The information for this update published by the CIVICUS Monitor, an initiative aimed at tracking civic space worldwide has been provided by International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA).
In its 2017 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked Uzbekistan at 169th of 180 countries, dropping the country three places from its 2016 ranking. Media outlets in Uzbekistan continue to operate under close control by the authorities and independent journalists are at risk of severe reprisals for their professional activities. As reported previously, the few local independent journalists who contribute information to foreign media outlets, civil society activists and other critical voices are highly vulnerable to intimidation and harassment by the authorities.
A number of recent cases of concern documented by IPHR and AHRCA include the following:
The Uzbekistani authorities continue to carry out unlawful systematic surveillance of its citizens, not only inside but outside the borders of Uzbekistan. In a March 2017 report, Amnesty International stated that “an environment of suspicion” prevails in Uzbekistan, which affects human rights defenders, journalists and political activists. Even when such people live outside Uzbekistan, their families in the country become targets of harassment and intimidation. Methods used to carry out surveillance include telephone surveillance, hacking private emails and publishing personal data in the public domain. In Uzbekistan, the legal framework allows for state access to telecom data and furthermore, many types of surveillance do not require legal authorisation.
— amnestypress (@amnestypress) March 31, 2017
Uzbek citizens critical of the authorities continue to be restricted in their freedom of movement. In particular, people with links to international human rights organisations, independent journalists, former political prisoners and their relatives, and people who have publicly criticised the authorities often encounter problems obtaining exit visas to travel outside the country. Uzbekistan is one of the few countries of the former Soviet Union that still requires citizens to obtain official permission from the Ministry of Internal Affairs in order to leave the country. The authorities’ policy has not changed since the death of former President Islam Karimov last year. Some people have reported being denied exit visas for extended periods. For example, human rights defender, writer and former political prisoner Mamadali Makhmudov, who was released from detention in 2014 after serving a 14-year sentence, has not yet been granted an exit visa.
In some cases, former political prisoners also face difficulties in obtaining new passports, which also limits their freedom of movement and prevents them from travelling abroad to undergo medical treatment or rejoin their family members who have fled the country. For example, Muhammad Bekjanov, former editor in chief of the opposition newspaper Erk who was released in February 2017 after 18 years in prison, is currently under state supervision and has not yet been issued a passport.
As previously covered on the CIVICUS Monitor, former MP and political prisoner Samandar Kukanov is on conditional release until 24th May 2017. He is prohibited from leaving the Tashkent region and is also under curfew from 20:00 to 6:00.
As previously featured on the CIVICUS Monitor, protests in Uzbekistan are rare due to fears of reprisals. Only occasional protests on socio-economic issues take place. During a visit by President Shavkat Mirziyayev to Navoi region on 28th March 2017, dozens of women and elderly from the village of Tasmachi in Khatirchinsky region traveled by bus to meet him and protest over the issues of insufficient electricity supply, high food prices and local corruption. However, the villagers claimed that the local authorities and traffic police blocked the roads out of the village to prevent them from meeting the president. The local authorities denied the protesters’ claims.
В Навои женщин и стариков, решивших пожаловаться Мирзияеву, не выпустили из села https://t.co/Lm6NizwvFc
— Bruce Pannier (@BrucePannier) March 30, 2017