. After the events in Andijan in May 2005, local authorities joined the national authorities in the persecution of members of civil society.

Local authorities have little possibility of asserting independence. Not only does the president's authority extend directly to the khokims, but all of the senior executive agencies have representation in the regions. The local offices of executive authorities must answer to senior leaders in Tashkent. The president's internal decrees that determine much of the executive agencies' conduct bind regional offices as well as the national offices. Citizens in the regions have no more recourse against violations or improper conduct of executive officials than they have in national centers.

In local elections, citizens have no greater choice than they do in national elections; they are limited to choosing candidates from one of the registered parties.

Local officials are instrumental in fulfilling labor quotas for the cotton harvest. Cotton revenue is a main source of income for the government of Uzbekistan, but the process of conducting the harvest and coercing the labor of thousands of young people is carried out almost entirely by local officials.

Local opposition groups that give precedence to local concerns over national concerns, such as groups that promise to give farmers freedom to plant crops of their choice and freedom of land tenure, are often vigorously suppressed by local khokims and other authorities. These opposition groups have little opportunity to effect change because of registration requirements, the difficulty of obtaining representation in the legislature, and the onerous referendum process. Consequently, groups that authentically represent local interests soon run afoul of local authorities, who are little more than agents of the national government.

Judicial Framework and Independence: 

Owing to the constitutional structure of Uzbekistan, the judiciary is unable to maintain its independence; nor is it able to perform one of its core functions--protecting individual rights. The ability of the state to override fundamental rights--its authority to detain individuals at its own discretion, its untrammeled power to interrogate its citizens, and its determination to make it difficult for individuals to receive competent representation in court--reveals the degree to which law is unable to temper the power of the state.

The Uzbek criminal code allows investigators to detain anyone it deems a "witness"to a crime. Judges do not review these decisions. Someone detained as a witness must answer any question asked, but "witness detainees"do not have a right to counsel during the period of detention. The power of investigators and prosecutors to detain witnesses without judicial review leads to widespread abuse of this tactic. During a roundtable discussion in January 2005, a senior representative for the Procuracy boasted that the best way to solve a crime is to round up as many people as possible and question them until one of them talks.

Answers obtained during the witness detention period may be used as evidence at trial. Although provisions in the Uzbek criminal code limit the length of time a person can be detained as a witness, that period may be extended at the discretion of the prosecutor without consulting a judge.

A person can also be detained in Uzbekistan even if no crime has been committed. So-called administrative detentions enable the authorities to arrest and sentence someone for up to 15 days in jail for administrative violations. People detained for administrative violations do not have a right to meet with counsel, come before a judge, or even alert family members that they have been detained. During the period of administrative detention, detainees are obligated to answer questions put to them by the authorities. People under administrative detention are particularly vulnerable to being pressured into making incriminating statements. Not surprisingly, several human rights defenders have been charged with criminal offenses during their administrative detention. The judiciary has no role in monitoring or preventing witness or administrative detentions.

Even when an individual comes before a court, there is little guarantee of receiving a fair hearing. Before the accused has walked into a courtroom, it is often the case that he or she has had little meaningful legal assistance. Although the Uzbek criminal code promises every detainee the right to consult with defense counsel, the detainee him- or herself does not have the right to choice of counsel. Consequently, many so-called pocket attorneys are selected by the prosecutor (usually because of some social tie) for the defense. The state then pays the representation fee to the defense attorney thus selected.

Neither the law nor administrative practice makes it easy for the accused to hire counsel for the defense. Once in custody, the detainee has virtually no opportunity to contact family members or any outside party. Therefore, the prosecutor managing the case will assign a defense attorney even if the detainee wants a different one.

During a roundtable discussion in April 2005 in response to a suggestion from a senior Uzbek official that the law be amended to allow detainees the ability to make a phone call to family or an attorney, senior officials from the Procuracy said that the Uzbek code was already perfect and any changes would ruin it. The possibility of amending the law to allow phone calls was summarily dismissed.

The difficulty of detainees to contact independent defense attorneys and family members only increases the likelihood of abuse while the detainee awaits trial. In 2002, the UN special rapporteur on torture, Theo van Boven, found the use of torture to be "systematic"in Uzbekistan. Certainly one of the reasons for this finding is that the state can prevent a detainee from meeting with an independent party during the period of pretrial detention. Therefore, if the detainee is being abused, he or she has no opportunity to report this abuse to anyone not under the influence of the state authorities.

Once in the courtroom, parties opposing the interests of the state face a steep challenge. Criminal defendants are handicapped by defense lawyers who have at best mixed loyalties before they even enter the courtroom. Regardless, both criminal defendants and civil litigants must have their cases decided by a judge who owes his or her position to the president's office.

Judges serve only a five-year term in office. Judges not serving on the Supreme Court can be dismissed at will by the president.  Further, criminal charges can be brought against a judge if the prosecutor or other executive official believes the judge "violated the law while trying a case"or conducted him- or herself in a manner that "defamed the judiciary."

Exacerbating a situation in which judges are both dependent on the executive for their position and under threat of criminal prosecution for conduct that "defames"the judiciary is the persistent problem of telefonoe pravo, or "telephone justice."This holdover from the Soviet era reflects the habit of prosecutors or other executive officials calling judges in advance of trials and telling them how to rule. The frequency of the practice is difficult to ascertain, but concerns about its prevalence are not diminished when few judges and attorneys are aware of rules limiting ex parte communications and when there are even fewer examples of such rules being enforced. Indeed, during training sessions some attorneys expressed the notion that they were reassured by communications between the judge and state officials because it delineated a way for all parties to proceed without incurring the wrath of the authorities.

Additionally, the habit of trying large numbers of defendants simultaneously seriously undermines the fairness of trials. In November, a trial of 15 defendants accused of being involved with the events in Andijan began in the district court at Toitepa. Exacerbating the problems of trying large numbers of defendants simultaneously, this trial, like numerous other Andijan-related trials, was closed to the public and to international observers.  Public trials are one of the few windows revealing the operation of the Uzbek criminal justice system. Not only are the Andijan trials usually closed, but the sentences convicted defendants receive are often kept from the public and family members of the accused. 

The few Andijan trials that have been observed reveal the paucity of fairness that prevails. In one trial of Andijan defendants, the defense attorneys opened their arguments with an apology to the people for representing the defendants. Several of the defendants themselves requested the death penalty for their actions. 

The Uzbek criminal justice system prevents detainees from contacting outside parties while awaiting trial, often limits them to counsel whose primary duty is to protect the interests of the state, and tries them before magistrates dependent on the state for their position and state prosecutors with the power to bring charges against the judge and the discretion to arrest anyone dear to the detainee. The law provides no mechanism for excluding evidence that may have been coerced, and trials provide no forum for detainees to contest the legitimacy of the evidence used against them. All of these factors combine to produce trials that are more a tribute to Andrei Vyshinsky, the prosecutor of the Soviet show trials of the 1930s, than to any accepted definition of the rule of law.


The extensive regulatory state, the urgent and constant need of individuals to be in compliance, a poorly paid civil service, and the rarity of bribery investigations all collude to make corruption rampant in Uzbekistan. Such corruption is most readily apparent when citizens try to acquire basic documents to live in compliance with the law. Some of the more sought-after documents are a propiska and an exit visa.

As noted previously, a propiska is a document that gives permission for an individual to live in a particular locality. Uzbekistan has carried on the Soviet policy of devoting disproportionate amounts of public resources to a few favored cities such as Tashkent. Consequently, Tashkent offers more economic opportunity than other cities in Uzbekistan and attracts workers from around the country. However, only people who have a propiska allowing them to live in Tashkent are legally allowed to work in that city. The rules governing the issuance of propiskas are opaque and the market for them robust. Civil servants often demand large sums of money to issue a propiska even if a person meets the legal requirements.

Those people who live and work without proper authorization and registration are subject to harassment and often are compelled to pay bribes to avoid detention. They are frequently marginalized and live in areas with similarly situated people. These areas in turn attract police scrutiny because they are a steady source of bribes.

Uzbekistan also requires citizens to have permission from the state to be able to leave the country. During the course of 2005, perhaps in response to Andijan, the authorities became more strict about issuing exit visas, and those they do issue are usually for a more limited duration. In their pursuit of official documents in Uzbekistan, individuals are often confronted by civil servants whose intransigence is an obstruction that cannot be overcome except by a bribe. Citizens have no recourse under the law to get necessary documents and so must comply with the civil servant's wishes.

In rural areas, local officials are often able to augment their income through land speculation. Prior to Andijan, one of the most persistent causes of civil unrest was the expropriation of farmland by local khokims. Many farmers told Freedom House and other international organizations that local khokims would forge land transfer documents or use their authority to redistribute land ownership to the khokims' own material benefit. After Andijan, the ability of citizens to protest this type of local corruption has been substantially diminished because of harsh responses from the authorities.

The intrusive regulations that control the economic activities of private citizens and enable state officials to seek bribes find their roots in a political culture of rent seeking. No one demonstrates this culture of rent seeking more than President Karimov. Karimov has used his position to enrich himself, his family, and those in his circle. Whether it is using the wealth generated by the annual cotton harvest for his own benefit or taking over successful businesses run by private citizens, Karimov has used his power to live a life of exceptional luxury.

Much of the president's lifestyle is kept from public view, as he lives in various walled compounds around Tashkent that are closed to the public. However, a better sense of the president's wealth may be gained by examining the "president's residences"that dot the country. Each significant regional city in Uzbekistan has a president's residence. These residences are usually in a walled compound operated by the local authorities--the khokimyat. Many of these local compounds also house hotels separate from the residences that cater to government officials and foreign travelers--thereby allowing for a glimpse into the president's lifestyle.  The president's residence in Namangan, a city in the Ferghana Valley, is not atypical. According to interviews conducted by the author at the facility, the president has stayed there only one night. Despite this fact, the building is adorned with luxuries. Although it is only a two-story building, it contains a German-made glass elevator so the president need not trouble himself with stairs. When the author toured the exterior of the building, workmen were installing new marble floors in the residence, because during the president's one and only night's stay, he expressed displeasure at the color of the original marble. According to workers on the site, tens of thousands of dollars were being spent to create a facility for the president that saw his presence only once since independence. This display of the state lavishing resources on its president occurs in a city that is even more impoverished than the country generally.

On a private basis, Karimov has used his position to benefit his family members. To be viable, significant business ventures in the country must often partner with one of Karimov's two daughters. Karimov's daughters' business interests include telecommunications companies such as Uzdonrobita (the country's largest mobile phone provider), soft-drink contracts, and involvement in the energy industry. The daughters also have high-profile ownership of the elite restaurants and clubs in the country. Even the entertainment industry is dominated by the Karimovs, as evidenced by the billboards that abound in the capital celebrating Lola Karimova's singing abilities.

Companies that compete with those owned by the Karimovs confront the power of state authority. Mobile phone companies that competed with Uzdonrobita had difficulty obtaining permission to build reception towers in Tashkent and found that the towers they had already built in the wealthier districts of Tashkent were in noncompliance and had to be demolished. Businesses that simply do well, such as restaurants, are often closed by the state authorities or are forced to sell to one of the Karimovs for a minimal price.

The Karimovs' wealth may be in jeopardy, however. Karimov's seven-year term is scheduled to end in 2007. Traveling the world as a private citizen will be risky for Karimov, as it is possible that he could be detained in other countries for his brutal repression of dissent and for his orders resulting in the Andijan massacre. Staying in Uzbekistan, however, may not provide any respite. Karimov has overseen the development of a system where nearly all national power resides in the presidency. He has used this power to seek and expropriate the wealth of his citizens. This system of rent seeking permeates the political establishment. Once the Karimovs are private citizens, their wealth would be a treasure that Karimov's successor, or his successor's cronies, could not ignore. The office of the presidency is the richest prize in the Uzbek political system, not only because of the power of the office, but because only that office has the power to protect the wealth of the officeholder.

In an ignoble parody of King Lear minus a Cordelia, Karimov has been dividing his kingdom between his two daughters. Nevertheless, he must know that once he is out of office there is no way he can protect his and his family's wealth. Although many may be positioning themselves to succeed Karimov, he too must know that in a system where promises enshrined in the Constitution can be easily violated, potential successors will have few qualms about violating any confidential promises made to him. Therefore Karimov is confronting the choice of exile to a country where prosecution for his crimes is not a possibility or an extension of his term. He will likely use 2006 to decide whether he can use a constitutional dodge to stay in power.