A U.S.-based rights watchdog says that the international community should “acknowledge positive changes” in Uzbekistan since President Shavkat Mirziyoev took power almost year ago while continuing to encourage “full-scale scale reform” in the Central Asian nation.
The Washington-based monitor Freedom House said in a report released on August 28 that Mirziyoev has taken some steps to open up the nation of some 30 million since he came to power after the death of autocratic longtime President Islam Karimov was announced in September 2016.
But it said that some of these initiatives -- including allowing media reports critical of Karimov’s legacy -- may be largely aimed at securing Mirziyoev’s hold on power rather than indicative of a broad reform agenda.
“By increasing the transparency of some government operations and slightly cutting back on corruption that has traditionally enriched law enforcement, [Mirziyoev] may be looking to weaken the entrenched elites and transfer wealth to his support base -- a more dynamic, pro-trade, pro-business elite,” the report says.
The report was authored by Bakhtiyor Nishanov, the deputy director for Eurasia at the Washington-based International Republican Institute.
Mirziyoev was installed as interim president after Karimov’s death was announced on September 2, 2016. He was then elected in a tightly controlled December 4 vote.
Among the “positive” changes during Mirziyoev’s year in power is an opening of the “media space,” a “significant” improvement in ties with Uzbekistan’s neighbors, and a move to abolish exit visas that prevent citizens from traveling abroad without permission from the state, the Freedom House report says.
It adds that “observers have also noted a slight opening for civic activism” and “a greater opening for religious freedom in Uzbekistan."
“Seemingly, then, there is a thaw in Uzbekistan. But the question is whether this is simply a thaw with no sign of a spring bloom or -- even worse -- only a brief respite before the coming re-freeze,” it states.
The report also suggests Mirziyoev could face security challenges if his incremental policy changes raise expectations of greater freedoms that authorities fail to deliver.
“The international community should acknowledge positive changes in the country but continue nudging the government toward a full-scale reform to ensure a prosperous, secure, and pluralistic Uzbekistan,” it stated.
Other monitors have noted a positive trajectory in the area of human rights in Uzbekistan under Mirziyoev, but they say more needs to be done.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said earlier this month that five political prisoners have been released under Mirziyoev.
"The Uzbek government should also immediately and unconditionally release the other peaceful activists and human rights defenders who remain in prison following politically motivated and unfair trials," HRW said in an August 14 statement.