Security forces used unlawful force to suppress predominantly peaceful protests in the Republic of Karakalpakstan and 22 alleged organizers of the protests faced an unfair trial on politically motivated charges. Legislative reforms encouraged greater participation by civil society in public policy discussions, although the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly remained tightly controlled. Discriminatory gender stereotypes impeded access to protection against violence and justice for women, girls and LGBTI people. Consensual sexual relations between men remained criminalized.
Constitutional amendments proposed in June included one which would strip Karakalpakstan of its autonomy within Uzbekistan. This provoked unprecedented mass public protests throughout Karakalpakstan, culminating in tens of thousands of people peacefully gathering in the centre of the region’s capital, Nukus, on 1 July. At least 21 people were killed, including four law enforcement officers, and hundreds injured when security forces dispersed the protesters. The amendment was subsequently withdrawn. The trial of 22 alleged organizers of the protests on politically motivated charges began in the city of Bukhara, outside Karakalpakstan, on 28 November.
Excessive use of force
Research published by Human Rights Watch in November supported claims by activists and human rights defenders that security forces had used excessive force and “unjustifiably lethal force” to disperse overwhelmingly peaceful protesters in Nukus and other localities in Karakalpakstan. Their evidence pointed to “the use of small arms and various types of grenades, weapons that can cause severe injuries and death when used recklessly”. Video footage verified by independent experts showed protesters with severe injuries, such as skin lacerations and gaping flesh wounds, consistent with trauma caused by explosives including grenades. Hundreds of protesters were also arbitrarily detained and scores were held incommunicado and faced torture and other ill-treatment.
Following an information request by a parliamentary committee of investigation established in July, the Prosecutor General confirmed in December that a separate investigation had been opened into the reports of excessive use of force.
Freedom of expression
Legislative reforms provided for enhanced public consultations on legislative, political and social reform and greater engagement between government and civil society organizations. Restrictions on the right to freedom of expression remained, however, with a draft Information Code proposing to regulate information which is “insulting” or “disrespecting society and the state”. Critical voices, typically bloggers, continued to face prosecution, fines and imprisonment. Media outlets continued to exercise self-censorship.
In the wake of the mass protests in Karakalpakstan, the authorities effectively controlled access to information and targeted Karakalpak bloggers and journalists who had criticized the constitutional amendments on their media platforms or participated in the protests.
Lolagul Kallykhanova, an independent Karakalpak journalist, was detained in the capital, Tashkent, in July and held incommunicado until the start of the group trial of the alleged protest organizers in Bukhara in November. Supporters claimed that she had been tortured to confess to a charge of planning the violent overthrow of the constitutional order.
The authorities accused Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov, a lawyer and former newspaper editor, of being the leader of a Karakalpak “separatist group” and of having organized the protests in collusion with foreign based “agents” in order to seize power. Video footage recorded in Nukus on 1 July showed him urging the crowds not to resort to violence. He was detained on 2 July and held incommunicado in pretrial detention in the north-western region of Khorezm. He told the court that he had been tortured in detention.
Freedom of association
In November a coalition of NGOs and civil society activists called on the government to repeal a decree forcing NGOs to have government appointed “national partners” to coordinate projects and implement foreign grants. NGOs expressed concern that the decree, introduced in June without prior public consultation, imposed additional and excessive bureaucratic requirements to the already burdensome foreign grant approval process.
Gender stereotypes and an emphasis on discriminatory traditional family values and cultural norms continued to significantly hinder progress in the realization of the rights of women, girls and LGBTI people.
In August, the Ministry of Internal Affairs proposed a new law that would give police the authority to conduct mandatory testing, for sexually transmitted infections, of sex workers, men who have sex with men and people who use drugs, all of whom were labelled “dangerous groups of people”.
On 11 November, a court in Tashkent imposed five days’ administrative detention on blogger Sevinch Sadullayeva after she posted videos and photos that allegedly showed her flouting social and cultural norms of behaviour and dress for women. She was released a day early after promising to delete all the material.
The authorities admitted that violence against women, including domestic violence, remained pervasive, but insisted that improving women’s access to justice and protection services were policy priorities.
A presidential decree on accelerating “systemic support of family and women”, which purported to provide for the “protection of rights and legitimate interests of women”, instead prioritized family mediation and reconciliation over prosecution in cases of gender-based violence. This was despite a recommendation to the contrary by the CEDAW Committee in March.1
In March the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) recommended that the authorities accelerate adoption of the draft Bill on Domestic Violence, but no progress had been made by December.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported that, as of October, it had issued protection orders to 32,783 women and girls subjected to violence. Women’s rights activists noted that this represented a fraction of the actual number of incidents as shame and the fear of retaliation stopped many women from reporting abuse.
LGBTI people’s rights
Some 30 men remained imprisoned for consensual sexual relations between men. The CESCR urged the authorities to decriminalize such relations and remained deeply concerned at “the prevalence of intimidation, harassment, violence and stigma against LGBTI people”. In December the authorities proposed a ban on the promotion of “unnatural same-sex relations”.
Failure to tackle climate crisis
The dramatic shrinking of the Aral Sea continued to have severe environmental, social, economic and health consequences for millions of people. The authorities sought to mitigate the effects of climate change by large scale environmental projects, but conditioned climate action on economic growth. In March the CESCR noted that Uzbekistan had taken “insufficient adaptation measures… to address the impact of climate change on the population.” Activists remained concerned at a lack of meaningful consultation with stakeholders most impacted by climate change.