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Snap election announced after Uzbeks voted overwhelmingly in favour of constitutional reforms; China sought closer ties with Central Asian countries during “milestone” summit.
President announced snap election following constitutional referendum. Central Election Commission 1 May announced that 30 April referendum on President Mirziyoev’s proposed constitutional amendments had passed with over 90% of voters approving reforms. In 1 May statement, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said referendum “was technically well prepared and widely promoted as intending to enhance various rights and freedoms” but took place “in an environment short of genuine political pluralism and competition”. Mirziyoev 8 May announced snap election in July, which he is widely expected to win, saying he requires new mandate to implement reforms.
Central Asian leaders attended China summit following Russia trip. Leaders from all five Central Asian countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – 9 May travelled to Russian capital Moscow for Russia’s Victory Day parade, which marks Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. Chinese President Xi Jinping 18-19 May hosted Central Asian leaders in north-western Xian city for “milestone” China-Central Asia Summit. In sign of Beijing’s growing influence in region, Xi unveiled ambitious development plan that includes building infrastructure, boosting trade and strengthening security networks.
Uzbeks voted on proposed constitutional amendments.
After lawmakers mid-March backed referendum on constitutional amendments proposed by President Mirziyoev, which among other things would allow him to seek third term in office and extend presidential term from five to seven years, Uzbeks 30 April began voting, amid expectations referendum will endorse proposals.
Lawmakers voted in favour of April referendum on new constitution; prosecutors handed down lengthy sentences to 39 Karakalpak activists.
Lawmakers backed referendum on constitutional amendments. Months after President Mirziyoyev first proposed constitutional amendments that, among other things, allow him to seek third term in office, lawmakers 10 March overwhelmingly backed proposed amendments and voted in favour of referendum, provisionally set for 30 April; Senate 15 March approved bill and confirmed date of referendum.
Authorities handed down more sentences to Karakalpak activists. Court in Bukhara city 17 March sentenced 39 Karakalpak activists to between five and 11 years in prison for their participation in July 2022 protests in autonomous Karakalpakstan region, which broke out in response to govt’s proposed constitutional amendment that would have ended region’s right to seek independence.
Legal proceedings over Karakalpakstan unrest continued, and U.S. sought to deepen engagement in region.
More trials following Karakalpakstan unrest took place. After authorities late Jan charged 22 Karakalpak activists with instigating deadly violence in autonomous Karakalpakstan region in July 2022, authorities 6 Feb announced that one had died while in custody; in following days, exiled activists raised concerns about prison conditions and demanded an investigation. Bukhara city regional court 6 Feb opened trial for 39 more activists for similar charges of inciting unrest in Karakalpakstan. General Prosecutor’s Office 9 Feb announced arrest of three police officers amid investigation into police misconduct during protests.
U.S. pledged deeper engagement in region. U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken 28 Feb held talks with FMs from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, amid U.S. efforts to deepen engagement in region; Blinken announced $25mn of new funding to support economic growth.
President finalised border delimitation agreement with Kyrgyz counterpart; prosecutors handed down lengthy prison term for Karakalpak activist.
Uzbek and Kyrgyz leaders completed border delimitation process. During two-day trip to Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, President Mirziyoev and Kyrgyz counterpart Sadyr Japarov 27 Jan signed over 20 documents aimed at strengthening bilateral relations. Most notably, leaders finalised border delimitation agreement, which Japarov hailed as “truly historic event”.
Court sentenced Karakalpak activists to between three and 16 years in prison. During trial of 22 people charged with instigating deadly violence in autonomous Karakalpakstan region in July 2022, prosecutors 11 Jan called for 20 defendants to receive sentences of between five and 18 years. Bukhara city regional court 31 Jan sentenced lawyer and journalist Dauletmurat Tajimuratov to 16 years in prison. Court sentenced 15 others to prison terms of between three and eight and a half years, released five and handed one a suspended prison sentence.
Authorities stressed that Russian proposal for “gas union” with Kazakhstan contains no “political conditions”.
Following Russian proposal late Nov to form “gas union” with Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, aimed at facilitating shipments between three countries, speculation grew around Moscow’s political objectives amid its ongoing war in Ukraine. Energy Minister Jorabek Mirzamahmudov 7 Dec sought to ease fears, saying any agreement to import gas is “a commercial, sales contract. We will never agree to political conditions in exchange for gas”. Russia’s govt 9 Dec emphasised that “there are no political conditions here” and that Russia’s only consideration in proposing union is “the commercial interests of the three countries”.
Authorities signed agreements with Kyrgyzstan on border delimitation; trial against Karakalpak activists began.
Uzbek and Kyrgyz authorities signed border delimitation deal. FM Vladimir Norov and Kyrgyz counterpart Jeenbek Kulubaev 2 Nov signed agreements on border delimitation in Kyrgyz capital Bishkek, including deal on joint management of Kempir-Abad water reservoir, vital water source that lies between Andijan region and Kyrgyzstan’s Osh region, and flashpoint for domestic Kyrgyz opposition (see Kyrgyzstan). Kyrgyz lawmakers 17 Nov ratified deal giving Uzbekistan ownership of reservoir in return for 19,000 hectares of land elsewhere along border; Uzbek Senate following day approved agreement. Both countries’ presidents must give final approval before deal is authorised.
Karakalpak activists arrested during July protests went on trial. Bukhara provincial court 28 Nov began hearings in trial of 22 people charged with inciting deadly July protests in autonomous Karakalpakstan region against proposed constitutional amendments. Meanwhile, ombudsman’s office 1 Nov announced release of 35 activists arrested during July protests; 516 people were arrested at time, of which 107 have been released.
Authorities neared deal with Kyrgyzstan on definitive border delimitation.
Following breakthrough deal in March 2021 with Kyrgyzstan to resolve longstanding border disputes, both sides drew closer to agreement on definitive delimitation of shared border. However, frustration mounted in Kyrgyzstan among border communities over govt’s decision to hand ownership of Kempir-Abad reservoir, vital water source that lies between Andijan region and Kyrgyzstan’s Osh region, to Uzbekistan in return for land (see Kyrgyzstan).
Amid Russia’s annexation of occupied territories in Ukraine, govt released statement on respecting “sovereignty” and “territorial integrity; Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit held.Authorities pledged respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity amid Russia’s annexation plans. In response to developments in Ukraine, notably Russia’s annexation of four occupied territories (see Ukraine), foreign ministry 30 Sept reiterated position that “Uzbekistan is invariably committed in the implementation of its foreign policy to national interests, fundamental principles, including openness, equality, respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states” and called for “resolving the current situation through political and diplomatic means in accordance with the norms of international law”.Govt hosted Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit. Uzbekistan 15-16 Sept hosted leaders from 13 countries for SCO summit in Samarkand city with “agenda to strengthen security, trade and innovative cooperation”. Attendees included SCO members China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia and Tajikistan; presidents of Belarus, Iran and Mongolia attended as observers, while those from Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Türkiye attended as invited partners. Türkiye’s participation in summit as only NATO member, along with President Erdoğan’s expressed interest 15 Sept in joining SCO, further strained ties between Ankara and western partners.
Calm prevailed in Karakalpakstan as President Mirziyoyev appointed new leader to head region following July’s deadly protests. Following deadly protests early July in autonomous Karakalpakstan region in response to govt’s proposed constitutional amendments, govt 1 Aug closed public consultation period on proposed amendments; commission said parliamentary committee will review feedback and amend accordingly before referendum on constitution is held. President Mirziyoyev 26 Aug appointed Amanbai Orynbaev to lead Karakalpakstan, accusing region’s previous leadership of “failure to find solutions to individual socio-economic problems”, which he said were “at root of the events of two months ago”; predecessor Murat Kamalov same day stepped down, citing health issues. Military participated in U.S.-sponsored military exercise, Regional Cooperation 22, 10-20 Aug in Tajikistan’s capital, Dushanbe, alongside U.S., Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Pakistan (see Tajikistan).
Protests erupted in autonomous Karakalpakstan region in response to govt’s proposed constitutional amendments, turning deadly as police clashed with demonstrators. Protests 1 July erupted in Karakalpakstan’s regional capital Nukus following President Mirziyoev’s proposed constitutional amendments that would have, among other things, ended region’s right to seek independence. Thousands took to streets in apparently peaceful demonstrations; however, violence quickly escalated as police clashed with protesters, prompting govt to suspend internet and phone services and 3 July to impose state of emergency, which was terminated 21 July. Mirziyoev 2 July visited Nukus and announced decision to reverse proposed amendments, ending protests. As of 26 July, internet services had not been restored. Prosecutor general 4 July said at least 18 were killed, over 200 injured and 516 more detained from 1-2 July. Human rights group Open Dialogue Foundation 20 July said 300 people remained behind bars and dozens were still missing. EU 4 July called for “open and independent investigation” and for govt to “guarantee human rights”; U.S. and UN 5 July echoed these statements, with U.S. calling for “peaceful resolution”. Mirziyoev 6 July said commission appointed to investigate unrest will include independent activists and other members of public. Authorities 5 July reported shelling near border with Afghanistan. Five missiles landed in city of Termez in Surxondaryo region, damaging buildings; no group claimed responsibility for attack. During international conference on Afghanistan hosted by Uzbekistan later in month, President Mirziyoev 26 July called on Taliban to “take decisive measures to prevent and counteract terrorism” and to “break off ties with all international terrorist organisations”. Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan 20-21 July hosted President Mirziyoyev along with leaders of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in Issyk-Kul Lake town of Cholpon-Ata to discuss economic and political cooperation in wake of Ukraine war, COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest and situation in Afghanistan. Summit marked first gathering of regional heads of state since Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 Feb (see Ukraine) and ended with pledge to increase cooperation. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, however, did not sign off on treaty committing countries to “friendship, good neighbourliness and cooperation”, citing domestic procedures.
President Mirziyoyev sought constitutional amendments that could allow him to seek third term. President Mirziyoyev 20 June proposed constitutional amendments that, among other things, could allow him to seek third term in office; current election laws stipulate two five-year term limits. Delegation from Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights 15 June released report that concluded presidential election held in Oct 2021 lacked competition and that significant procedural irregularities were observed. Kunz.uz media platform 1 June reported dramatic increase in price of bread, at times by up to 75%, in some stores in capital Tashkent and other regions since war in Ukraine (which has impacted global food supplies) began (see Ukraine).
Uzbek troops killed three people along Kyrgyz-Uzbek border, while senior official urged greater engagement with Taliban govt in Afghanistan. Kyrgyzstan 6 May said Uzbekistan’s troops opened fire previous day in western Jalal-Abad region near Ferghana Valley, injuring three alleged smugglers who later succumbed to wounds; Uzbekistan’s border service 6 May confirmed incident, said “border guards observed the smuggling of large quantities of goods” and were “forced to use weapons”. Acting FM Vladimir Vorov same day spoke on phone with Kyrgyz FM Jeenbek Kulubayev and stressed need to “avoid negative consequences in the border area” and “expand Kyrgyz-Uzbek cooperation”. In interview with U.S. broadcaster Voice of America published 4 May, Special Representative for Uzbek President on Afghanistan Ismatulla Irgashev called for greater engagement with Taliban, said new Afghan govt is “reality that must be accepted”, but insisted Uzbekistan will not formally recognise Taliban govt without international community. Meanwhile, U.S. ambassador to Uzbekistan spoke out against reports of police officers forcibly shaving young Muslim men, saying it violated individuals’ religious freedom. Ministry of defence 1 May denied report by Russia’s Sputnik news agency that it has violated Afghanistan’s airspace by flying drones over latter’s territory.
Islamic State (ISIS) claimed first cross-border attack from Afghanistan, clashes at Kyrgyz border left two dead, and wheat shortages raised concerns over food security in coming months. Amid uptick in activity in Afghanistan since Taliban takeover last year (see Afghanistan), Islamic State Khorasan (ISIS-K) 18 April said it fired ten rockets from Afghan town of Hairatan at military base located in Uzbek border town of Termez in first such assault of its kind; president’s spokesperson next day denied claims, claiming “situation is stable” and calling on citizens to disregard “provocations”. Kyrgyz Border Guard Service 5 April reported incident between Uzbek border guards and Kyrgyz nationals allegedly attempting to smuggle goods into Uzbek territory on horseback, which resulted in Uzbek guards fatally shooting two individuals. Kazakhstan, major global wheat supplier, 1 April imposed quotas on wheat exports from 15 April to 1 June due to supply disruptions following Russian invasion of Ukraine (see Ukraine); while quotas allow limited exports and Kazakhstan made public assurances it plans to continue regional supply, concerns mounted about potential impact on food security in coming months; Tashkent late March had announced plans to buy 100,000 tonnes of wheat from Kazakhstan between April and July to ensure domestic food security, with imports mainly from Kazakhstan making up about 35% of domestic wheat consumption. Meanwhile, govt 8 April delivered over 34 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Ukraine in further signal of support for country’s territorial integrity.
Western sanctions on Russia following invasion of Ukraine affected remittances, as govt sought to strike neutral approach. Central Bank chief 17 March reported remittances from Russia “shrank significantly” in first half of March, compared with same period of 2021; last year, majority of remittances were sent from Russia. FM Abdulaziz Komilov 17 March said: “We do not recognize the Luhansk and Donetsk republics” and called on Ukraine and Russia to resolve conflict “by diplomatic means”. Foreign Ministry 18 March hosted meeting on Ukraine attended by EU and member states, UK, Japan and U.S.; govt reportedly expressed desire for neutral approach and diplomatic resolution to conflict. President Mirziyoyev and Russian President Putin 21 March held telephone conversion to discuss bilateral cooperation as well as Ukraine crisis. NGO Cotton Campaign 10 March announced end to campaign to boycott Uzbek cotton and textiles, citing progress in ending forced labour during crop harvesting last year.
Authorities detained suspected members of proscribed group. Police in capital Tashkent 26 Jan announced detention of dozens of alleged members of Islamist group Katiba al-Tawhid wal-Jihad that authorities banned in 2016. Media reports 19 Jan revealed Uzbek and Russian security officers detained individual from Uzbekistan in Russia for attempting to join militants in Syria.
Authorities engaged with Taliban and faced renewed scrutiny over country’s human rights situation. In sign of tentative engagement with Taliban, govt 17 Dec announced it had sent technicians to Afghanistan to help repair airport in Mazar-e Sharif city. Six U.S. senators 6 Dec urged U.S. Biden administration to press Tashkent to embark on reforms related to human rights, noting “Uzbekistan remains among the world’s most repressive countries”. Following inaugural meeting of Strategic Partnership Dialogue, U.S. 13 Dec welcomed govt's political reform efforts, including on human rights. NGO Human Rights Watch 9 Dec urged authorities to release Muslim blogger Fozilxoja Orifxojaev, who is facing eight-year prison sentence for “threatening public security over a social-media post”.
President Mirziyoev was sworn in for second term, while govt participated in 17th EU-Central Asia summit. Mirziyoev 6 Nov began his second presidential term after taking oath of office following last month’s election. EU foreign policy chief 22 Nov met FMs of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in Tajik capital Dushanbe for 17th EU-Central Asia Ministerial meeting; parties same day issued joint communiqué that reaffirmed support for “strong, ambitious and forward-looking partnership”, noted “the importance of progressing on the rule of law, democracy, governance, gender equality and universal human rights”, and cited concerns over “regional repercussions of developments in Afghanistan”. Ahead of meeting, NGO Human Rights Watch 19 Nov said govt “harassed political opposition figures in the lead up to elections and targeted outspoken and critical bloggers”. State security service 23 Nov announced detention of suspected members of proscribed group Katiba al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in Tashkent region.
President Mirziyoyev won second presidential term, while senior Uzbek officials engaged with Taliban govt in Afghanistan. Central Election Commission chairman 25 Oct declared Mirziyoyev winner of election with 80.1% of vote; Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)-led monitoring mission same day said election was “not truly competitive”. Ahead of election on 24 Oct, NGO Human Rights Watch 13 Oct cited restrictions on media freedom and opposition candidates that “compromise the fairness and integrity of the first presidential elections since President Shavkat Mirziyoyev came to power in 2016”. Earlier, U.S. Deputy Sec State Wendy Sherman 4 Oct met with Mirziyoyev in capital Tashkent to discuss bilateral relations; Sherman “underscored the importance of the United States’ strategic partnership with Uzbekistan”. Turkmenistan President Berdymukhammedov 5 Oct met Mirziyoyev in Tashkent where pair “stressed during the talks that peace and stability in Afghanistan are the key to sustainable development in the entire Central Asian region”. FM Abdulaziz Kamilov 7 Oct visited Afghan capital Kabul to meet acting Deputy Head of Taliban govt Mulla Abdul Kabir and acting Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi; Kamilov said he “received from our Afghan brothers strong and clear assurances that Afghanistan will never impose any threat or danger on Uzbekistan".
President Mirzyoyev confirmed candidacy for Oct presidential election. Ahead of election on 24 Oct, Mirzyoyev 9 Sept accepted nomination by ruling Liberal Democratic Party to seek second five-year term in office. Govt mid-month reportedly began implementing deal reached with U.S. to transfer Afghan pilots and their families, who had fled Afghanistan in Aug, to U.S. military bases in Middle East; foreign ministry 13 Sept confirmed deportation of all Afghan nationals who had flown to Uzbekistan last month.
Amid concerns over regional security, country faced influx of Afghan military aircraft and forces following Taliban’s takeover of major Afghan cities. Presidents of five Central Asian states – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan – 6 Aug met in Turkmenbashi city, Turkmenistan, to discuss range of issues, including regional cooperation and “earliest possible settlement of the situation in neighboring Afghanistan”. Presidential envoy to Afghanistan Ismatulla Irgashev 11 Aug met senior Taliban leadership in Qatar alongside senior Russian and Turkmen officials to discuss bilateral relations, border issues, economic projects, as well as security situation. Following Taliban’s seizure of major Afghan cities including capital Kabul (see Afghanistan), reports mid-month surfaced that dozens of Afghan military aircraft and hundreds of soldiers crossed borders into Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan; notably, Uzbek defence ministry 16 Aug said air defence downed Afghan aircraft that had crossed into Uzbek airspace, later said collision with Uzbek fighter jet caused crash. Delegation to Tajik-Uzbek border demarcation commission 24-29 Aug held talks with Tajik counterparts. Meanwhile, ruling Liberal Democratic Party 7 Aug announced it will nominate President Mirziyoev as candidate for presidential election scheduled for 24 Oct.
Govt considered U.S. request to accept Afghan refugees following high-level meeting that reaffirmed shared interests. FM Abdulaziz Kamilov 1 July met U.S. Sec State Antony Blinken in U.S. capital Washington, after which Blinken said: “We have strong shared interests when it comes to security in the region, particularly with regard to Afghanistan”. Senior official 22 July said there existed no legal basis to agree to U.S. request to accept Afghan refugees who had cooperated with U.S., saying matter “cannot be decided immediately”.
Authorities made series of arrests of suspected extremists, and concerns rose over border security with Afghanistan. Authorities 15 June apprehended group allegedly planning terrorist attacks in Syria. Police next day detained 20 people in Mirzaobod and Yangier districts of eastern Sirdaryo region suspected of distributing “extremist materials” on social media, reportedly confiscating weapons and literature. Authorities 17 June detained six suspected members of proscribed Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir in Urgut district in south-eastern region of Samarkand. Meanwhile, authorities confirmed that 53 Afghan troops and allied militia fighters 23 June crossed border into Uzbekistan to flee stepped-up Taliban offensive (see Afghanistan); also said that after questioning, Afghan pro-govt forces were allowed back into their country. Authorities mid-June announced military drills along border. UN Special Envoy on Afghanistan Deborah Lyons 22 June warned about potential security repercussions of worsening Afghan conflict on “many other countries, near and far".
President Mirziyoyev pardoned prisoners affiliated to proscribed groups. Marking end of holy month of Ramadan, President Mirziyoyev 12 May released, pardoned or commuted sentences of over 100 inmates, including 52 people convicted for taking part in activities of banned groups. Ahead of Oct presidential election, opposition politician mid-May said justice ministry rejected his application to register Truth and Development Social Democrat Party, citing insufficient signatures.
Authorities implemented last month’s border agreement with Kyrgyzstan while seeking to improve economic ties with adjoining provinces in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Following last month’s deal with Kyrgyzstan to resolve longstanding border disputes, authorities 1 April held opening ceremony for road from Rishtan district of Fergana region to Sokh exclave inside Kyrgyzstan. Governor of eastern Ferghana province 23 April hosted governors of Tajikistan’s Sughd province and Kyrgyzstan’s Batken province for forum aimed at boosting economic and cultural ties between three adjoining regions that are located in Ferghana Valley. After new Criminal Code 31 March went into effect, which among other provisions introduced prison sentences for insulting president online, rights group Committee to Protect Journalists 28 April urged govt to repeal laws ahead of Oct presidential election.
Govt and Kyrgyzstan struck deal to resolve longstanding border disputes. Following state visit to Uzbekistan’s capital Tashkent, Kyrgyzstan’s President Japarov and President Mirziyoyev 12 March agreed to complete demarcation of sections of border within three months and improve access between Uzbekistan and its exclave of Sokh inside Kyrgyzstan; Japarov’s press secretary 13 March said “the Uzbek side expressed its readiness not to claim the Unkur-Too area” in Kyrgyzstan’s Osh region. Kyrgyz and Uzbek PMs 25 March approved deal that includes land swaps and opening multiple checkpoints to improve access in and out of Sokh exclave; head of Kyrgyz security services next day said “issues around the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border have been resolved 100 percent” and “there is not a single patch of disputed territory left”. Meanwhile, Ferghana regional court 18 March found 22 defendants guilty of involvement in mass unrest in Kyrgyzstan’s Sokh exclave in May 2020, which left scores injured; defendants sentenced to between two and five years’ imprisonment.
Govt brought forward 2021 presidential election while arrest of blogger prompted international criticism. President Mirziyoev 8 Feb signed into law bill, proposed by parliament in Jan, that rescheduled presidential, parliamentary and local elections, formerly held every five years on first Sunday of last ten days in December, to first Sunday of last ten days in October; move implies next polls now scheduled on 24 Oct 2021. NGO Human Rights Watch 12 Feb condemned 30 Jan arrest of video blogger Otabek Sattoriy, calling extortion case against him “dubious”, said Sattoriy’s coverage of sensitive issues put him in “local authorities’ crosshairs”; UK ambassador 5 Feb said if no credible evidence presented, Sattoriy’s case is “concerning” and “undermines media freedom”, while UN resident coordinator in Uzbekistan 10 Feb said in a tweet UN “welcomes the call for fair & impartial application of the law in respect to this case”.
Trial on deadly security incident at dam last year proceeded; video surfaced showing small-scale protest in Fergana region. Tashkent City Court 5 Jan resumed closed-door trial of May 2020 incident at Sardoba dam, which left six people dead and forced 70,000 people to flee their homes in eastern region of Sirdaryo; trial, which started 21 Dec, involved 17 defendants, including officials of state railway company and construction company, accused of negligence, abuse of office, violation of safety regulations and other offenses. NGO Human Rights Watch 7 Jan said authorities are “severely hindering the work of independent nongovernmental organizations” due to “excessive and burdensome registration requirements”, and called on govt to amend its legislation and allow independent groups to register. Video 13 Jan surfaced apparently showing dozens of people blocking road to protest power cuts in Altyaryk district in far-eastern Fergana region; protesters reportedly dispersed after state officials arrived and promised to resolve energy supply issues.
Regional court launched trial of people involved in violent unrest in Sokh exclave in May. Ferghana regional court in east 9 Nov started trial of 22 people on charges of blocking officials from carrying out security duties; defendants were involved in mass unrest in Sokh exclave within neighbouring Kyrgyzstan in May, where clashes between Sokh and Kyrgyz Kadamjai district residents over water dispute left several injured.
Construction workers stormed gas company offices in anger over unpaid salaries. Thousands of workers 21 Oct protested at Enter Engineering gas plant administrative offices in southern Qashqadaryo region over unpaid wages. In response, authorities reportedly deployed security forces, while prosecutor general’s press secretary said incident would be investigated; company 22 Oct said worker salaries had been paid. Two former political prisoners, Chuyan Mamatqulov and Elyor Tursunov, early Oct filed unprecedented lawsuit demanding govt compensation for “unjust convictions” and harm caused during detention in notorious Jaslyk prison in north west; prison was closed in 2019 following public outcry at abusive practices and reports of torture; Qashqadaryo regional court 9 Oct ruled govt should compensate Mamatqulov for illegal imprisonment.
Deputy PM died from COVID-19 complications. U.S. state dept 5 Sept expressed concern over fate of Uzbek journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev, extradited to capital Tashkent from Kyrgyzstan in Aug, calling on govt to “clarify the allegations against him as well as the next steps”. Swiss govt 11 Sept announced agreement with Uzbek authorities over return of $130m confiscated in 2012 from daughter of late Uzbek President Karimov, Gulnara Karimova, in connection with international corruption case; non-binding agreement states returned assets should be “used for the benefit of the people of Uzbekistan”; 13 Uzbek rights activists 16 Sept released joint letter urging Swiss, U.S. and Uzbek govts to ensure confiscated assets will not be misused. Lawmakers 15 Sept approved draft legislation to improve religious freedom, including provision to allow wearing of religious clothing in govt offices and education institutions. Deputy PM Uktam Barnoev 20 Sept died from COVID-19 complications in hospital in Germany, two months after testing positive for virus.
Protesters rallied in capital Tashkent against govt plan to amend district boundaries. After govt 5 Aug announced plans to merge parts of Tashkent with surrounding region, hundreds of Tashkent residents 6 Aug protested against potential loss of status as capital residents and associated education, employment and housing privileges; authorities 11 Aug confirmed cancellation of redistricting plans. Govt early Aug approved development plan for Sokh exclave in Ferghana Valley, including resumption of flights to enclave for first time since 1990s. General Prosecutor’s Office 12 Aug confirmed it had called on Kyrgyz authorities to detain Uzbek journalist Bobomurod Abdullaev; Kyrgyz govt 22 Aug extradited Abdullaev to Tashkent citing assurances by Uzbek authorities; upon arrival, Abdullaev was released but barred from movement inside country pending investigation for unknown charges. Law enforcement in Tashkent 17 Aug announced Kazakh authorities handed over Uzbek opposition activist Khurram Berdiev, arrested in Kazakhstan in Feb (see Kazakhstan), and that Berdiev had been charged with human trafficking. Interior ministry 10 Aug published draft legislation to allow right to hold public demonstrations; organisers will have to apply for permission two weeks prior and must comply with specific restrictions. President Mirziyoyev 27 Aug pardoned and released 113 convicts mostly sentenced on charges of religious extremism, including former Tashkent imam Rukhiddin Fahruddinov detained for past 15 years.
Amid economic strain, govt reimposed lockdown to contain COVID-19 outbreak. In response to spike in COVID-19 cases following 15 June lifting of lockdown, govt 10 July rolled out three-week lockdown and 26 July extended it until 15 Aug. President Mirziyoyev mid-July reprimanded senior officials over mismanagement of public health crisis: 15 July expressed dissatisfaction with officials in Tashkent region and city where authorities registered majority of lethal coronavirus cases; next day criticised health minister Alisher Shodmonov. Group of medical personnel in open letter 20 July criticised Mirziyoyev for “failure” to ensure adequate pay and protective equipment in hospitals. Mirziyoyev 27 July met Tashkent officials to discuss fight against coronavirus; promised more support from govt while urging officials to improve working conditions for medical personnel. Meanwhile, UN report 6 July reported 18% decrease in exports in first quarter and found 1.3% of population had sunk into poverty as result of coronavirus outbreak.
Uzbek and Kyrgyz govts stepped up diplomatic efforts to resolve heightened tensions at border. After clashes near Sokh exclave in Kyrgyzstan’s Batken region late May reportedly injured 187 local Uzbek residents and 25 Kyrgyz nationals, PM Aripov and Kyrgyz Deputy PM Boronov 1 June met at border checkpoint to resolve tensions; President Mirziyoyev same day engaged in telephone talks with Kyrgyz counterpart and 5 June visited area affected by violence.
Authorities 3 May launched criminal probe into “official negligence” and potential violations of construction rules following 1 May collapse of Sardoba Reservoir dam completed in 2017 in eastern region Sirdayo, which led to evacuation of at least 70,000 people, hospitalisation of 56 and four deaths. Deputy governor of Kazakhstan’s Turkistan region 2 May criticised Uzbek govt for withholding information on resulting flooding that spilled over into Turkistan and forced thousands of Kazakh citizens to evacuate; President Mirziyoyev apologised to his Kazakh counterpart and reportedly sent personnel and equipment to help repair damage. Interior ministry 3 May announced investigation into temporary police detention of two journalists reporting on aftermath of dam collapse. Clashes over water dispute 31 May erupted between Kyrgyz and Uzbek villagers in Uzbekistan's Sokh exclave in Kyrgyzstan's Batken region. Interior ministry 28 May announced security forces detained suspected members of proscribed Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir in Ferghana Valley. On fifteen-year anniversary of Andijon massacre, human rights groups 13 May urged govt to investigate killing of demonstrators by security forces.
UN Human Rights Committee report findings published 2 April expressed concern over reports of civil and political rights violations, including prison officials and law enforcement torture and abuse of detainees, and detention of journalists and activists on politically-motivated charges; first review of country’s human rights record since President Mirziyoyev took office in 2016. Mirziyoyev in public address 3 April said his govt’s heavy-handed approach in response to COVID-19 was necessary to prevent its rapid spread; law enforcement registered 2,200 rule violations by early April. Labour Minister 15 April asked global human rights coalition Cotton Campaign to end campaign for international boycott of Uzbek cotton and textiles in place since 2006, citing country’s progress in eliminating forced labour and “unprecedented dual threat” on public health and economy due to COVID-19; Cotton Campaign 16 April however rejected request saying it was too early to lift boycott.
President Mirziyoyev 6 March signed decree abolishing state quota system for cotton production, long linked to labour abuses; Mirziyoyev also signed decrees loosening Soviet-era restrictions on internal migration and purchasing property in capital. Govt 9 March registered Uzbek NGO advocating for rights of prison inmates and U.S. humanitarian NGO Mercy Corps. Govt 7 March said it would take up observer role in Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union prior to deciding on possible membership. Supreme Court 18 March sentenced Gulnara Karimova, jailed daughter of former President Karimov, to additional thirteen years in prison for corruption and financial crimes. To limit spread of COVID-19, govt 23 March closed borders, and next day locked down capital Tashkent.
U.S. Sec State Pompeo 3 Feb met President Mirziyoyev and FM Abdulaziz Kamilov in capital Tashkent; Pompeo praised Uzbekistan’s “progress” on human rights issues. Pompeo and all five Central Asian FMs met in Tashkent same day, where they discussed Central Asian contributions to peace process in Afghanistan, border security, and regional efforts to improve economic and energy connectivity. Deputy Prosecutor-General Svetlana Artykova in 7 Feb interview with Uzbek news agency admitted govt made “mistakes” in 2005 Andijon killings that killed hundreds of civilians; reportedly first such admission by govt official, with Artykova citing “new style of politics” as reason for remarks now. Clashes erupted between police and residents of village in south 14 Feb over planned demolition of homes; three people injured, including two police. Interior Ministry 19 Feb announced detention of 21 suspected supporters of banned Islamist militant group Katiba al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, which operates in Syria. Govt 20 Feb announced plan that will force Facebook, Google and Russian search engine Yandex to store personal data of Uzbek users within territory of Uzbekistan; critics view law as attempt to impose greater control over Internet users. Supreme Court 25 Feb jailed two former high-level officials on corruption charges, including former Prosecutor-General and former chief of State Security Service.
President Mirziyoyev’s Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan (UzLiDeP) gained one seat in parliamentary elections 5 Jan, giving it 53 out of 150 seats. Election saw twice as many female MPs elected compared to last election in 2014 (48). Mirziyoyev 24 Jan pledged social reforms in state-of-nation address, including granting citizenship to some 50,000 long-time residents, relaxing rules restricting free movement for people from rural areas, and increase to social allowances. Trial of Gulnara Karimova, jailed daughter of former President Karimov, accused of illegally buying and selling state-owned shares, started 8 Jan. Local media early Jan reported Uzbekistan had completed demining activities along border with Tajikistan, meeting end-2019 deadline agreed between countries in 2018. Nafosat Olloshukurova, blogger who reported on alleged corruption and abuse by officials, fled country 20 Jan.
President Mirziyoyev’s Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan won most seats in 22 Dec parliamentary elections, first since Mirziyoyev took power in 2016; Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe noted that despite much improved legislation and “greater tolerance of independent voices”, still “numerous, serious irregularities” in electoral process. Ahead of election, report emerged that Justice Ministry had drafted legislation to increase penalties for people using Internet to organise unsanctioned demonstrations. Severe energy shortages sparked rare small protests in parts of country early Dec.
Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan exchanged land comprising several square km in Ferghana Valley mid-Sept. Military court 27 Sept sentenced Ikhtiyor Abdullayev, who held posts including adviser to late President Karimov, General Prosecutor and head of security services until Feb 2019, to eighteen years’ prison on charges including bribery and extortion, and forming a criminal enterprise; several other former officials also sentenced to prison terms.
Head of Information and Mass Communication Agency 10 May reported govt had restored local access to a dozen major news and human rights websites which had been blocked for years. During three-day visit late May, German President Steinmeier met President Mirziyoyev, discussed enhancing bilateral cooperation.
U.S. charged Gulnara Karimova, daughter of late President Karimov, with conspiracy to violate U.S. foreign corruption laws over her alleged involvement in major international bribery scheme; came after Uzbek court ordered Karimova be transferred to prison for breaking terms of her five-year house arrest on corruption charges. Govt 25 March signed $10bn worth of cooperation agreements with United Arab Emirates on areas including investment, industry and infrastructure development and others.
President Mirziyoyev 11 Feb announced State Security Chief Ikhtiyor Abdullayev had resigned for health reasons; media reported that authorities 8 Feb had opened criminal investigation into Abdullayev over bribery and abuse-of-office allegations.
During visit in Germany, President Mirziyoyev 21 Jan expressed hopes for closer ties and increased German investment in Uzbekistan. Human Rights Watch annual report 17 Jan noted improvements in Uzbekistan human rights situation in 2018, including govt’s release of some political prisoners, relaxing some restrictions on freedom of expression and increasing govt accountability; urged Central Asian leaders seeking international investment to improve human rights.