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Uzbekistan

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings, including by torture.

In February, Ozodlik Radio, the Uzbek Service of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), reported that police brought the body of Makhmudjon Khasanov, who was serving a prison term at penal colony No. 64/46 in Navoi for affiliation with the banned religious organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir, to his family without official forensic medical examination records of the detainee’s death. Police demanded immediate burial. According to Fergana News, the death resulted from torture.

Information regarding other deaths from torture was not available, however, other reported cases that fit this pattern included the deaths of Doston Abdurakhmanov, Shakhob Makhkamov, and Ikromjon Nizamov in February.

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 torture and abuse were common in prisons, pretrial facilities, and local police and security service precincts. Reported methods of torture included severe beatings, denial of food, simulated asphyxiation, tying and hanging by the hands, and electric shock. There were also continued reports that authorities exerted psychological pressure on inmates and detainees, including through threats against family members and blackmail.

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. The most recent country assessment by the UN special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment was in 2003, as the country has not responded to subsequent requests for this or any other UN special rapporteur to visit since 2002.

On February 19, the Jizzakh Regional Criminal Court sentenced five men–Aramais Avakyan, Furkat Djuraev, Bektemir Umirzokov, Akmal Mamatmurodov, and Dilshod Alimov–to prison terms ranging from seven to 12 years for criminal charges against the state related to terrorism, attempts to overthrow the state; production and distribution of materials containing threats to public security and public order; and the creation, leadership, and participation in religious extremist, separatist, fundamentalist and other banned organizations. During the court hearing, Avakyan and others reported that Jizzakh regional NSS and police officers used torture to extract false confessions. In response to questions regarding the case, the government denied this account and stated that an internal investigation found the torture claims groundless.

On March 7, Elena Urlaeva, chairperson of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, was forcibly placed in a psychiatric hospital, according to a decision from the Mirabad Inter-District Court. After her release on June 2, Urlaeva reported that during her incarceration at Tashkent City Psychiatric Hospital No. 1, authorities beat her on numerous occasions and forcefully gave her psychotropic substances. Hospital authorities refused to perform any medical examinations to confirm or deny claims of mistreatment or conduct a blood analysis, as requested. Authorities also hospitalized Urlaeva in 2001, 2002, 2005, and 2012 following reports of her activism.

Authorities reportedly increased the severity of punishments for individuals suspected of “Islamist extremism.” Local human rights workers reported that authorities often proffered inducements–such as bribes or prison privileges–to inmates who agreed to harass and harm other inmates suspected of “religious extremism.” The government does not differentiate between violent and nonviolent forms of extremism.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were in some circumstances harsh and life threatening.

Physical Conditions: There were reports that, in some facilities, inmates convicted of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order were held separately, and that prison officials isolated inmates convicted under “religious extremism” charges from other inmates, 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. Relatives of prisoners sometimes complained that prison diets did not include sufficient meat. There were reports of political prisoners held in cells without proper ventilation and subjected to temperatures below freezing in winter and over 120 degrees 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.

Prison administration officials reported an active World Health Organization tuberculosis program in the prisons and an HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention program. 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 instances in which courts cannot sentence individuals to prison if he or she has paid a fine in full.

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. The Ombudsman’s Office noted, however, that it rarely received complaints from prisoners regarding detention conditions. 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 from 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 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. 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 a lack of communication and information concerning their imprisoned relatives and stated that the government continued to withhold information contained in health and prison records.

According to family members and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), 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.

Authorities extended the sentences of human rights activist Ganikhon Mamatkhanov by an additional three years in May and opposition activist Samandar Kukanov by an additional five years in October, reportedly for violations of internal prison rules. The government subsequently released Kukanov in November under its annual amnesty program.

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. Authorities granted access to selected observers, but only to certain prisons and to limited areas within them. On July 20, authorities allowed local human rights activists from the Ezgulik Human Rights Society to visit Mukhammad Bekjanov at prison No. 64/48, Zarafshan District, Navoi region; Azam Farmonov at prison No. 64/71, Jaslyk, Karakalpakstan; and Isroil Kholdorov, at prison No. 64/29, Navoi. No UN rapporteurs or representatives from the international community were allowed to visit prisons during the year.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY

The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government often restricted this right. Authorities have the right to suspend or prohibit rallies, meetings, and demonstrations for security reasons. The government often did not grant the permits required for demonstrations. Authorities subjected citizens to large fines, threats, arbitrary detention, and 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. This regulation was broadly applied, even to private corporate functions.

Authorities dispersed and occasionally detained persons involved in peaceful protests and sometimes pressed administrative charges following protest actions. Authorities repeatedly detained such activists as Elena Urlaeva, Malokhat Eshonkulova, and Chamangul Negmanova for attempting to protest outside government buildings for fair elections and government action to redress citizen grievances. In December, the government did permit Urlaeva to protest outside of government buildings on two occasions without incident.

FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION

While the law provides for freedom of association, the government continued to restrict this right. The government sought to control NGO activity and expressed concerns about internationally funded NGOs and unregulated Islamic and minority religious groups. The operating environment for independent civil society, in particular human right defenders, remained restrictive. Activists reported ongoing government control and harassment.

The Ministry of Justice, which oversees the registration of NGOs, requires NGOs to obtain the ministry’s approval to hold meetings with nonmembers, including foreigners; to seek the ministry’s clearance on any event materials to be distributed; and to notify the ministry in writing of the content and scope of the events in question.

There are legal restrictions on the types of groups that may be formed, and the law requires that all organizations be registered formally with the government. Authorities used registration requirements to bar foreign NGOs from the country. 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.

NGOs intending to address sensitive issues, such as HIV/AIDS or refugee problems, often faced increased difficulties in obtaining registration. The government allowed nonpolitical associations and social organizations to register, but complex rules and a cumbersome bureaucracy further complicated the process and created opportunities for government obstruction. The government compelled most local NGOs to join a government-controlled NGO association that allowed the government considerable oversight over their funding and activities. The government required NGOs to coordinate their training sessions or seminars with government authorities. NGO managers believed this stipulation created a way for the government to require prior official permission for all NGO program activities. The government claimed these regulations were intended to simplify registration requirements and lower registration fees, but independent civil society groups reported these requirements had not simplified registration procedures.

The degree to which NGOs were able to operate varied by region because some local officials were more tolerant of NGO activities, particularly when coordinated with government agencies. Civil society groups reported that authorities imposed restrictions after groups had registered, such as requiring advance permission from the Justice Ministry for many public activities.

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.

The government continued to enforce the 2004 banking decree, ostensibly designed to combat money laundering, which complicated efforts by registered and unregistered NGOs to receive outside funding. The Finance Ministry required humanitarian aid and technical assistance recipients to submit information about their bank transactions. The Ministry of Justice required NGOs to submit detailed reports every six months on any grant funding received, events conducted, and events planned for the next six months. NGO leaders may be fined for conducting events without explicit permission from the ministry, and the fine was several times higher than for some criminal offenses.

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.”

Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process

While the constitution and law provide citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, the government in practice did not conduct free and fair elections, severely restricted freedom of expression, and suppressed political opposition. The former president oversaw a highly centralized government through sweeping decree powers, primary authority for drafting legislation, and control over government appointments, most of the economy, and the security forces.

Elections and Political Participation

Recent Elections: Following elections in March 2015, President Karimov began a fourth consecutive term, despite Article 90 of the constitution that prohibits more than two consecutive terms in office. Karimov passed away on September 2 and a special presidential election took place on December 4. Acting Interim President and Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev won the election with 88 percent of the vote. Mirziyoyev was one of four candidates that ran for election. OSCE/ODHIR has observed six elections in Uzbekistan, however 2016 was the first time the Uzbek government invited OSCE/ODHIR to conduct a full-scope observation mission. According to OSCE/ODHIR, the 2016 presidential election demonstrated that systemic shortcomings in the election system persist and the dominant position of state actors and limits on fundamental freedoms continue to undermine political pluralism. These conditions resulted in a campaign that lacked genuine competition. Furthermore, due to a highly restrictive and controlled media environment, voters did not have access to alternate viewpoints beyond a state-defined narrative. The OSCE/ODHIR report indicated that significant irregularities were noted on election day, including indications of ballot box stuffing and widespread proxy voting. The report also identified an increased transparency in the election, service to disabled voters, and unfettered access for 600 international observers.

Political Parties and Political Participation: The law allows independent political parties, but the Ministry of Justice has broad powers to oversee parties and to withhold financial and legal support to those they judge to be opposed to the government. There are four registered political parties and four candidates representing each party ran in the December 4 special presidential election. The law makes it difficult for genuinely independent political parties to organize, nominate candidates, and campaign. The law allows the Ministry of Justice to suspend parties for as long as six months without a court order. The government also exercised control over established parties by controlling their financing and media exposure.

The OSCE/ODHIR observation mission found that the campaign lacked competitiveness and voters lacked a genuine choice of political alternatives. Candidates can only be nominated by a registered political party and must meet certain eligibility criteria. Candidate cannot self-nominate. The government lowered the number of supporting signatures needed for candidate registration this year from five percent to one percent of voters nationwide. The OSCE/ODHIR also noted that the campaign was moderately visible, but campaign materials were largely homogenous. There were no debates among the candidates themselves.

The law prohibits judges, public prosecutors, NSS officials, members of the armed forces, foreign citizens, and stateless persons from joining political parties. The law prohibits parties that are based on religion or ethnicity; oppose the sovereignty, integrity, or security of the country, or the constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens; promote war or social, national, or religious hostility; or seek to overthrow the government. The law also prohibits the Islamist political organization Hizb-ut-Tahrir, stating it promotes hate and condones acts of terrorism.

The government banned or denied registration to several political parties following the 2005 violence in Andijon. Former party leaders remained in exile, and their parties struggled to remain relevant without a strong domestic base.

Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. National minorities have full political rights under the Constitution and campaign materials were available in minority languages. The Central Election Commission passed a regulation in 2016, ensuring persons with disabilities could access polling stations and vote.

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