Uzbekistan’s rocky start toward democratic reform

By: Nick Mosher and Lane Johansen

On October 14, 2020, Uzbekistan was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) for the first time ever. The country became one of the worst perpetrators of human rights abuses in the world under Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan’s only previous president, who held power from 1990 until his death in September 2016. Human Rights Watch documented years of brutal torture under the Karimov regime, including beatings, rape, asphyxiation, and even boiling dissidents alive.  

Six days after Karimov’s death, Shavkat Mirziyoyev – who served as Prime Minister for the previous thirteen years – was elected president. Since then, Mirziyoyev has enacted important changes such as closing an infamous prison camp and largely ending forced labor. These promising reforms resulted in The Economist choosing Uzbekistan as the “country of the year” in 2019. On February 22, 2021, President Mirziyoyev delivered an optimistic speech at the 46th Session of the UNHCR, declaring that the country’s “democratic reforms have become irreversible and are aimed at establishing a new Uzbekistan.” 

Unfortunately, Mirziyoyev’s regime has already fallen short of its newly proclaimed ideals. Human Rights Watch has continued to document politically-motivated arrests and forced labor in the country after Mirziyoyev assumed power. Most recently, state security forces arrested opposition politician Khidirnazar Allakulov on February 26 on the charge of publishing information on a local resident without permission. Allakulov, leader of the unregistered Truth and Progress Party, was planning a party congress at a wedding hall in Tashkent. The event was widely advertised on social media, but the building was suspiciously shut down for renovations before the event could take place.  

All unregistered parties are illegal in Uzbekistan, and the formation of opposition groups has been a constant struggle. There are currently only five official political parties in the country, in large part due to strict requirements for registration and frequent arrests of opposition leaders. While there are high hopes for change in the nature of governance in Uzbekistan, continued acts of oppression such as Allakulov’s recent arrest will severely limit the country’s ability to move forward. 

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