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.
On August 3, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that authorities arrested two police officers in the southern Surkhandaryo Region for allegedly beating detainee Hasan Hushmatov to death. On July 29, the Prosecutor-General’s Office stated the officers were charged with abuse of office and premeditated infliction of serious bodily harm, which led to Hushmatov’s death. No trial date was set by the Denov District Criminal Court in the Surkhandaryo Region by year’s end.
On June 10, the chairman of human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) Ezgulik reported that Aziz Akhmedov, first deputy head of the tax inspectorate of the Kattakurgan District, died as a result of violence used by officers of the Road Patrol Service. The Prosecutor General’s Office initiated a criminal case and on September 10, completed its investigation and indicted M. Kuchkarov and Sh. Rakhimberidev on charges of abuse of authority and causing inadvertent death.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The country has laws governing the conduct of law enforcement officers and addressing torture, including language that states, “Employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs may not employ torture, violence, or other cruel or degrading treatments. The employee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs is obliged to prevent intentional acts causing pain, physical, or moral suffering to the citizen.” The law bans the use of evidence obtained by torture in court proceedings. In addition an antitorture law includes liability for the use of torture and other inhuman or degrading treatment. Prior to the adoption of the law, there were formal obstacles to the prosecution of persons involved in torture. These restrictions were eliminated.
In 2020 the UN Committee Against Torture concluded “that torture and ill-treatment continue to be routinely committed by, at the instigation of and with the consent of the State party’s law enforcement, investigative and prison officials, principally for the purpose of extracting confessions or information to be used in criminal proceedings.” These conclusions remained valid despite additional efforts by government at reform. In addition a number of criminal trials during which defendants raised torture allegations, as well as several trials of persons charged with committing torture, were closed to the public. Court decisions in those cases were not publicly available.
According to human rights activists, although the practice of coordinated, top-down orders to torture specific detainees had ceased, law enforcement officers’ methods and attitudes had not and that most abuse occurred during interrogations, where police used physical abuse such as beatings and psychological tactics to gain confessions. Under the country’s legal system, psychological pressure and threats are not considered abuse or mistreatment.
There were numerous reported abuses similar to the following examples. On February 15, the NGO International Partnership for Human Rights reported allegations of physical abuse of a transgender woman, Nigina, at Tashkent Prison 7. Nigina was serving a three-year sentence for a January 2020 conviction of drug possession. On February 18, a representative of the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights visited Nigina and confirmed she had been beaten and harassed. In May her case was reopened and on June 22, a court ordered her release to house arrest pending trial.
In June 2020 prison guards beat and killed Farrukh Khidirov, a prisoner in Penal Colony Number 11 in the Navoi Region. According to human rights activists, a few days before his death, Khidirov told a family member that prison officers were demanding money from him. Khidirov spent eight days in the hospital before his death. Following Ezgulik’s publication of a report on the killing, the Main Directorate of Corrections of the Ministry of Internal Affairs issued a statement that, “The body was examined by the Prosecutor’s Office, no bodily injuries were detected, and an appropriate examination was appointed regarding the incident.” No charges were filed against officers allegedly involved in Khidirov’s death.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were in some circumstances harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
Physical Conditions: The prison population exceeded capacity by approximately 40 percent. There were no reports of authorities holding men, women, or juveniles together during pretrial detention or following conviction and no reports indicating that conditions varied by gender. Access to potable water and food of good quality and to showers or other sanitary facilities was poor. Inmates often relied upon visiting family members to provide necessary provisions. Cells were often crowded, and heating, cooling, and lighting were inadequate in older facilities. The availability of medical care was limited in some detention facilities.
Following their release political prisoners reported to Human Rights Watch and others they were beaten and tortured, including being held in stress positions, while in prison.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, prisoners are entitled to outdoor exercise during nonworking hours. Prison rules also state that inmates should undergo a medical examination upon request and at intervals of not more than six months. No information on implementation of these rules was publicly available.
Although no data were available on the incidence of HIV/AIDS, international experts stated the rate of HIV/AIDS was likely higher in prisons than in the general population. Authorities reported 280 cases of tuberculosis, 617 cases of COVID-19, and vaccinations of 13,802 prisoners for COVID-19. Poor compliance with treatment plans and other implementation problems undermined government efforts to lower infection rates.
Administration: The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office and the Prosecutor General’s Office may investigate complaints from detainees and the public. 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. Some family members of detained or released prisoners stated the Office of the Ombudsman did not respond to their complaints. Some human rights activists reported that lawyers had no problems meeting with their clients, although others disputed this, saying access was both limited and monitored. Prison officials typically allowed family members to visit prisoners for up to four hours two to four times per year. Officials also permitted longer visits of one to three days two to four times per year, depending on the type of prison facility, as well as overnight stays.
The government stated that prisoners have the right to practice any religion, but some prisoners complained to family members that prison authorities did not permit them to observe religious rituals that conflicted with the prison’s schedule. Such rituals included traditional Islamic morning prayers. While some activists reported this situation had improved, others stated the restriction continued. Authorities forbid all 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 all religious 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 regarding the health and disciplinary records of their family members. Families continued to report that the government provided limited to no information or withheld information contained in health and prison records.
Independent Monitoring: UNICEF regularly visited the country’s four juvenile offenders’ colonies. The International Committee for the Red Cross had not visited detainees since 2013. Some independent observers had limited access to some parts of the penitentiary system, including pretrial detention facilities, women’s prisons, and prison settlements. Ezgulik, however, reported it had no problems accessing any prisoner.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and the law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government did not always observe these requirements.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
By law a judge must review any decision to arrest accused individuals or suspects. Judges granted arrest warrants in most cases. Detention without formal charges is limited to 48 hours, although a prosecutor may request that a judge extend detention an additional 48 hours, after which the person must be charged or released. Judges typically grant such requests, and the judge who issues such an extension is often the same one that presides over the trial, which creates incentives to cover up violations. The arresting authority is required to notify a relative of a detainee of the detention and to question the detainee within 24 hours of arrest.
Once authorities file charges, suspects may be held in pretrial detention for up to three months while investigations proceed. The law permits an extension of the investigation period for as much as seven months at the discretion of the appropriate court upon a motion by the relevant prosecutor, who may also release a prisoner on bond pending trial. Those arrested and charged with a crime may be released without bail until trial on the condition they provide assurance of “proper behavior” and that they would appear at trial. Authorities typically held suspects after the allowable period of detention, according to human rights advocates. The judge conducting the arrest hearing is allowed to sit on the panel of judges during the individual’s trial.
The law allows detainees to request hearings before a judge to determine whether they should remain incarcerated or released before trial. Authorities often granted these hearings but typically granted detention requests from prosecutors, thereby undermining the spirit of judicial oversight.
The law authorizes the use of house arrest as a form of pretrial detention. By law an investigator, magistrate, or judge may order release of a detainee on bail. The minimum amount set for bail is 5.4 million soums ($500) and there is no set maximum bail amount.
Defendants have the right to legal counsel from the time of arrest. State-appointed attorneys are available for those who do not hire private counsel. The country had relatively few defense lawyers, and activists stated this likely was due to lower levels of pay, prestige, and influence in comparison to judges and prosecutors. Officials did not always respect the right to counsel and occasionally forced defendants to sign written statements declining the right. Authorities’ selective intimidation and disbarment of defense lawyers produced a chilling effect that also compromised detainees’ access to legal counsel.
Some defense lawyers noted difficulty in accessing clients, the lack of private meeting spaces at law enforcement facilities to meet with detainees, and the lack of access to information regarding their client’s case.
The law requires authorities at pretrial detention facilities to arrange a meeting between a detainee and a representative from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office upon the detainee’s request. Officials allowed detainees in prison facilities to submit confidential complaints to the Ombudsman’s Office and the Prosecutor General’s Office.
The law provides for the National Guard, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and police to surveil electronically attorneys’ communications with clients. With the consent of the prosecutor or an investigator, officials (including prosecutors, investigators, and of state bodies) may have access to conversations, messages, and other forms of information conveyed between a defendant and his or her lawyer by telephone and other telecommunications devices. Officials may also record these conversations. In some cases authorities detained suspects and required them to sign nondisclosure agreements that prevented them from discussing their cases publicly. Human rights lawyers complained authorities used this tactic to prevent lawyers and clients from receiving outside assistance or boosting publicity regarding their cases.
There were reports of incommunicado detention. According to the NGO Ezgulik, on May 24, authorities took G. Saidganieva from Zangiota District into custody and held her in pretrial detention for 21 days without being allowed to communicate her arrest to her family or her lawyer. Her sister filed a complaint with Ezgulik which helped provide Saidganieva with a lawyer, and authorities subsequently released her.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were credible reports that police and state security officials routinely harassed and detained existing and former prisoners. For example, pro-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQI+) blogger Miraziz Bazarov, charged on April 29 by the Mirabad District Court with defamation for comments made in response to Islamic bloggers, remained under house arrest with no trial date set at year’s end.
The government phased out the use of preventive watch lists. An activist on the list worked with former religious detainees and reported local police and state security officials routinely harassed them, called them into police departments to put pressure on them, and made employment and other day-to-day functions difficult through the arbitrary application of regulations.
Pretrial Detention: No data were available on the approximate percentage of the prison and detainee population in pretrial detention, the average length of time held, or whether the length of pretrial detention frequently equaled or exceeded the maximum sentence if convicted of offenses charged. Authorities did not provide access to a court for detainees to challenge the length or validity of pretrial detention, despite the law granting detainees the right to do so. Even when authorities did not file charges, police and prosecutors frequently sought to evade restrictions on the length of time that persons could be held without charges.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judiciary does not operate with complete independence and impartiality. The Prosecutor General’s Office and other law enforcement bodies occasionally exerted inappropriate pressure on members of the judiciary to render desired verdicts. Judges are appointed by the Supreme Judicial Council, subject to concurrence by the Senate. By law the Supreme Judicial Council may dismiss judges arbitrarily, regardless of the length of their terms, making them vulnerable to political pressure.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but this was not always the case. The law specifies a presumption of innocence and that the defendant be informed promptly of the charges against the defendant.
The government provided legal counsel and interpreters without charge when necessary. According to credible reports, state-appointed defense attorneys routinely acted in the interest of the government rather than of their clients because of their reliance on the state for a livelihood and fear of possible recrimination.
Madad, a nonprofit NGO, helped increase legal awareness and provided free legal advice and practical legal assistance, including through the operation of an online portal Advice.uz (e-maslahat.uz).
Defendants have the right to attend court proceedings, confront prosecution witnesses, and present evidence, but judges often declined defense motions to summon additional witnesses or to enter evidence supporting the defendant into the record. Defendants have a right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or have one provided at public expense if unable to pay for one. They have a right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants who do not speak the Uzbek language have a right to free assistance of an interpreter. Defendants have a right not to testify or to confess guilt. The law provides a right of appeal, but appeals rarely resulted in reversal of convictions. Nevertheless, in some cases appeals resulted in reduced or suspended sentences.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were reports of political prisoners or detainees.
On May 10, antigovernment blogger (an individual who writes commentary in a website or web page) Otabek Sattoriy was convicted of extortion and slander and sentenced to 6.5 years in prison (see also section 2.a.). On June 17, government authorities released long-term religious prisoner Khayrullo Tursunov, who was sentenced to a 16-year prison term for conviction of religious extremism in 2013. In 2020 the government released four high-profile prisoners. According to Ezgulik and other human rights NGOs, Rustam Abdumannopov, Iskandar Khudaiberganov, and Akrom Malikov were the only three remaining political prisoners in the country at the time of their release. All three were convicted for plotting to overthrow the government or the constitutional order. The fourth prisoner, former imam Rukhitdin Fakhrutdinov, was serving a sentence for conviction of terrorism.
An estimated 2,200 prisoners, approximately 10 percent of the country’s prison population, were held for crimes related to their religious beliefs.
In years past the government targeted peaceful political dissidents and convicted them of engaging in terrorist and extremist activities or for belonging to what the government called religious fundamentalist organizations. There were no reports of such detentions during the year. NGO representatives stated they could not independently verify the numbers of such individuals who remained in detention.
Authorities sometimes did not provide political prisoners and detainees the same protections as other detainees, including by holding some incommunicado for prolonged periods of time, limiting their access to lawyers of their choosing, and psychologically intimidating some of them. The government sometimes did not permit access to such persons by human rights or humanitarian organizations.
According to numerous former political prisoners, the government provides released prisoners with an allowance upon parole to help them reintegrate into society, although some reported not receiving all promised benefits. Such allowances include travel expenses to one’s place of residence, health benefits, and the issuance of an internal passport, which is the primary form of identification in the country. Upon release, convicts sign a document acknowledging they understand the terms of their parole. This document typically includes a prohibition on travel abroad for up to one year. In prior years several former prisoners reported that authorities levied a monetary fine against them as a condition of their parole. Failure to abide by the terms of payment may result in the termination of parole. For example, one former prisoner was reportedly required to pay 20 percent of his monthly salary to the government for 18 months following his release.
During the year high-level government officials periodically visited different regions of the country to conduct outreach to prisoners, and the government stated it maintained this policy. The government allowed access to representatives of some local NGOs and international organizations, but not the International Committee of the Red Cross. COVID-19-related movement restrictions and strict quarantine protocols issued throughout the country also affected the ability of officials to conduct such visits.
Some former political prisoners pointed out that they were still considered criminals because authorities did not fully exonerate them upon their release from prison. Three former political prisoners, including Azam Farmonov, released in 2017 after serving 11 years of a 13-year sentence, attempted to register an NGO named Restoration of Justice three times in 2019, without success. In 2020 the Ministry of Justice registered the NGO under a different name, Hoquqiy Tayanch (Legal Pillar); the NGO sought redress for the unlawful detention of political prisoners, including clearing their records through exoneration, expungement, or other means.
Amnesty: During the year the president ordered the release or reduced the sentences of 81 prisoners convicted of religious extremism or on other religious charges.
Politically Motivated Reprisal against Individuals Located Outside the Country
Unlike in 2020 there were no reports of politically motivated reprisal against individuals located outside of the country.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
Citizens may file suit in civil courts for alleged human rights violations by officials, excluding investigators, prosecutors, and judges. Civil society reported in the past that bribes accepted by judges influenced their decisions in these cases. Local human rights defenders have supported such suits.
Property Seizure and Restitution
Government urban renewal campaigns to demolish older, Soviet-era apartment blocks and private homes in Tashkent and other regions continued to displace citizens from their homes or businesses, often without due process or adequate restitution.
In February the Appeal Commission of the Navoi Regional Court on Civil Cases upheld the ruling of Karmaninsky District Court of Navoi to terminate the rights to the land of six property holders and transfer their property to the private developer Alfa Grand Buildings LLC.
On May 7, the Mirabad Interdistrict Court for Civil Cases in Tashkent ordered the eviction of Olga Abdullayeva, her daughter, and three minor grandchildren, including a four-month-old infant, from their house in Tashkent. The developer Training Project LLC had sought permission to build a high-rise apartment building at the site dating back to 2019. Abdullayeva had yet to be evicted by year’s end.
On June 9, Deputy Prosecutor General Shavkatjon Rakhimov stated that more than 297,000 acres of land had been misappropriated and aimlessly allocated during the prior two years by authorities. According to Rakhimov, prosecutors protested more than 7,500 decisions of district and city khokims (local district, regional, and city administrations) to allocate land since 2019; administrative courts overturned more than 2,500 decisions. Rakhimov stated his office brought related criminal charges against 588 officials.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Although the constitution and law forbid arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence, authorities did not respect these prohibitions. The law requires that prosecutors approve requests for search warrants for electronic surveillance, but there is no provision for judicial review of such warrants.
In 2019 the government adopted a unified statute addressing matters related to personal data protection and processing. Previously, numerous laws and resolutions regulated the government’s protection of and processing procedures for individuals’ personal data, which complicated compliance requirements.
There were no reports of raids of the homes of religious groups’ members and unregistered congregations.
The government continued to use an estimated 12,000 mahalla (neighborhood) committees as a source of information on potential “extremists.” The committees provide various social support functions, including the distribution of social welfare assistance to the elderly, single parents, or families with many children; intervention in cases of domestic violence; and adjudication of disputes among residents, but they also inform government and law enforcement authorities on community members. In 2020 the president issued a decree that established the Ministry for the Support of Community (Mahalla) and Family Affairs. The ministry is tasked with facilitating close cooperation between state-level government and the local mahallas on women, family, and social structure matters.
Mahallas in rural areas tended to be more influential than those in cities.