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Activists Say Uzbekistan Controlling Civil Society With 'GoNGOs'

Rights activists say the Uzbek government is using government-operated NGOs (GoNGOs) to control civil society in the country, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

Suhrob Ismoilov of Rapid Response Group, one of just a few independent NGOs still left in Uzbekistan, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service that the creation of the GoNGOs in recent years has "resulted in civil society's deep lethargy."

He added that since the violent repression of the protests in the eastern Uzbek town of Andijon in 2005, the government has closed down or kicked out all international NGOs from the country and forced local public organizations to become part of a government-funded association of NGOs.

Any organizations that refused to join were shut down.

Lyudmila Alekseyeva, a prominent rights activist and chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group, told RFE/RL that Uzbekistan's crackdown on civil society is similar to that which occurred in Russia this decade. But she says civil society still has a certain quality in Russia, while in Uzbekistan the strong civil society that began forming in the late 1980s during perestroika is in a much worse state.

Alekseyeva argues that unless real civil liberties are ensured, people will be oppressed and will become slaves to the state instead of citizens.

A former NGO specialist with an international organization that worked in Uzbekistan before the Andijon events and asked to remain anonymous told RFE/RL that the "quasi-NGOs" could actually be useful in keeping civil society alive.

The latest GoNGO initiated by the Uzbek government is Kongil Nuri (Rays of the Soul), which was recently established in the western Karakalpakstan region and was the initiative of the Karakalpakstan Women's Committee, a government agency.

The newest GoNGO will reportedly focus on providing socio-legal support to women.