Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including by torture.
In July Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the government to investigate the enforced disappearance and death in prison of human rights activist and opposition party member Nuraddin Jumaniyazov, initially arrested in 2014 on alleged political motivations. His trial and arrest had numerous procedural shortcomings, according to HRW and his lawyer, Polina Braunerg. In speaking with HRW, Braunerg stated Jumaniyazov had been tortured and that she was barred from communicating with him after October 2014. Jumaniyazov and his lawyer had made an appeal to the courts to seek medication for his aliments. In 2015 the UN Human Rights Committee called on the government to produce information regarding Jumaniyazov, but nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported no reply from the government. In February officials informed Braunerg she could meet with Jumaniyazov in a prison hospital, but she was not informed of his death. Jumaniyazov allegedly died in prison in December 31, 2016, from tuberculosis and diabetes-related issues.
In January Asiaterra.info, an independent website, reported that Muradilla Omonov, a businessman, died in Jarkurgan District of Surkhandarya Region after he was detained with no legal explanation and brought to the police department in Jarkurgan. Omonov’s family demanded exhumation of his body, and medical examiners found the body bore signs of physical abuse inconsistent with the official cause of death, heart attack. Police later revised the cause of death to suicide. On October 20, family members received a letter from the Prosecutor General’s Office that stated a special task force of investigators reviewed the case and concluded that there was no evidence that contradicted the official version of suicide.
There were no reports of politically motivated long-term disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
In its 2017 annual report, the Geneva-based UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances noted it had seven outstanding cases from previous years. According to the working group, the government did not respond to the group’s requests to visit the country.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, law enforcement and security officers routinely beat and otherwise mistreated detainees to obtain confessions, incriminating information, or for corrupt financial gain. Sources reported that torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment was common in prisons, pretrial facilities, and local police and security service precincts for those arrested or detained on religious or extremism charges. Reported methods of abuse included harsh beatings, denial of food and use of toilet, and tying of hands. There were also continued reports that authorities exerted psychological pressure on detainees, including threats against family members and blackmail. Torture and impunity for torturers continued regarding members of faith communities organized outside of the state religion, including Muslims, Protestants, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, according to members of the religious communities.
In 2010 the UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern that the definition of torture in the criminal code did not conform to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which the country is a party. In March a new law on torture went into force. Article 8 of the Law on Police states, “employees of the internal affairs cannot employ torture, violence, or other cruel or degrading treatments. The employee of the internal affairs is obliged to prevent intentional acts causing pain, physical or moral suffering to the citizen.” During the year the government began allowing international inspections of the prison system. In September UNICEF visited a prison for juvenile offenders and in October, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief visited the maximum-security prison Jaslyk during his 11-day country visit.
On May 26, the Initiative Group of Independent Human Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan reported that the Tashkent City Criminal Court charged 11 Muslims–Ravshan Mirzaev, Dilshod Kamilov, Abdurashid Rashidov, Khusnuddin Inagamov, Sobirjon Khasanov, Bakhodir Sadikov, Afzaljon Urunov, Ravshan Sadikov, Davron Fayziev, Latip Yusupov, and Khusnuddin Rizaev–with attempts to overthrow the state. During court proceedings, Rizaev and others reported that National Security Service (NSS) officers used torture to extract false confessions, including threats to rape Rizaev’s wife in front of him. Judge Iroda Mukhamedova and government prosecutors reportedly did not address the torture claims.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were in some circumstances harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
Physical Conditions: There were reports that, in some facilities, authorities held separately those inmates convicted of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, according to human rights monitors.
Reports of overcrowding, severe abuse, and shortages of medicine were common. Inmates generally had access to potable water and food, but both reportedly were of poor quality. There were reports of political prisoners held in cells without proper ventilation and subjected to temperatures below freezing in winter and over 120 degrees Fahrenheit in summer; detention facilities commonly lacked heat or air conditioning. Family members also reported occasions when officials withheld or delayed delivery of food and medicine intended for prisoners. Unlike in past years, family members of inmates did not report any incidents of sexual abuse. As political prisoners were released, they reported to HRW and others being beaten and otherwise tortured, including the use of stress positions, while in prison.
Prison administration officials reported an active World Health Organization tuberculosis (TB) program in the prisons and an HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention program. Visiting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials noted continued high rates of TB infection in the prison system. Government efforts to lower infection rates were largely unsuccessful due to poor compliance with treatment plans. Officials reported hepatitis was not present in high numbers and that hepatitis patients received treatment in existing medical facilities and programs. Reports of such treatment could not be verified independently because access to such facilities was frequently denied.
Administration: There was no information available whether recordkeeping on prisoners was adequate. Authorities in limited cases used administrative measures such as bail, house arrest, and correctional work as alternatives to criminal sentences for nonviolent offenders. In addition, the criminal code mandates that courts cannot sentence individuals to prison if he or she has paid a fine in full. The government usually respected these injunctions unless a case was considered politically sensitive.
The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office and the Prosecutor General’s Office may investigate complaints from detainees. The Ombudsman’s Office may make recommendations on behalf of specific prisoners, including changes to the sentences of nonviolent offenders to make them more appropriate to the offense. Family members of detained or released prisoners said their complaints to the ombudsman went unanswered or were referred to the original sentencing court for redress without investigation by the ombudsman.
Prison officials generally allowed family members to visit prisoners for up to four hours two to four times per year. Relatives of prisoners held on religious or extremism charges reported occasional denial of visitation rights. Officials also permitted longer visits of one to three days two to four times per year, depending on the type of prison facility, as well as overnight stays. Family members of political prisoners reported that officials frequently delayed or severely shortened visits arbitrarily. Family members of other prisoners mentioned that visits were often conditional on payment of a bribe to officials.
The government stated prisoners have the right to practice any religion or no religion, but prisoners frequently complained to family members that they were not able to observe religious rituals conflicting with the prison’s schedule. Such rituals included traditional Islamic morning prayers. Authorities forbid prisoners to observe religious holidays such as Ramadan, with no fasting allowed. Although some prison libraries had copies of the Quran and the Bible, family members continued to complain that authorities did not allow prisoners access to religious materials.
According to official government procedures, prisoners have the right to “participate in religious worship and family relations, such as marriage.” “Close relatives” also have the right to receive oral and written information from prison officials about the health and disciplinary records of their family members. Families continued to report that the government provided limited to no information or withheld information contained in health and prison records.
Family members and NGOs stated that authorities at times failed to release prisoners, especially those convicted of “religious extremism,” at the end of their terms. Prison authorities often extended inmates’ terms by accusing them of additional crimes, or of violating vague or internal prison rules, or claiming the prisoners represented a continuing danger to society.
Independent Monitoring: Independent observers had limited access to some parts of the penitentiary system, including pretrial detention facilities, juvenile and women’s prisons, and prison settlements. Between September 15 and 19, UNICEF visited the prison for juvenile offenders (juvenile colony) and two correctional-educational facilities jointly with the prosecutor’s general office. The International Committee for the Red Cross has not visited detainees since 2013. In October the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Ahmed Shaheed, visited Jaslyk, a maximum-security prison.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and the law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention, but authorities continued to engage in such practices. During the year several prominent political prisoners were released from prison. Nonetheless, arbitrary arrest on political grounds continued amidst such releases.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The government authorizes three different entities to investigate criminal activity. The Ministry of Interior controls the police, who are responsible for law enforcement, maintenance of order, and the investigation of general crimes. The Prosecutor General’s Office investigates violent crimes such as homicide as well as corruption by officials and abuse of power. The NSS, headed by a chairman who reports directly to the president, deals with national security and intelligence problems, including terrorism, corruption, organized crime, border control, and narcotics. When jurisdictions overlap, the agencies determine among themselves which takes the lead.
Impunity was a pervasive problem. The Ministry of Interior is officially charged with investigating and disciplining officers accused of human rights violations. There were no cases resulting in discipline in practice. The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, affiliated with parliament, also has the power to investigate cases, although its decisions on such investigations have no binding authority.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
By law a judge must review any decision to arrest accused individuals or suspects. Judges granted arrest warrants in most cases. Defendants have the right to legal counsel from the time of arrest. State-appointed attorneys are available for those who do not hire private counsel. Officials did not always respect the right to counsel and occasionally forced defendants to sign written statements declining the right. Authorities’ selective intimidation and disbarment of defense lawyers produced a chilling effect that also compromised political detainees’ access to legal counsel. The law authorizes the use of house arrest as a form of pretrial detention.
The law allows detainees to request hearings before a judge to determine whether the detainees remain incarcerated or may be released before trial. In practice authorities rarely granted these hearings. The arresting authority is required to notify a relative of a detainee about the detention and to question the detainee within 24 hours of arrest. There were complaints authorities tortured suspects before notifying either family members or attorneys of their arrest to gain confessions.
Suspects have the right to remain silent and must be informed of the right to counsel. Detention without formal charges is limited to 48 hours, although a prosecutor can request an additional 48 hours, after which the person must be charged or released. Authorities typically held suspects after the allowable period of detention, according to human rights advocates. After formal charges are filed, the prosecutor decides whether a suspect is released on bail (or on the guarantee of an individual or public organization acting as surety), stays in pretrial detention, or is kept under house arrest. The judge conducting the arrest hearing is allowed to sit on the panel of judges during the individual’s trial.
The law requires authorities at pretrial detention facilities to arrange a meeting between a detainee and a representative from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office upon the detainee’s request. Officials allowed detainees in prison facilities to submit confidential complaints to the Ombudsman’s Office and the Prosecutor General’s Office.
Once authorities file charges, suspects may be held in pretrial detention for up to three months while investigations proceed. The law permits an extension of the investigation period for as much as one year at the discretion of the appropriate court upon a motion by the relevant prosecutor, who may also release a prisoner on bond pending trial. According to human rights advocates, authorities frequently ignored these legal protections. Those arrested and charged with a crime may be released without bail until trial on the condition they provide assurance of “proper behavior” and that they will appear at trial.
A decree requires that all defense attorneys pass a comprehensive relicensing examination. As in past years, several experienced and knowledgeable defense lawyers who had represented human rights activists and independent journalists lost their licenses after taking the relicensing examination or because of letters from the bar association under the control of the Ministry of Justice claiming that they violated professional ethical norms. As a result several activists and defendants faced difficulties in finding legal representation. Journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev was arrested on September 27 and held in detention for four days before his family was contacted and notified about his imprisonment; Abdullayev was denied access to legal representation until November 13, six weeks after his arrest. The delay was in part due to official pressure on attorneys not to take up the case, as reported by human rights activists following the case. The delay was also in part due to investigators’ warning the family not to hire legal counsel or provide press interviews.
Although unlicensed advocates cannot represent individuals in criminal and civil hearings, courts have the discretion to allow such an advocate if he or she belongs to a registered organization whose members are on trial.
Arbitrary Arrest: Authorities continued to arrest or detain persons arbitrarily on charges of extremist sentiments or activities and association with banned but previously legally registered religious groups. Local human rights activists reported that police and security service officers frequently detained and mistreated family members and close associates of registered religious and banned religious groups. Allegations of coerced confessions and testimony in such cases were commonplace.
In June the government began to phase out the use of blacklists, which contained the names of those convicted for religious crimes or crimes against the regime. Inclusion on such lists required regular visits to police for interrogation, denied issuance of passports and travel visas, and, in some cases, prohibited the purchase and use of smartphones. NGOs reported that the government was removing individuals from the blacklist after a government panel examined them for suitability to reintegrate into society. There were reports that other high-profile former prisoners and journalists, such as Muhammad Bekjanov and Khayirula Khamidov, had been removed from these blacklists.
Pretrial Detention: Prosecutors generally exercised discretion over most aspects of criminal procedures, including pretrial detention. In practice detainees had no access to a court to challenge the length or validity of pretrial detention, despite the right to do so granted by law. Even when authorities did not file charges, police and prosecutors frequently sought to evade restrictions on the length of time persons could be held without charges by holding them as witnesses rather than as suspects. Human rights defenders noted incidents where security personnel used pretrial detention from one to three months without formal charges or a court hearing. The government did not provide information regarding the number of persons held in pretrial detention centers.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: By law detainees or former detainees are able to challenge the lawfulness of their detention before a court. Appeals are sometimes open to the public by request of the applicant. New evidence is rarely heard. Appeal courts generally review previous trial records and ask applicants to declare for the record their innocence or guilt. Appeals rarely result in the courts overturning their original decisions.
Amnesty: Authorities annually grant amnesty and release individuals imprisoned for religious extremism or political grounds.
For example, in February Mukhammad Bekjanov, a former editor of the opposition newspaper Erk, was released after 18 years in prison. Additionally in February Rustam Usmanov, a political activist and government critic, was released after 19 years in prison. In March independent journalist (and cousin of the late president Karimov), Jamshid Karimov, was released from custody after 10 years of confinement without charges. In August Erkin Musaev, former director of international cooperation at the Ministry of Defense, was released after 10 years behind bars.
In October the government released five political prisoners. On October 3 and 4, the government released activist Agzam Farmonov, who served 11 years in prison, and journalist Solijon Abdurahmonov, who spent nine years in prison. On October 7, opposition and human rights activist Agzam Turgunov was released after serving nine years in prison. Later, on October 16 and October 18, respectively, human rights activists Ganihon Mamathonov and Muhammadali Qoraboev were released after spending eight and 11 years in prison.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, there were some instances in which the judiciary did not operate with complete independence and impartiality. Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, members of the judiciary reportedly rendered verdicts desired by the Prosecutor General’s Office or other law enforcement bodies.
The president appoints all judges for renewable five-year terms. Removal of Supreme Court judges must be confirmed by parliament, which generally complied with the president’s wishes.
The criminal code specifies a presumption of innocence. Most trials were officially open to the public, although access was sometimes restricted. Judges may close trials in exceptional cases, such as those involving state secrets or to protect victims and witnesses. Judges generally permitted international observers at proceedings without requiring written permission from the Supreme Court or court chairmen, but judges or other officials arbitrarily closed some proceedings to observers, even in civil cases. Authorities generally announced trials only one or two days before they began, and hearings were frequently postponed.
A panel of one professional judge and two lay assessors, selected by committees of worker collectives or neighborhood committees, generally presided over trials. Lay judges rarely speak, and the professional judge usually accepts the prosecutors’ recommendations on procedural rulings and sentencing.
Defendants have the right to attend court proceedings, confront witnesses, and present evidence, but judges declined defense motions to summon additional witnesses or to enter evidence supporting the defendant into the record. In the overwhelming majority of criminal cases brought to trial, the verdict was guilty. Defendants have the right to hire an attorney although some human rights activists encountered difficulties finding legal representation. The government provided legal counsel and interpreters without charge when necessary. According to credible reports, state-appointed defense attorneys routinely acted in the interest of the government rather than of their clients because of their reliance on the state for a livelihood and fear of possible recriminations.
By law a prosecutor must request an arrest order from a court, and courts rarely denied such requests. Prosecutors have considerable power after obtaining an arrest order: They direct investigations, prepare criminal cases, recommend sentences to judges, and may appeal court decisions, including the sentence. After formal charges are filed, the prosecutor decides whether a suspect is released on bail, stays in pretrial detention, or is kept under house arrest. Although the criminal code specifies a presumption of innocence, a prosecutor’s recommendations generally prevailed. If a judge’s sentence does not correspond with the prosecutor’s recommendation, the prosecutor may appeal the sentence to a higher court. Judges often based their verdicts solely on confessions and witness testimony, which authorities allegedly were thought to extract through abuse, threats to family members, or other means of coercion. This was especially common in religious extremism cases. Lawyers may, and occasionally did, call on judges to reject confessions and investigate claims of torture. Judges often did not respond to such claims or dismissed them as groundless. Courts failed to investigate properly allegations of torture. Judicial verdicts frequently alleged that defendants claimed torture to avoid criminal responsibility.
Legal protections against double jeopardy were not applied.
The law provides a right of appeal to defendants, but appeals rarely resulted in reversals of convictions. In some cases, however, appeals resulted in reduced or suspended sentences.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
International and domestic human rights organizations estimated that authorities held hundreds of prisoners on political grounds, and some groups asserted the number was in the thousands. These claims were not statistically and independently verifiable. The government denied it held political prisoners and maintained that these individuals are criminals who broke the law. The government does not permit access to such persons by human rights or humanitarian organizations such as the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.
On October 15, Malohat Eshonqulova and Elena Urlaeva were detained for up to five hours in Samarkand for their monitoring of labor in the cotton harvest. On November 12, police raided Eshonqulova’s home and confiscated some of her belongings, fined her, and threatened her with internal deportation.
On September 27, Fergana News and others reported journalist Bobomurod Abdullayev had been secretly arrested. Several NGOs reported he was held incommunicado from family members and that his lawyer was not permitted to speak to him. Fergana reported that, on September 29, the NSS searched Abdullayev’s house and that several media and data items were taken by officials. Abdullayev reappeared in court on October 2; Reporters without Borders, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch called for his release. Abdullayev, under the pseudonym Usman Khaknazarov, was charged with disseminating propaganda “aimed at overthrowing the constitutional order.” The case continued at year’s end.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
Citizens may file suit in civil courts for alleged human rights violations by officials, excluding investigators, prosecutors, and judges. There were reports that bribes to judges influenced civil court decisions.
Although the constitution and law forbid arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, authorities did not respect these prohibitions. The law requires that prosecutors approve requests for search warrants for electronic surveillance, but there is no provision for judicial review of such warrants.
There were reports that police and other security forces entered the homes of human rights activists and members of religious groups without a warrant. According to Forum 18, a Norwegian NGO that reports on religious freedom, members of Baptist, Protestant, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other minority churches holding worship services in private homes reported that armed security officers raided services and detained and fined church members for religious activity deemed illegal. Among such incidents were raids in Almalyk in February, in Tashkent in March and April, and in Nukus in April. Baptist congregants reported home intrusions by authorities even when they gathered to celebrate important occasions such as birthdays. They also reported harassment and interference by authorities when publicly reading the Bible.
Human rights activists and political opposition figures generally assumed that security agencies covertly monitored their telephone calls and activities.
The government continued to use an estimated 12,000 neighborhood (mahalla) committees as a source of information on potential “extremists.” The committees provided various social support functions, but they also functioned as an informational link from local society to government and law enforcement. Mahallas in rural areas tended to be more influential than those in cities.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
In December 2016 parliament approved a new law to fight corruption. The law strengthens criminal penalties for official corruption. Despite some high-level corruption-related arrests, corruption remained endemic, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
Corruption: On June 13, President Mirziyoyev announced that in the first six months of the year seven judges were “brought to justice,” including the chairperson of the Andijon Regional Economic Court, and arrested for receiving a bribe of 1.2 billion soms ($150,000).
In July the Office for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the General Prosecutor’s Office published details on criminal cases being brought against Gulnara Karimova, daughter of the first president of the country, Islam Karimov. According to published reports, a Tashkent court sentenced her to five years in prison in August 2015. The investigation of additional criminal charges continued. The total amount of damage to the interest of the state and its citizens in the two specified criminal cases reportedly was more than 3.7 trillion soms ($457 million). The government initiated measures to seek the return of assets from other countries.
Financial Disclosure: Government officials are required to disclose only income from outside employment, and such disclosures were not publicly available.