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Rights Group Says Dictators Cracking Down, In Fear Of 'Arab Spring' Redux


Kazakh police try to pacify protesters in Almaty who were rallying against measures taken by the authorities to suppress demonstrations in the oil town of Zhanaozen. At least 16 people were killed in violent clashes between police and demonstrators.
The U.S.-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) says fears that pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab world might spread to Central Asia fueled a crackdown on dissent in that region last year.

Such concerns also spread to other nearby regions.

Kazakhstan, under President Nursultan Nazarbaev, "failed to carry out long-promised human rights" reforms and "its rights record suffered further setbacks," according to the "2012 World Report."

Kyrgyzstan, it says, continued to grapple with the effects of ethnic violence in June 2010, and while the climate for media freedom generally improved, the report noted that authorities moved to limit freedom of expression.

The new HRW report, which focuses largely on the Arab Spring, also says Azerbaijan's human rights record has "deteriorated" in the past year.

At a United Nations press conference to mark the release of the report, the group's UN advocacy director, Philippe Bolopion, said opposition demonstrations in Azerbaijan -- which just became a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council -- were met last year with increasingly harsh measures by the government of President Ilham Aliyev.

"For example, Azerbaijan is now in the Security Council, and it's one of these countries, I think, where the government has felt very threatened by the Arab Spring -- as have many other authoritarian governments around the word," Bolopion said. "But in Azerbaijan, when people started taking their anger to the street, the crackdown was quite swift and, at times, brutal."

Uzbekistan 'Appalling'

The human rights situation "remains poor" in Tajikistan, according to the group, which noted that new laws on the restriction of religious expression and education were introduced in 2011.

It calls Turkmenistan, under President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, one of the world's most repressive countries, where human rights defenders "face constant threat of government reprisal."

In Uzbekistan, the report says the human rights situation "remains appalling."

The Uzbek government, led by President Islam Karimov, responded to pro-democracy Arab Spring-style demonstrations by increasing the presence of security police across the country and tightening control over the Internet, the group says.

Bolopion said the pattern was the same with many authoritarian countries around the world, where regimes have reacted to the Arab Spring by revoking citizens' rights.

"There is no doubt many countries have looked at what is happening in the region and have not always taken the right lessons from it," Bolopion said. "Meaning that they think that cracking down is the best way to quell dissent, even though it's not worked for many governments in the Middle East."

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