Democratic U.S. Senator Ben Cardin has expressed concern about the "the erosion of the democratic process and respect for human rights" across Central Asia in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.
Kerry is set to visit Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, beginning on October 31.
In his letter, Cardin, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged Kerry to "raise the issue of political prisoners and to emphasize our strong commitment to universally recognized democratic principles" during his tour of the region.
Earlier, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Kerry to publicly express concern over the Central Asian governments' "poor human rights records," and the Committee to Protect Journalists asked the top U.S. diplomat to publicly call on government officials in the five countries to release all journalists imprisoned in relation to their work.
In an October 30 statement, HRW called on Kerry to "press for concrete improvements" in meetings with the Central Asian officials.
The New York-based group said he should "make clear that a critical part of strengthening bilateral ties will be the release of people wrongfully imprisoned, allowing human rights groups and journalists to do their work unhindered, ending impunity for torture, and upholding other key human rights commitments."