Uzbekistan

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the government restricted these rights.

Freedom of Expression: The government officially and unofficially restricts the ability of individuals to criticize the government or discuss matters of public interest, including laws criminalizing libel and slander as “hate speech.” 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’ imprisonment. The law specifically prohibits publication of articles that incite religious conflict and ethnic discord or that advocate subverting or overthrowing the constitutional order.

On May 10, the Muzrabad Criminal Court (Surkhandaryo Region) convicted blogger Otabek Sattoriy of extortion and slander and sentenced him to six years and six months in prison. On January 30, he was arrested after taking videos of merchants and reporting on price gouging in local bazaars. The Committee to Project Journalists and Human Rights Watch expressed concern regarding the government’s handling of the case. The case was appealed and on July 15, the Samarkand Regional Criminal Court sustained the conviction and sentence, but it reversed a ruling authorizing confiscation of Sattoriy’s personal assets. Sattoriy filed an appeal with the Supreme Court.

Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: 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 founders, chief editors, 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 requires foreign media outlets to conform to domestic media laws. The government used accreditation rules to deny some 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. Other broadcasters, such as the BBC, the Voice of America, and Eurasianet, were accredited.

On June 2, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs declined to renew the accreditation of Polish journalist Agnieszka Pikulicka, citing her “violations of laws of Uzbekistan.” In February she reported governmental officials had sexually harassed and intimidated her during her last accreditation request as an al-Jazeera correspondent. On April 1, the Ministry of Internal Affairs published accusations on its website stating Pikulicka violated several laws with her tweets concerning LGBTQI+ abuses.

The government prohibited the promotion of religious extremism, separatism, and fundamentalism as well as the instigation of ethnic and religious hatred. The law holds bloggers accountable for the accuracy of their posts and prohibits content deemed defaming to an individual’s “honor and dignity.” A few purportedly independent websites consistently reported the government’s viewpoint. The government-run Ozbekistan is a 24-hour news channel that broadcasts current affairs and news in Uzbek, Russian, and English.

Violence and Harassment: Police and security services subjected print and broadcast journalists to arrest, harassment, and intimidation.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some journalists reported a “negative trend” in terms of media freedom, citing daily reports of harassment of journalists and bloggers. Some journalists stated they believed the security services used the pandemic to remind media that “they are still in charge,” despite the president’s public claims that journalists and bloggers were a vital part of the country’s reform process.

There were numerous reported abuses similar to the following examples. For example, on April 22, police in Tashkent arrested freelance journalist and contributor to the independent news website Fergana, Sid Yanishev. According to Yanishev, he demanded the presence of lawyer. Police ignored his demand and attempted to pressure him into signing a form giving up his right to representation. He was charged and convicted of “spreading false information” in an article in which he described corruption allegations against a local construction company. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the harassment of Yanishev and urged authorities to allow journalists to work freely.

On June 7, three Effect.uz journalists were reportedly beaten by a mob in Andijan. The mob was allegedly headed by the son of the chairperson of the Andijan City Council, S. Siyaya. One of the assaulted journalists, Abror Eshankhanov, posted a video describing the incident and appealed to several law enforcement agencies to take legal action against the attackers. The Uzbek Journalists Association called on the government to take appropriate measures and stressed the incident contradicted freedom of speech and the press.

On September 7, online outlet Qalampir.uz published a video stating that a Prosecutor’s Office member threatened to order the arrest the media crew of journalist Feruza Najmiddinova, legal adviser Shokhrukh Olimdjanov, and cameraman Khojamiyor Kholmatov unless it removed a video it posted of a group of business owners complaining of the illegal demolition of business buildings and homes by the government.

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 to serve as the main censor for a particular media outlet. Continuing the past trend of moderate criticism of the government, online publications such as Kommersant.uz and Nuz.uz published some critical stories on matters such as demolitions, ecological problems, electricity outages, currency, trade, and the black market. In addition the literary journal Adobiyat Gazetesi published stories by authors who were on a “blacklist,” which resulted in scrutiny that limited its ability to publish.

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 problems that the government considered sensitive, such as trafficking in persons.

There were numerous reported abuses similar to the following examples. On February 4, chief editor of popular Islamic website Azon.uz Abdulaziz Muborak announced he was resigning because he was threatened by the deputy chair of the Uzbek Religious Committee Dilshod Eshnayev for articles he wrote regarding religious reform, including a proposal to conduct Quran classes in residential neighborhoods. On April 21, the online outlet Kun.uz stated that the Information Security Department of the State Security Service continued to pressure it and other news agencies to delete articles.

Libel/Slander Laws: The criminal and administrative codes impose substantial monetary fines for defamation, including libel and slander. The government used charges of libel, slander, and defamation to punish journalists, human rights activists, and others who criticized the president or the government. Nevertheless, some bloggers and activists openly criticized the government on social media without legal reprisal.

On March 30, the president signed a law establishing criminal liability for publicly insulting or defaming the president using social networks, the internet, or both. Conviction of an offense is punishable by three years’ correctional labor, restriction of movement for two to five years, or up to five years’ imprisonment.

On April 19, the Jizzakh Regional Prosecutor’s Office announced the State Security Service had detained Valijon Kalanov for insulting the president on social media. According to the statement, Kalanov posted a video misinterpreting the president’s reforms on his Facebook and YouTube pages opened under the nickname V.K. that “insulted and slandered the president and disseminated information that had a negative impact on the president’s reputation.” Human rights activists reported that Kalanov was forcibly admitted to a psychiatric clinic, but no further information was available concerning Kalanov’s legal case.

The government sometimes restricted freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at 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: The government abolished the requirement to have a domicile registration stamp (formerly known as propiska) in internal passports before traveling domestically or leaving the country. Nevertheless, authorities at times delayed domestic and foreign travel and emigration through the passport application process.

The government continued to require hotels to register foreign visitors with the government daily. The government requires foreigners staying in private homes to register their addresses within three days of arrival. Authorities simplified these registration procedures, which allow foreigners to register through an online portal.

Not applicable.

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, returning refugees, and other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: A presidential decree provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees.

During the year the country experienced a flow of Afghan asylum seekers. Diplomatic representatives asked the government to permit UNHCR officials and humanitarian organizations access to the region and to facilities housing Afghan refugees and urged the government to allow flights of vulnerable Afghans to transit the country’s territory.

Freedom of Movement: Individuals fleeing Afghanistan without visas for Uzbekistan were restricted to a secure camp in Termez near the border with Afghanistan.

Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees and provided it to approximately 14,100 persons during the year, including 498 persons who entered from Afghanistan in former Afghan-government military aircraft. Refugees were held in a secure residential camp near Termez pending third-country processing and relocation.

In 2020 the president signed into law provisions that conferred citizenship to approximately 50,000 individuals. Prior to implementation of those provisions, there were more than 97,000 documented stateless persons in the country. In June the president signed additional provisions into law to further reduce the number of stateless persons and to increase access to citizenship.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law defines rape as sexual intercourse committed by force, threats, or abuse of the helpless regardless of gender. Conviction of rape is punishable three to 20 years’ imprisonment. There is no separate legally recognized category of spousal rape. Domestic violence is listed as a crime against health or against sexual freedom. By law mandatory reconciliation procedures may be imposed on survivors of domestic violence during divorce proceedings. The criminal and administrative codes do not include adequate provisions regarding punishment of convicted abusers. Protection orders may be issued, but activists stated they were of little use to the survivor who often remained confined with the abuser. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 26,105 women received protection orders in the first eight months of year, but only 0.2 percent of abusers were prosecuted and only 18 percent of those convicted received prison sentences.

The government provided no data on the incidence of gender-based violence. According to civil society NGOs, the problem remained acute. Local media reported that on May 13, six drunk men raped an 18-year-old, five-months pregnant woman at a field camp in the Andijan Region. The Andijan Regional Investigation Department of Internal Affairs opened a criminal case, but no charges were filed due to lack of evidence; the evidence obtained could not “confirm the fact of rape.” In October a deputy dean of a university in Tashkent was arrested for attempted rape of a female university student. In addition the deputy dean threw her out of a third-floor window when she resisted and called for help. The president’s daughter, Saida Mirziyoyeva, made a public appeal to end violence and sexual harassment of women in public institutions following the incident.

Cultural norms discouraged women and their families from speaking openly regarding rape. Journalist and founder of an independent project seeking to combat domestic violence in the country nemolchi.uz (do not be silent), Irina Matvienko, stated that the inaction of law enforcement authorities regarding domestic violence led to suicide and homicide among women, including the killing by women of their children when they took their own lives. On April 1, Mukhlisa Kadamboyeva, a 19-year-old native of Shavat District in the Khorezm Region, hanged herself in her husband’s house. Kadamboyeva’s parents reported she was beaten by her husband for borrowing money from a neighbor and for leaving the house without her husband’s permission. On May 20, the Prosecutor’s Office declined to open a criminal case of incitement to suicide against the husband but instead charged him with “light bodily injury.”

There were government-run and some NGO-run shelters for survivors of domestic abuse and telephone hotlines for survivors seeking assistance. The government reported providing assistance to 247 women at government shelters. Survivors of domestic violence were also at government Centers for Rehabilitation and Adaptation. According to the Ministry for the Support of Community and Family Affairs, the hotline received 50 to 60 calls per day on average. Authorities provided women in the shelters with food, medicine, and hygiene products and funds to cover other expenses.

The Commission on Gender Equality of Uzbekistan, together with the UN Population Fund and the Center for Support of Civil Initiatives, operated a telephone hotline service during the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine period to act on reports of harassment and violence against women.

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’ imprisonment and monetary fines but does not penalize 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 having 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.

Reproductive Rights: Unlike in 2020 there were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

The law regulates reproductive health procedures permitting voluntary and informed consent for sterilization of an adult. Citizens had access to voluntary family planning, including the ability to choose methods of contraception. Women have the legal right to receive medical assistance for individual selection of contraceptive methods, based on their medical condition, age, and individual characteristics.

Contraception was not always available to men and women. Nevertheless, most districts had maternity clinics staffed by fully trained doctors who provided a wide range of prenatal and postpartum care. Menstrual health and hygiene products were available on the market but not accessible to all strata of the population, especially in poorer regions of the country. Poor sanitation and access to clean running water in rural areas was a challenge for menstrual hygiene, especially among school-age girls.

The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception for women who reported sexual violence; however, activists reported the topic remained taboo and there were no official statistics on the number of cases.

Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men in the areas of health care, education, science, culture, labor, and social protection.

By law women may own property, inherit goods, secure employment outside the home, obtain credit, and own and manage a business. Traditional views on the roles of women contributed to increased social difficulties for women pursuing their legal rights in these areas.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

There are no legal impediments for citizens who belong to one of the country’s ethnic minorities. By law all citizens have equal rights without regard to their ethnicity.

Complaints of societal violence or discrimination against members of ethnic minority groups were rare. The law does not require Uzbek language ability to obtain citizenship, but language often was a sensitive matter. 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.” There are criminal penalties for conviction of stirring up discord through inflammatory statements against other ethnic groups.

Officials reportedly reserved senior positions in the government bureaucracy and business for ethnic Uzbeks, although there were numerous exceptions.

There were no government programs to mitigate societal, racial, or ethnic biases.

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.

Human rights activists reported that patterns of child abuse existed and that law enforcement agencies often did not act on reports of violence and child abuse. On April 5, the Prosecutor’s Office of the Surkhandaryo Region reported that the Termez city prosecutor reversed the decision of the Termez Department of Internal Affairs to not conduct a criminal investigation into the repeated rape of a 16-year-old schoolgirl during a 14-month period and returned the case for further investigation. On April 11, the Criminal Investigation Department of the Termez Internal Affairs Department opened a criminal case (rape of a person whom the perpetrator knows to be younger than age 18) which is punishable if convicted by 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment).

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for both sexes. District authorities may lower the age by one year in exceptional cases. In some rural areas, girls aged 15 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,” including the sale, grooming, offering or procuring of children for commercial sexual exploitation, and practices related to child pornography.

Sexual exploitation of minors was a problem. The country was a source of sex trafficking victims and destination for sex tourism. Websites advertised the country as a sex tourism destination. Minors were exploited internally in brothels, clubs, and private residences and were trafficked abroad to the Middle East, Eurasia, and Southeast Asia.

The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Conviction of involving a child in commercial sexual exploitation is punishable by a monetary fine and imprisonment of up to five years. The punishment for conviction for statutory rape is 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Conviction of the production, exhibition, and distribution of child pornography is punishable by a monetary fine or by three to five years’ imprisonment.

Institutionalized Children: According to UNICEF, more than 20,000 children with disabilities resided in institutions. Children placed in residential care for educational purposes were 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 ages 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; however, Israeli military operations in Gaza in May prompted, for the first time in the country, online anti-Semitic discourse. There were eight registered Jewish congregations. Observers estimated the Jewish population at 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/.

Persons with disabilities do not have access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. No information was available concerning enforcement, the imposition of monetary fines, or regarding patterns of abuse in educational and mental health facilities. Approximately 75 percent of persons with disabilities lived below the poverty line. Societal discrimination was a problem. According to the most recent government data available, in 2017 only 50 persons with disabilities were enrolled in higher education, but during the year the number rose to 4,853.

There were no reports of violence, intimidation, or abuse of persons with disabilities, but the Soviet legacy of discrimination, including segregating persons with disabilities from public view continued. In June the country ratified the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and authorities initiated preparation of an action plan to implement it provisions.

Dated braille books published during Soviet times were provided to blind students and some adapted computers to students with vision disabilities.

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.

The government mandates that 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 difficulties with access. The law provides for monetary fines if buildings, including private shops and restaurants, are not accessible. Disability rights activists reported accessibility remained inadequate, noting, for example, that many of the high schools constructed in prior years had exterior ramps but no interior modifications to facilitate access by wheelchair users.

The government reported a total adult population of 755,000 persons with disabilities. Approximately 9,000 positions were reserved by the government for adults with disabilities, but only 896 adult persons with disabilities were employed in one of the designated positions. The law obliges public institutions and private enterprises, where at least 20 individuals are employed, to reserve at least 3 percent of jobs for persons with disabilities. Activists reported this law was rarely implemented or enforced. Activists noted the amounts of disability benefits and pensions were inadequate to the needs of socially vulnerable families due to the lack of an officially established minimum subsistence level.

In 2020 the city of Tashkent set aside 2,500 housing units for persons with disabilities.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the environment for persons with disabilities, as the cessation of public and private transport during the initial lockdown created food access problems for persons with disabilities. They therefore relied on episodic food assistance provided by mahalla committees.

The law protects those infected with HIV from discrimination and provides for free health care. The government reported an estimated 45,032 individuals were living with HIV, including more than 6,600 children younger than age 14. Coverage of HIV-infected adults with antiretroviral therapy was 58 percent, while coverage of children was 91 percent. The government reported there were 15 laboratory facilities at AIDS centers and 63 interdistrict laboratories.

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 LGBTQI+ community activists reported that hospital wards reviewed the personal history of HIV-infected patients and summarily categorized them as drug addicts, homosexuals, or engaged in commercial sexual exploitation. 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 in the country.

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between men. Conviction is punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The law does not criminalize consensual same-sex sexual conduct between women.

Authorities enforced the law. Human rights defenders reported at least five cases of persons who faced prosecution during the year. They speculated this could be due to information sharing between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Justice that was ostensibly intended to enable the Ministry of Justice to monitor HIV+ individuals to prevent the spread of disease. Human rights defenders believed authorities used this information to identify, charge, and prosecute gay HIV+ men.

On April 12, the Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that 49 men convicted of performing same-sex sexual acts were serving prison sentences and being subjected to “conversion therapy” or psychological treatment of the “disorder of homosexuality” in order to “eliminate repeat crimes and offenses.”

Society generally considered same-sex sexual conduct a taboo subject. There were no known LGBTQI+ organizations. Deeply negative social attitudes related to sexual orientation and gender identity limited the freedom of expression of the LGBTQI+ community and led to discrimination. The law does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTQI+ 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 LGBTQI+ status and called LGBTQI+ matters “irrelevant to Uzbek society.” In 2020 the Uzbek delegation to the UN General Assembly voted for a Saudi-sponsored amendment to the Extrajudicial Killings Resolution stripping LGBTQI+ individuals of legal protections against extrajudicial killings.

According to human rights NGOs, authorities conducted compulsory rectal exams on persons suspected of same-sex sexual conduct. The Eurasian Coalition on Health, Rights, Gender and Sexual Diversity and the International Partnership for Human Rights documented at least four cases between 2017 and 2020 in which men were subjected to forced anal exams. On August 5, international rights groups urged the president to immediately order officials to abandon such evidentiary procedures. During the year Human Rights Watch reported a case in which physicians subjected two men to forced anal exams, which served as evidence in their conviction; the men were serving two-year prison sentences at year’s end.

Human rights defenders alleged that security services used LGBTQI+ informants to entrap and blackmail men suspected of being gay. They alleged security services routinely told arrested LGBTQI+ persons they would serve prison time if they did not agree to serve as informants on other LGBTQI+ persons.

In November 2020 media reported that authorities arrested a senior Supreme Court staff member on charges of same-sex sexual conduct. The staff member was reportedly being extorted by a sexual partner for 46 million soums ($17,000) to keep the relationship secret. The partner leaked videos he had filmed of the two having sex.

Media reported that on March 28, in downtown Tashkent a group of approximately 100 men violently protested against LGBTQI+ persons, yelling “Allah (God) is the greatest,” beating random pedestrians and damaging cars. The group gathered in reaction to online posts by pro-LGBTQI+ blogger Miraziz Bazarov. Unknown assailants later severely beat Bazarov who was hospitalized for one month. Police detained approximately 70 persons, 31 of whom were charged with hooliganism and various other offenses but not for assault. Human rights activists reported that in the wake of the attack, members of the LGBTQI+ community in Tashkent were being harassed by both local authorities and private citizens and were on “red alert,” and were seeking to avoid going out in public.

Regarding the March 28 violent protest, on March 30, Chair of the Public Fund for the Support and Development of Mass Media Komil Allomjonov chastised foreign organizations promoting LGBTQI+ rights, “before making any demands to Uzbekistan or any other country, foreign organizations must take into account the mentality, religion, culture, and traditions of the nation. In our country, where the majority are Muslims, society does not accept gay men and women.” Allomjonov stated the government could do little to protect LGBTQI+ individuals because, “even if laws against gay people are relaxed, society will not accept it, and they will only remain on paper (if) such groups begin to freely show themselves on the street, the number of lynchings will increase significantly (and) small riots will lead to big problems.”

Section 7. Worker Rights

The law allows workers to form and join independent unions and bargain collectively. Despite their legal status, no independent labor unions operated in the country. The law neither provides for nor prohibits the right to strike, but it prohibits antiunion discrimination. The law on trade unions states that workers may not be fired due to trade union membership, but it does not clearly state whether workers fired for union activity must be reinstated. Volunteers in public works and workers employed by individuals without documented contracts do not have strong legal protections of their rights.

Government officials imposed restrictions on the registration of independent trade unions. Although the country ratified the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 87 on Freedom of Association, little progress had been achieved in this field, as workers, farmers and cotton pickers have not been able to exercise the right of collective bargaining and representation of their interests through independent trade unions. The state-controlled Federation of Trade Unions of Uzbekistan (FTUU) is the only operating labor union of any kind in the country.

Despite the adoption of a law on trade unions in 2019, which prohibits the interference of government bodies in the trade union activities, the state still retains significant control. Local critics noted that the protection of workers’ rights and interests in organizations and the freedom to elect union leaders had been withheld.

The law provides penalties for violating freedom of association laws. Penalties were not commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. The government amended the law on “professional unions, rights, and guarantees of their activities.” Despite legal protections for professional unions, workers had not successfully formed or joined independent unions. Workers believed that attempts to create independent alternative unions would be repressed. FTUU unions remained centralized, controlled by, and dependent on the government.

The FTUU included in its ranks more than 35,000 primary organizations and 14 regional trade unions, according to official reports. Regional and industrial trade unions remained managed by the state.

Government-organized unions did not undertake independent bargaining on behalf of their members. Government ministries, including the Ministry of Agriculture, in consultation with the Federation of Trade Unions, continued to set wages for government employees and production quotas in certain sectors. The government moved toward letting the market determine prices in a larger number of sectors than in previous years. In the private sector, management established wages or negotiated them individually with persons who contracted for employment. Labor arbitration was underdeveloped.

On March 19, more than 200 workers at Indorama Argo in the Syrdarya Region met to establish an independent trade union Xalq Birligi (People’s Unity). It was subsequently registered as Trade Union Under Indorama Agro under the FTUU. In 2020 and during the year, the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) provided $130 million in loans to Indorama Agro to support the company’s operations, including the economic inclusion of young men and women. Company employees complained of massive job cuts, poor working conditions, unfair payment, gender discrimination and retaliation against complaints. The workers lacked collective bargaining power against the company, while state-controlled trade unions like FTUU failed to provide support. The trade union registration process resulted in intimidation from the government and pressure from the FTUU to join as a member, which is ultimately what occurred. Twelve international organizations, including the EBRD and the IFC, released a joint statement urging the government to register the first independent trade union. The effort to form this union was ultimately unsuccessful and the proposed union leader, Roza Agaydarova, was subjected to pressure both by Indorama and the government to cease her labor organizing activities.

The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor, except as legal punishment for conviction of such offenses as robbery, fraud, or tax evasion or as specified by law. Certain sections of the criminal code allow for compulsory labor as a punishment for conviction of offenses including defamation and incitement of national, racial, ethnic, or religious enmity. The government effectively enforced the law, but penalties were not commensurate with those for conviction of other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations have authority to enforce laws on forced labor. The lead for matters related to forced labor or trafficking in persons is the special rapporteur of the National Commission on trafficking in persons and forced labor. The ILO increased the scope of its third-party monitoring on child and forced labor in the cotton harvest during the year.

Government-compelled forced labor of adults remained in other sectors as well. Despite a government prohibition against forced labor, reports continued of local officials forcing rural farmers to work in noncotton agriculture and other adults to clean parks, streets, and buildings. Officials occasionally compelled labor by labeling these tasks as hashar, voluntary work for the community’s benefit.

Men were most likely to be exploited abroad as migrant laborers and women were most likely to be forced to labor in country. Instances of child exploitation continued to be reported in country. The government increased its efforts to combat all forms of forced labor. During the year the government informed the public of the prohibition against forced labor, including in the annual cotton harvest. Harvesters typically came from groups such as impoverished families, unemployed persons, and housewives.

With the elimination of government-mandated cotton production quotas, local officials are no longer officially responsible for mobilizing sufficient labor to meet established production targets in the harvest, which in previous years had been a key driver of forced labor. The government continued to take steps towards privatizing the cotton sector by expanding cotton “clusters.” Cotton clusters are private, vertically integrated enterprises (from farm to finished product) that receive land concessions from the government to either farm cotton directly or contract with cotton farmers in each district.

Activists noted that many of these “clusters” are headed by district khokims which left open many opportunities for abuse and left populations vulnerable to forced labor.

The ILO found no evidence of systemic forced labor in the annual cotton harvest. Responsibility for overseeing government efforts to end forced labor and trafficking in persons resides with the National Commission on Trafficking in Persons and Forced Labor. The commission is divided into subcommittees for trafficking in persons, chaired by the minister of internal affairs, and for forced labor, chaired by the minister of employment and labor relations. Both act as deputy chairs to the commission itself. Tanzila Narbaeva, who also served as chair of the Senate, continued to fulfill the role of special rapporteur for the commission. The government-empowered special rapporteur reports directly to the president. Regional-level bodies report to the commission on implementation of laws and regulations related to forced labor and trafficking in persons.

The government maintained formal prohibitions on the use of forced labor in all economic sectors and worked to enforce these provisions. Administrative penalties against the use of forced labor include a monetary fine for first offense. Secondary offenses are criminalized. The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations reported five cases of forced labor were under investigation at year’s end. The ministry also reported 154 trafficking crimes were identified, of which 94 involved sexual exploitation.

The government allowed the ILO access in real time to a government feedback mechanism for reporting labor violations to assess how well it responded to complaints. Additionally, the government made efforts to meet with international organizations, NGOs, civil society organizations, and local activists to discuss the problem of forced labor publicly and to receive feedback, including suggestions and criticism to enable it to improve its approach to forced labor in the cotton harvest. The government acknowledged its problem with forced labor and sought assistance to eliminate it.

Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking in-persons-report/.

The law prohibits the worst forms of child labor. The law sets the minimum working age at 16 and provides that work must not interfere with the studies of those younger than 18. The law does not allow children younger than 15 to work, but this provision was not always observed. Children at age 15, with permission from their parents, may work a maximum of 24 hours per week when school is not in session and 12 hours per week when school is in session. Children ages 16 through 18 may work 36 hours per week while school is out of session and 18 hours per week while school is in session. Decrees stipulate a list of hazardous activities forbidden for children younger than 18 and prohibit employers from using children to work under specified hazardous conditions, including underground, underwater, at dangerous heights, and in the manual harvesting of cotton, including cotton harvesting with dangerous equipment.

Children were employed in small-scale family agriculture; in family businesses, such as bakeries and convenience stores; and in the provision of some kinds of services.

Inspectors from the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations have authority to enforce laws on child labor, and they effectively enforced the law. Penalties were not commensurate with those for conviction of analogous crimes, such as kidnapping. Reports indicated that child labor was not widespread, although cotton harvest monitors identified isolated instances of child labor violations in the production and harvest of cotton as well as commercial sexual exploitation.

There was no evidence of any government-compelled child labor. The government prohibition against the use of students in the cotton harvest remains in force.

Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings/ .

d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation

Laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation based on race, gender, religion, and language. The labor code states that differences in the treatment of individuals deserving of the state’s protection or requiring special accommodation, including women, children, and persons with disabilities, are not to be considered discriminatory. The law prohibits women from working in 355 professions in 98 different industries, because of possible adverse effect to women’s health. The law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, age, political opinion, national origin or citizenship, or social origin. HIV-positive individuals are legally prohibited from being employed in certain occupations, including those in the medical field that require direct contact with patients or with blood or blood products as well as in cosmetology or haircutting. There were insufficient publicly available data to determine government enforcement of these laws and regulations and no data were available on instances of government actions to deal with cases of illegal discrimination. Penalties were commensurate to laws related to civil rights, such as election interference.

The labor code prohibits refusing employment based on an applicant’s criminal record or the criminal record of a close relative.

Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage. In 2020 the president publicly acknowledged that between 12 percent and 15 percent of the population (between four and five million persons) lived at or below the poverty level. The law establishes a standard workweek of 40 hours and requires a 24-hour rest period. The law provides for paid annual holidays. The law provides overtime compensation as specified in employment contracts or as agreed with an employee’s trade union. Such compensation may be provided in the form of additional pay or leave. The law states that overtime compensation should not be less than 200 percent of the employee’s average monthly salary rate. Additional leave time should not be less than the length of actual overtime work. An employee may not work more than 120 hours of overtime per year, but this limitation was not generally observed, particularly in the public sector. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. The government effectively enforced these laws in the formal economy. Penalties for violations of wage and overtime laws were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud. No data were available on enforcement of these laws in the informal economy.

Occupational Safety and Health: The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations establishes and enforces occupational health and safety standards in consultation with unions. According to the law, health and safety standards should be applied in all sectors. The government effectively enforced these laws in the formal economy. No data were available on enforcement of these laws in the informal economy. Penalties for violations of occupational health and safety laws were not commensurate with those for crimes, such as negligence.

The law provides that workers may legally remove themselves from hazardous work if an employer fails to provide adequate safety measures for the job, and the employer must pay the employee during the time of the work stoppage or provide severance pay if the employee chooses to terminate employment. Workers generally did not exercise this right because it was not effectively supported, and employees feared retribution by employers. The law requires employers to protect against civil liability for damage caused to the life or health of an employee in connection with a work injury, occupational disease, or other injury to health caused by the employee’s performance on the job. In addition a company’s employees have the right to demand, and the administration is obliged to provide them with, information on the state of working conditions and safety at work, available personal protection means, benefits, and compensations.

The Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations maintains protocols requiring investigation into labor complaints within five business days. The ministry or a local governor’s office could initiate a selective inspection of a business, and special inspections were conducted in response to accidents or complaints. Inspectors do have the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Reports suggested that enforcement was uneven because of the difficulty and size of the informal economy, where employment was usually undocumented. Despite an increase in the number of labor inspectors in prior years, the Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations lacked adequate staff to enforce compliance and prevent many violations in the informal sector. The most common labor violations were working without contracts, receiving lower than publicly announced payments, delayed payments, and substandard sanitary or hygienic working conditions. The government did not provide statistics on industrial accidents.

Informal Sector: Many employees had official part-time or low-income jobs and many continued to work informally. In April the International Monetary Fund estimated the informal sector employed approximately 40 percent of the workforce and produced one-third of GDP. The government worked to shift more of the economy from informal to the formal economy and to provide labor and social protections to those working informally.

The most common violations committed by private sector employers were violations of wage, overtime, and occupational health and safety standards. Although regulations provide standards for workplace safety, workers reportedly worked without necessary protective clothing and equipment at some hazardous job sites. More specific information was not available on sectors in which occupational safety violations were common, as well as on specific groups of workers who worked in dangerous conditions or without needed safety equipment. In March 2020 the country joined the Commonwealth of Independent States’ Interstate Council for Industrial Safety to improve its industry safety standards.

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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future