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Uzbek Justice Ministry Registers Prisoners' Rights Group, U.S.-Based NGO

Former Uzbek political prisoner and activist Azam Farmonov said that that his prisoners' rights NGO had been officially registered after nine attempts. (file photo)

TASHKENT -- Uzbekistan’s Justice Ministry has registered a group protecting inmates' rights and a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization that focuses on poverty relief.

Former political prisoner and human rights activist Azam Farmonov told RFE/RL on March 12 that his NGO, Huquqiy Tayanch (Legal Base), was officially registered at the ministry three days earlier after eight unsuccessful previous attempts.

"Frankly speaking, I did not expect it would happen. I was very surprised. It took us more than two years to get registered," Farmonov said, adding that his organization will focus on defending the rights of inmates in the Central Asian nation's penitentiaries.

According to him, nine people are founders of the group and some 100 individuals are active members.

Meanwhile, Uzbekistan's Justice Ministry said in a statement on March 10 that it had also registered a U.S.-based group, Mercy Corps, that helps local communities tackle poverty, the consequences of conflicts and the impacts of climate change in more than 40 countries.

Mercy Corps began operating in Uzbekistan in 1995 but was shut down in 2006 under a wave of pressure imposed on international organizations by the government of late authoritarian President Islam Karimov, following bloodshed in the country's eastern city of Andijon on May 13, 2005.

In Andijon, security forces shot dead scores -- hundreds, by some accounts -- of anti-government protesters and then tried to cover up the massacre.

Uzbekistan's current president, Shavkat Mirziyoev, took power after Karimov's death was announced in September 2016. Karimov had ruled Uzbekistan with an iron fist since before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Mirziyoev has taken steps to implement reforms in Uzbekistan -- where rights abuses had been widespread under Karimov.