Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, but the government restricted these rights for both online and offline media.
Freedom of Expression: The government exercises official and unofficial restrictions on the ability of individuals to criticize the government or to discuss matters of general public interest. The law restricts criticism of the president, and publicly insulting the president is a crime for which conviction is punishable by up to five years in prison. The law specifically prohibits publication of articles that incite religious conflict and ethnic discord or that advocate subverting or overthrowing the constitutional order.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: While authorities relaxed some controls, independent media did not operate freely because the state exercises control over media coverage. All media entities, foreign and domestic, must register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members. Print media must also provide hard copies of publications to the government. The law holds all foreign and domestic media organizations accountable for the accuracy of their reporting, prohibits foreign journalists from working in the country without official accreditation and subjects foreign media outlets to domestic mass media laws. The government used accreditation rules to deny foreign journalists and media outlets the opportunity to work in the country. For example, the government continued to deny Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s accreditation request. Nevertheless, the government accredited the BBC Uzbek service. Two reporters also received accreditations: One who writes for The Economist and other publications, and one who writes for Eurasianet.
The law holds bloggers legally accountable for the accuracy of what they post and prohibits posts potentially perceived as defaming an individual’s “honor and dignity.” The law also prohibits perceived calls for public disorder, encroachment on constitutional order, posting pornography or state secrets, issuing “threats to the state,” and “other activities that are subject to criminal and other types of responsibilities according to legislation.”
The government prohibited the promotion of religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism as well as the instigation of ethnic and religious hatred.
Articles in state-controlled newspapers reflected the government’s viewpoint. The main government newspapers published selected international wire stories. The government prohibited legal entities with more than 30 percent foreign ownership from establishing media outlets. The government allowed publication of a few private newspapers with limited circulation containing advertising, horoscopes, and some substantive local news, including infrequent stories critical of the government’s socioeconomic policies. Some government-controlled print media outlets published articles that openly criticized local municipal administrations.
A few purportedly independent websites consistently reported the government’s viewpoint. During the year, however, press and news organizations broadcast and published a wider variety of views and news, to include criticisms of policies enacted under former president Karimov. The government launched Ozbekiston, a 24-hour news channel that broadcasts current affairs and news in Uzbek, Russian, and English, in 2017. The channel interviewed visiting high-level foreign officials.
Violence and Harassment: Police and security services subjected print and broadcast journalists to arrest, harassment, and intimidation as well as to bureaucratic restrictions on their activity. According to reports by BBC Uzbek and Radio Ozodlik, local authorities in Shahrikhan arrested blogger Nodirbek Khojimatov in September after he published a piece on Facebook calling on President Mirziyoyev to investigate two local officials for corruption. A district court convicted Khojimatov for violating the administrative code’s Article 41, which addresses offenses against a person’s dignity. Khojimatov’s father reported that the court did not allow him or his son to testify at trial, where Khojimatov was not represented by a lawyer. The court sentenced Khojimatov to 10 days in prison, even though the stated penalties for violating this provision of the code includes only a fine. Prior to his arrest, Khojimatov announced that the officials he alleged engaged in corruption had threatened him and a local prosecutor had pressured him no longer to publish blog posts criticizing government officials.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists and senior editorial staff in state media organizations reported that some officials’ responsibilities included censorship. In many cases the government placed individuals as editors in chief with the expressed intent that they serve as the main censor for a particular media outlet. Continuing the past trend of moderate criticism of the government, online publications like Kommersant.uz and Nuz.uz published critical stories on issues, such as demolitions, ecological problems, electricity outages, currency, trade, and the black market. In addition, Adobiyat Gazetesi, a literary journal, published stories by authors who are still on a “black list” that limits their ability to publish elsewhere.
During the year the government unblocked the website of privately owned Kun.uz, blocked in 2018. The outlet published articles critical of the government, including about regional and district officials’ involvement in illegal demolitions.
There was often little distinction between the editorial content of government and privately owned newspapers. Journalists engaged in limited investigative reporting. Widely read tabloids occasionally published articles that presented mild criticism of government policies or discussed some problems that the government considered sensitive, such as trafficking in persons.
Libel/Slander Laws: The criminal and administrative codes impose significant fines for libel and defamation. The government has used charges of libel, slander, and defamation to punish journalists, human rights activists, and others who criticized the president or the government. Some bloggers and activists nonetheless openly criticized the government on social media without reprisal.
The government generally allowed access to the internet, including social media sites. Internet service providers, allegedly at the government’s request, occasionally blocked access to websites or certain pages of websites that the government considered objectionable, such as Ozodlik.org. The government blocked or slowed access to Facebook in January but restored access in February. Following a meeting between President Mirziyoyev and Harlem Desir, the OSCE’s representative on Freedom of the Media, authorities unblocked websites of foreign media and rights groups. This included websites operated by the BBC, Voice of America, Deutsche Welle, the Fergana news agency, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Sans Frontieres.
The media law defines websites as media outlets, requiring them to register with authorities and provide the names of their founder, chief editor, and staff members.
Several active online forums allowed registered users to post comments and read discussions on a range of social problems. To become a registered user in these forums, individuals must provide personally identifiable information. It was not clear whether the government attempted to collect this information, although provisions of the law require internet cafe proprietors to log customers’ browser history.
A decree requires all websites seeking the “.uz” domain to register with the government’s Agency for Press and Information. The decree generally affected only government-owned or government-controlled websites. Opposition websites and those operated by international NGOs or media outlets tended to have domain names registered outside the country.
The government implemented procedures for restricting access to websites that include “banned information.” Based on these regulations, a website or blog could be blocked for calling for the violent overthrow of the constitutional order and territorial integrity of the country; spreading ideas of war, violence and terrorism, as well as religious extremism, separatism and fundamentalism; disclosing information that is a state secret or protected by law; or disseminating information that could lead to national, ethnic or religious enmity or involves pornography, or promoting narcotic usage. According to the Ministry of Justice), the government has the authority to block websites or blogs without a court order.
The government continued to limit academic freedom and cultural events. In September the National Library again canceled an event commemorating a famous national poet who died in 2009, Rauf Parfi. Organizers tried to move the event to the Oybek museum, but museum officials also denied the organizers’ request. Authorities occasionally required department-head approval for university lectures, and university professors generally practiced self-censorship.
Recent presidential directives mandate that higher education institutions seek out opportunities to cooperate with foreign institutions, and such cooperation was one of the government’s highest priorities in the education sector.
The government sometimes restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly. While the government restricted this right, it sometimes allowed individuals to exercise this freedom without reprisal. Media reported that thousands of protestors in different cities across the country demonstrated in July against the illegal demolition of private homes and businesses (see section 1.e, Property Restitution). The demonstrations prompted the government to meet some of the protestors’ demands. In July local police in Nukus, however, reportedly detained and beat a small group of protestors.
Authorities have the right to suspend or prohibit rallies, meetings, and demonstrations. Although the law requires demonstrators to obtain permits, most demonstrators proceeded without filing permit applications. In some incidents, authorities subjected citizens to large fines, threats, arbitrary detention, or abuse for violating procedures for organizing meetings, rallies, and demonstrations or for facilitating unsanctioned events by providing space, other facilities, or materials. Organizers of “mass events” with the potential for more than 100 participants must sign agreements with the Ministry of Interior for the provision of security prior to advertising or holding such an event. Officials broadly applied this regulation, including to private corporate functions.
While the law provides for freedom of association, the government continued to restrict this right. Authorities sought to control NGO activity, internationally funded NGOs, and unregulated Islamic and minority religious groups. The operating environment for independent civil society, in particular human rights defenders, remained restrictive, although several activists reported improved cooperation with government officials. Several independent NGOs continued to face barriers to registering locally due to earlier court orders against them or other objections by officials.
The Ministry of Justice, which oversees the registration of NGOs, requires NGOs to obtain the ministry’s approval to hold large meetings with nonmembers, including foreigners; to seek the ministry’s clearance on any event where materials are to be distributed; and to notify the ministry in writing of the content and scope of the events in question.
The government has a legal framework for public oversight of the activities of government bodies and government officials. In accordance with the law, citizens, citizens’ self-government bodies, noncommercial organizations, and mass media have the right to exercise oversight regarding activities of government bodies and officials.
There are legal restrictions on the types of groups that may be formed. The law requires that organizations with an operating budget and funds register formally with the government. The law allows for a six-month grace period for new organizations to operate while awaiting registration from the Ministry of Justice, during which time the government officially classifies them as “initiative groups.” Several NGOs continued to function as initiative groups for periods longer than six months.
In 2018 the government issued a number of regulations that affected NGO activity. NGOs are no longer required to obtain approval from the Ministry of Justice in order to conduct events, but they still need to notify the ministry of plans to conduct public programs. The minimum period for informing the ministry of planned activities is 10 days before the start of an event without the participation of foreign citizens, and 20 days before the start of event with the participation of foreign citizens. The ministry only provides NGOs with written notice in cases of refusal to conduct the event. The law also requires that NGOs file annual reports to the government. In 2018 the Ministry of Justice adopted the Regulation on Monitoring and Studying Activities of Nongovernmental, Noncommercial Organizations, which establishes a separate procedure on monitoring and studying NGOs’ activities.
While the law grants the Ministry of Justice authority to inspect and audit NGOs, civil society organizations did not report being inspected or audited. The administrative liability code imposes large fines for violations of procedures governing NGO activity as well as for “involving others” in “illegal NGOs.” The law does not specify whether the term refers to NGOs suspended or closed by the government or merely NGOs not officially registered. The administrative code also imposes penalties against international NGOs for engaging in political activities, activities inconsistent with their charters, or activities the government did not approve in advance.
Registered NGOs are allowed to receive grants from domestic and foreign donors. Receiving organizations must notify the Ministry of Justice of their grants and present a plan of activities to the ministry that details how the NGO would allocate the funds. If the ministry approves, no other government approvals are required. The ministry requires yearly financial reports from NGOs.
Parliament’s Public Fund for the Support of Nongovernmental, Noncommercial Organizations, and Other Civil Society Institutions continued to conduct grant competitions to implement primarily socioeconomic projects. Some civil society organizations criticized the fund for primarily supporting government-organized NGOs. The law criminalizes membership in organizations the government broadly deemed “extremist.”
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport.
The constitution and laws provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: Authorities required citizens to have a domicile registration stamp in their internal passport before traveling domestically or leaving the country. The government at times delayed domestic and foreign travel and emigration during the visa application process. Individuals needed permission from local authorities to move to Tashkent City or the Tashkent Region from other parts of the country, but permission is no longer required to work in Tashkent. The law stipulates that Tashkent City or Tashkent Region registration are required for individuals to be eligible to receive city services, work legally, send their children to school, or receive routine medical care.
The government requires hotels to register foreign visitors with the government on a daily basis. The government requires foreigners staying in private homes to register their location within three days of arrival. Authorities recently simplified these registration procedures, which allow foreigners to register through an online portal.
Foreign Travel: The government officially abolished the Soviet-era exit visa, which citizens previously needed for most foreign travel. Citizens must obtain a separate passport issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs for the purpose of foreign travel. This passport has a 10-year validity for adults and a five-year validity for minors, as opposed to a two-year exit visa validity for all ages with previously issued passports. The government generally granted passports to travel or emigrate outside the Commonwealth of Independent States. Authorities sometimes interfered in foreign travel, such as that of former political prisoners. Former political prisoner Bobomurod Abdullayev reported that it took almost two months for him to receive his travel passport, though the law requires issuance within 10 working days.
Girls and women living in the capital are no longer required to be interviewed by the migration and citizenship departments to obtain permission to travel abroad. In addition, girls and women no longer need permission from their spouse or a warrant from an authorized person, certificates from the mahalla, or to take any tests in order to qualify for foreign travel.
In May the government repatriated 156 Uzbek nationals, primarily women and children, from Syria, where the Syrian Democratic Forces held them in custody. A Ministry of Foreign Affairs press statement provided details about these individuals’ circumstances, stating these citizens had been misled into traveling to “a region of armed conflict in the Middle East.” The government promised that the repatriated nationals would receive comprehensive rehabilitation, reintegration, medical, and psychological support, as well as the opportunity to join educational and other social programs. The government also pledged to provide accommodation and job opportunities. In addition, the statement noted that a number of foreign countries and international organizations, including the ICRC and UNICEF, had provided “major support.” UNICEF reported it had access to all the women and children returnees, and that the government did not institutionalize or prosecute any of them.
Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.
As of 2018, there were 14 individuals (10 cases) remaining under the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) mandate. UNHCR undertakes the following activities in coordination with the UN Development Program (UNDP) office in Tashkent, through its staff under UNDP contract, and under the overall supervision of the UN resident coordinator: Issuing mandate refugee certificates to existing refugees, monitoring their rights situations and providing counseling and making interventions for them when necessary, and providing financial assistance to some of the refugees, based on their specific vulnerability.
In addition, UNHCR or UNDP staff can provide counselling to asylum seekers when they arrive.
Some refugees from Tajikistan were officially stateless or faced the possibility of becoming officially stateless, as many carried only old Soviet passports rather than Tajik or Uzbek passports. Children born to two stateless parents could receive Uzbek citizenship only if both parents had a residence permit.
Kun.uz published an article on September 28 citing statistics that, of a population of 33 million, there are 95,858 stateless persons in the country (along with 14,365 foreign nationals). It also claimed that since 2017, the government granted 8,249 stateless persons citizenship. Information obtained separately from the Ministry of Internal Affairs indicated that 2,072 persons acquired citizenship during the year. From 1991 to 2017, only 482 did so.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: In September, President Mirziyoyev signed a domestic violence law that provides a legal definition of sexual, physical, economic, and psychological violence against women as well as defines the rights of victims of harassment and violence. It also set up an interagency framework of responsibilities, including governmental entities such as the Cabinet of Ministries, Ministries of Internal Affairs and Employment and Labor Relations, local government bodies, the mahalla (neighborhood) committee network, and NGOs working in the area of protecting women from domestic violence. Information about the government’s enforcement of the law was not available at year’s end. Cultural norms discouraged women and their families from speaking openly regarding rape, and the press rarely reported it.
There are government-run shelters for victims of domestic abuse and telephone hotlines for victims seeking assistance. Victims of domestic violence may be sheltered in Centers for Rehabilitation and Adaptation.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Polygamy is unofficially practiced in some parts of the country. The law punishes conviction of polygamy with up to three years of imprisonment and fines but does not penalize the women in such cases. The law does not confer the same rights, including property, inheritance, or child custody rights, to women in unregistered polygamous marriages as it does to those in registered marriages, making women in unregistered polygamous marriages particularly vulnerable to abuse and deprivation of rights when the spouse dies or ends the relationship.
Sexual Harassment: The law does not explicitly prohibit sexual harassment, but it is illegal for a male supervisor to coerce a woman who has a business or financial dependency into a sexual relationship. Social norms, lack of reporting, and lack of legal recourse made it difficult to assess the scope of the problem. Government efforts to enforce the law and prevent sexual harassment were unknown.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: In September the president signed a law on gender equality, a first for the country. The law provides for equal opportunities in the area of healthcare, education, science, culture, labor, and social protection.
On May 1, the government lifted the ban on female workers in heavy industries and professions, such as mining, oil and gas enterprises, and construction, as part of a presidential decree on strengthening the guarantees of women’s labor rights. The government provided little data that could be used to determine whether women experienced discrimination in access to employment or were paid less for similar work.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived by birth within the country’s territory or from one’s parents. The government generally registered all births immediately.
Medical Care: While the government provided equal subsidized health care for boys and girls, those without an officially registered address, such as street children and children of migrant workers, did not have regular access to government health facilities.
Child Abuse: Legal protections against child abuse exist. Society generally considered child abuse to be an internal family matter. Little official information was available on the subject, including on the government’s efforts to combat it.
Early and Forced Marriage: In April the government raised the minimum legal age for marriage of women from 17 to 18, making the age of marriage equal for both sexes. District authorities may lower the age by one year in exceptional cases. In some rural areas, girls 15 years of age or younger married men in religious ceremonies not officially recognized by the state.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law seeks to protect children from “all forms of exploitation.” Conviction of involving a child in prostitution is punishable by a fine of 25 to 50 times the minimum monthly salary and imprisonment for up to five years.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. The punishment for conviction for statutory rape is 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Conviction for the production, exhibition, and distribution of child pornography (involving persons younger than 21) is punishable by a fine or by imprisonment for up to three years.
Institutionalized Children: According to UNICEF, more than 20,000 children with disabilities resided in institutions. Children who are placed in residential care for educational purposes are overrepresented in these institutions. The most recent reports from the State Statistics Agency, published in 2017, indicated that 84 percent of all children placed in residential care were children with disabilities, with children between the ages of seven and 17 representing the largest group.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts or patterns of discrimination against Jews. There were eight registered Jewish congregations. Observers estimated the Jewish population fewer than 10,000, concentrated mostly in Tashkent, Samarkand, the Fergana Valley, and Bukhara. Their numbers continued to decline due to emigration, largely for economic reasons.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, but societal discrimination based on disability occurred.
The law allows for fines if buildings, including private shops and restaurants, are not accessible, although no information was available concerning the imposition of fines. Disability activists reported accessibility remained inadequate, noting, for example, that many of the high schools constructed in recent years had exterior ramps but no interior modifications to facilitate access by wheelchair users.
The Ministry of Health controlled access to health care for persons with disabilities, and the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations facilitated employment of persons with disabilities. No information was available regarding patterns of abuse in educational and mental health facilities.
Disability rights activists reported that discrimination occurred and estimated that approximately 8,500 adults with disabilities (of more than 600,000) were employed and approximately 75 percent lived below the poverty line. The city of Tashkent set aside 2,500 housing units for persons with disabilities. The government mandates that social infrastructure sites, urban and residential areas, airports, railway stations, and other facilities must provide for access to persons with disabilities, although there were no specific government programs implemented and activists reported particular difficulties with access.
Students who were blind or with vision disabilities studied dated braille books published during Soviet times, but there were some computers adapted for persons with vision disabilities. The number of persons with disabilities has significantly increased in institutions of higher learning as the result of a government quota system. In 2017 only 50 persons with disabilities were accepted to higher education. This year the number was 1,659 as of late September.
The law does not require Uzbek language ability to obtain citizenship, but language often was a sensitive issue. Uzbek is the state language, and the constitution requires that the president speak it. The law also provides that Russian is “the language of interethnic communication.”
Officials reportedly reserved senior positions in the government bureaucracy and business for ethnic Uzbeks, although there were numerous exceptions.
Complaints of societal violence or discrimination against members of ethnic minority groups were rare.
The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual activity between men, which is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment if convicted of this crime. No information was available on enforcement of this law during the year. The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual activity between women.
Society generally considered same-sex sexual activity as a taboo subject. There were no known LGBTI organizations. Deeply negative social attitudes related to sexual orientation and gender identity limited the freedom of expression of the LGBTI community and led to discrimination. The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTI persons in housing, employment, nationality laws, and access to government services, such as health care.
Following the country’s Universal Periodic Review in 2018, the government rejected recommendations related to decriminalization of LGBTI status and called LGBTI issues “irrelevant to Uzbek society.”
On September 12, police found the body of Shokir Shavkatov in an apartment in Tashkent just days after he disclosed on Instagram that he was gay. According to media reports, police say he suffered “several” knife wounds on his “neck and arms,” noting that his throat had been cut “so deeply that he was nearly decapitated.” Police later charged two suspects with murder. Activists say his murder was an act of hatred toward sexual minorities. In the weeks before the attack, local activist Shohrukh Salimov, via a video appeal posted from Turkey, urged President Mirziyoyev to abandon parts of the criminal code that prohibit sexual relations between males. Other LGBTI activists reported harassment from individuals suspected to have links with the security services.
The law protects those infected with HIV from discrimination and provides for free health care. As of 2018, UNAIDS estimated 52,000 individuals were living with HIV, including up to 6,000 children under the age of 14. Coverage of HIV-infected adults with antiretroviral therapy (ART) was 46 percent, while coverage of children was 93 percent. Persons known to be HIV-positive reported social isolation and discrimination by public agency workers, health personnel, law enforcement officers, landlords, and employers after their HIV status became known. The military summarily expelled recruits in the armed services found to be HIV-positive. Some LGBTI community activists reported that hospital wards reviewed the personal history of HIV-infected patients and categorized them as being drug addicts, homosexuals, or engaged in prostitution. Hospital officials reportedly sometimes marked HIV-infected patients’ files as “homosexual” and referred them to police for investigation, because consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men is a criminal act.