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HRW Warns Of Uzbek 'Rights Setbacks' That Expose Reform Failures Ahead Of Election

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev visits a mausoleum in the city of Bukhara on October 12.
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev visits a mausoleum in the city of Bukhara on October 12.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has warned of "recent rights setbacks" and exclusions of potential challengers ahead of a presidential election this month in Uzbekistan.

The rights group said in a statement on October 13 that the restrictions "expose the limits" of claims of reforms under President Shavkat Mirziyoev, who faces virtually certain reelection on October 24 after a dominant campaign on state-run media in the tightly controlled post-Soviet republic.

“Uzbekistan has garnered significant international attention for pursuing a reform agenda, but recent human rights setbacks in the country, and the lack of any opposition or independent candidates in these elections, expose the limits of those claims,” HRW quoted Hugh Williamson, its Europe and Central Asia director, as saying.

"Uzbekistan could have shown its genuine commitment to meaningful reforms by allowing presidential candidates who don’t share the government’s views to participate in upcoming elections -- but it did not."

Mirziyoev took over under questionable circumstances after the sudden death in 2016 of the country's first post-independence president, Islam Karimov, and was elected months later with nearly 87 percent of the vote.

His early moves included pledges of reform in the country, which keeps a firm grip on media and dissent and whose elections have never been deemed fair and democratic by Western observers.

As in past Uzbek elections, many of the existing leadership's most serious critics have been excluded from the presidential vote.

HRW complained that the Uzbek requirement that candidates may only be nominated by registered parties allows officials to "deny broader political participation in this important vote."

It cited the rejection of aspiring candidacies from the opposition Erk Democratic Party, independent Uzbekistan's oldest registered party, and the Truth and Development party.

Erk's would-be candidate, singer Jahongir Otajonov, quit politics after a rowdy mob attacked a political meeting.

Both parties' supporters and other critics of Mirziyoev's administration complain of routine harassment and persecution.

Five largely uncritical candidates are running from among parliamentary parties: Bahrom Abduhalimov of Adolat (Justice), Alisher Qodirov of Milliy Tiklanish (National Revival), Narzullo Oblomurodov of the Ecological Party, and the only woman candidate, Maksuda Varisova of the People’s Democratic Party.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)'s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) warned recently that Uzbekistan has failed to correct many of its long-standing recommendations to make the voting more democratic.

In May, OSCE/ODIHR called for reforms including "the implementation of a revised legal framework, the work of election commissions at all levels, including the on-going efforts of the authorities to prevent proxy voting and the conduct of election day procedures, the voter and candidate registration, the conduct of the election campaign, its media coverage and election dispute resolution."

Earlier this month, visiting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman met with Mirziyoev to underscore Washington's strategic partnership with Tashkent while calling for “continued progress on economic, democratic, and human rights reforms” in Uzbekistan.

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