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Human Rights Developments

The government of President Islam Karimov continued its unrelenting campaign against pious Muslims who practiced their religion outside state controls. State authorities punished independent Muslims with discriminatory arrest, incommunicado detention, torture, and prison sentences of up to twenty years for violations of strict laws on religion and alleged "anti-constitutional activity." Police regularly threatened and harassed relatives of independent Muslims. Sham parliamentary and presidential elections deprived citizens of their right to political participation. When conflict broke out between armed insurgents opposed to the Karimov regime and the governments of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, civilians were displaced by the fighting, kidnapped by the armed opposition forces, and killed by landmines placed by Uzbek troops. Authorities continued to impose obstacles to abused women's attempts to obtain justice for domestic abuse and were allegedly complicit in trafficking women and girls. The government retained tight control over the media.

The government branded those with dissenting views "enemies of the state" and added hundreds of Muslims to the thousands already imprisoned for their religious beliefs. Members of the Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) were arrested for unregistered religious activity, a crime in Uzbekistan, and possession or distribution of literature not approved by the state. The government expanded its fierce campaign against independent Muslims in 2000 by detaining, arresting, and torturing relatives of pious Muslims. Police regularly harassed and threatened relatives of men convicted of religious offenses, while arresting the relatives of men being sought, and threatening to hold them until the suspects turned themselves in or were captured. Police arrested twenty-three-year-old Nilufar Hokimova and twenty-one-year-old Nafisa Aboskhodjaeva, who were sentenced to six years in prison for "Wahabism" and alleged anti-state activity when they attempted to leave the country following the arrest, torture, and conviction of their husbands. Authorities compelled female relatives to sign documents attesting that they did not attend any illegal gatherings and placed many under a form of house arrest during holidays and elections. Police and local authorities also organized "hate rallies" reminiscent of the Stalin era, in which hundreds of neighbors and officials gathered to denounce publicly relatives of pious Muslims as traitors and "enemies of the state" and to demand a vow of contrition. Among those subjected to this treatment were relatives of the well-known independent Imam Obidhon Qori Nazarov, who was believed to have gone into hiding in March 1998.

Dozens of people accused of being followers of Imam Nazarov were arrested, adding to the hundreds of former attendees of his Tashkent mosque already in prison on fabricated charges.

Two former imams of official government mosques who had been linked to Nazarov, who were arrested earlier and released in 1999, were rearrested in 2000. Imam Abdurahim Abdurahmonov, a former student of Imam Nazarov who suffered from permanent injuries from torture in custody in 1998, was released under a 1998 presidential amnesty and then rearrested on charges of narcotics possession in 1999. Authorities released him in September 1999, following a successful appeal. In 2000, he was again arrested and, in a grossly unfair trial, sentenced to seventeen years in prison on charges of "association with terrorists." Fellow religious leader Imam Abduwahid Yuldashev, who was conditionally released in 1999 after police torture, was rearrested on July 24, 2000. As of October 2000, he was still being held incommunicado in a basement cell in Tashkent and, like many others this year, had been denied legal representation. A lawyer who saw him in detention reported that police beat him with a truncheon in his presence to force him to turn down the lawyer's services. Investigators were reportedly preparing to charge Imam Nazarov's former deputy with "Wahabism" and "spreading jihad ideas."

The police practice of planting narcotics and a small number of bullets on observant Muslim detainees was replaced in part by a new pattern in which police planted banned religious leaflets on independent Muslims, charging them with opposing the constitution and participating in unregistered religious activities. Some detainees were sent to prison for up to twenty years on such charges. Members of Hizb ut-Tahrir claimed some 4,000 of their co-religionists had been arrested since late 1998, the majority in 1999. Human Rights Watch and other rights groups documented the conviction of several hundred members of the group in 2000 for engaging in unsanctioned meetings, teaching religion and praying in private, and possession and distribution of literature not cleared by state censors.

Citizens of Uzbekistan were once again denied their right to endeavor to participate in the political system and to change their government peacefully. Parliamentary elections held in December 1999 and presidential elections in January 2000 were neither free nor fair. No genuine opposition political parties were registered, there was no opportunity to air views via the mass media, and no possibility to exercise freedom of assembly or association. An Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe/Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR) mission sent to Uzbekistan to assess the pre-election environment in the run up to the parliamentary race declared that conditions "fell short of the OSCE commitments for democratic elections," citing inadequate laws and regulations, direct government interference in the election process, and the absence of fundamental freedoms as among the obstacles. Agence France-Presse reported that President Karimov said after the vote, "The OSCE focuses only on establishment of democracy, the protection of human rights and the freedom of the press. I am now questioning these values."

In January 2000, Soviet-style presidential elections made a mockery of the democratic system. President Karimov claimed support from 91.9 percent of the electorate, which included a vote from his nominal opponent in the race. The U.S. government declared the election "neither free nor fair" and said it "offered Uzbekistan's voters no true choice." The OSCE abstained from sending observers because of the lack of competition.

A violent challenge to Karimov's rule came in early August 2000 when pitched battles erupted between armed insurgents and government troops in southeastern Uzbekistan and neighboring Kyrgyzstan. Tohir Yuldash, political leader of the so-called Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), claimed responsibility for the attacks. The IMU demanded that the Uzbek government release what the group claimed were an estimated 100,000 wrongfully jailed Muslim prisoners and allow for the observance of Islamic law precepts, including permission for Muslim women to wear the veil.

There were credible allegations of violations of humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict. IMU militants were accused of taking foreign civilians hostage, including at least one German citizen later released and four United States citizens who escaped after six days of captivity. Armed insurgents allegedly killed at least one Kyrgyz soldier whom they took prisoner. Other Kyrgyz and Uzbek soldiers were also captured by the militants, but no reliable information was available regarding the conditions of their confinement.

Fighting continued in southeastern Uzbekistan and sporadically in areas closer to the capital until mid-September. Uzbek authorities brought in heavy artillery and initiated a campaign of aerial bombardments from helicopters. Authorities insisted that the target areas had been cleared of civilians, who were evacuated to nearby towns away from the battle zone. However, there were reports of civilians fleeing fighting in the southeastern region of Surkhandarya and concerns regarding the indiscriminate nature of the aerial bombardments. Hundreds of mountain residents were displaced by the conflict in southeastern Uzbekistan and thousands fled the fighting in Kyrgyzstan.

Landmines allegedly laid by Uzbek troops posed a danger to mountain residents. In at least one incident, two women were reportedly killed and two others injured when they stepped on a landmine that had been placed near the Uzbek-Tajik border by the Uzbek military. Tajik officials reported that landmines killed eight civilians and wounded five others in the area in September. Uzbekistan had not signed the international treaty to ban landmines.

In November 1999, a shoot-out in the forest of the Iangiabad region outside Tashkent left over a dozen gunmen and at least three security officers dead. Government authorities claimed that the armed men were terrorists who opened fire on police officers who stumbled upon their hideout. None of the gunmen survived the exchange. At least fourteen other men were tried for alleged ties to the gunmen and were charged with conspiracy to commit terrorism, participation in an illegal groups, and "infringement of the constitutional order," and were given lengthy terms in prison. Defendant Polvanazar Khodjaev, whose father died of torture in prison in 1999, was sentenced to death. Police tortured defendants in detention and arrested some of their relatives on fabricated charges as part of a stated government policy of collective punishment. Bahodir Hasanov, the brother of one defendant, was arrested on July 17 and held incommunicado in a basement cell for forty-one days, as of October.

Police held detainees incommunicado for up to six months, regularly denying suspects access to an attorney until after the state had obtained a confession. Police and courthouse guards demanded bribes from relatives who wanted to give detainees food and medicine or sought to attend their relatives' trials.

Torture remained routine and new methods of abuse were reported in 2000. In addition to hundreds of reports of beatings and numerous accounts of the use of electric shock, temporary suffocation, hanging by the ankles or wrists, removal of fingernails, and punctures with sharp objects, Human Rights Watch received credible reports in 2000 that police sodomized male detainees with bottles, raped them, and beat and burned them in the groin area. Male and female detainees were regularly threatened with rape. Police made such threats in particular against female detainees in the presence of male relatives to force the men to sign self-incriminating statements. Police also regularly threatened tomurder detainees or their family members and to place minor children in orphanages. Self-incriminating testimony obtained through torture was routinely admitted by judges, who cited this as evidence, often the only evidence, to convict. Courts did not initiate investigations into allegations of mistreatment by police.

Torture and ill-treatment in prisons was rampant, and there were several shocking reports of deaths in custody from torture in prisons. In the infamous Jaslyk prison dozens of inmates reportedly died from mistreatment and disease. There were several shocking reports of torture causing the death of detainees and prisoners. Jaloliddin Sodiqjonov was among those who reportedly died in custody from abuse by prison authorities this year, as was Numon Saidaminov. Convicted independent Muslims who allegedly died of beatings by prison guards included Maraim Alikulov, Usmanali Khamrikulov, Rustam Norbaev, Nemat Karimov, and Shukhrat Parpiev. Police would not allow relatives to view Khimatullo Khudoiberdiev's body to determine cause of death. Suspicion also surrounded the deaths of Abduaziz Rasulov, whom police claimed hanged himself in his cell, and Dilmurad Umarov, whom authorities ruled died of tuberculosis but whose body showed signs of abuse.

Prison conditions were harsh, with prisoners routinely denied adequate food, medicine, and sanitary facilities. Authorities did not inform relatives of prisoners' whereabouts for months at a time, and guards demanded bribes for deliveries of food and other necessities. Prison officials often arbitrarily extended inmates' sentences on false charges of infractions. Muslim prisoners who prayed were punished with beatings and solitary confinement. Untreated illness led to the deaths of dozens of prisoners, including Usman Inagamov, a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir who died of cancer in custody after reportedly being turned in to police by official islamic authorities. Authorities continued to deny international monitors access to prison and detention facilities.

An amnesty decree issued by President Karimov in September 2000 provided for the release of certain categories of prisoners, but excluded persons convicted of "anti-constitutional activity," a charge systematically levied against observant independent Muslims. In a positive move, higher courts commuted the death sentences of several persons convicted of nonpolitical crimes. However, government officials acknowledged that they carried out executions of several Muslims convicted of involvement in a February 1999 bombing incident. The government did not release statistics on the total number of people executed.

The September 1999 release of six Christian prisoners was viewed by some outside policy makers as a sign of liberalization in Uzbekistan's treatment of Christian groups. However, the end of the year and following months saw several brutal and dramatic attacks on Christian believers. In October 1999, police in the city of Karshi raided a church meeting held by an unregistered group of Baptists. Officers detained participants in the Baptist harvest celebration, including minor children. Police beat and tortured participants in detention and sentenced two of them to ten days in prison and payment of a fine. Despite assurances that such violations would not be repeated, police continued to harass and detain Christians, and none of the officers involved in the Karshi incident were disciplined. On May 14, 2000, Tashkent police temporarily detained ten Baptists in Tashkent for conducting a private prayer meeting.

Christians who engaged in what was perceived as missionary activity, including distribution of imported literature, were reportedly detained and mistreated by police, who carried out the government's harsh law criminalizing proselytism. State authorities put Uzbeks who convert under particularly severe pressure. Several foreign nationals accused of proselytism were denied permission to return to the country. Police reportedly subjected members of the Jehovah's Witnesses to arbitrary harassment, including repeated interrogations and fines for illegal religious activity.

Despite the fanfare over his release from prison in 1999, Pentecostal pastor Rashid Turibayev from the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan in Uzbekistan was reported in September 2000 to have gone into hiding from state authorities.

In early July, Uzbek law enforcement authorities reportedly violated a verbal agreement with representatives of the United Nations high commissioner for refugees when they used a confidential list of Afghan refugees awaiting placement in a third country to track the refugees down and demand that they sign a document agreeing to leave the country within five days or else face arrest and deportation. At least ten individuals were threatened in the first days of the door-to-door campaign. One man who feared torture if returned to Afghanistan reportedly went into hiding after police threatened him. UNHCR later reported that twelve refugees were placed under house arrest for one week, but that the "misunderstanding" was resolved with yet another verbal agreement between the agency and the government. Uzbekistan had not signed the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, but is still bound by obligations under international customary law not to return refugees to a country where their life and freedom could be threatened.

Research conducted by Human Rights Watch in 2000 revealed that police discouraged women who were abused by their husbands or other family members from filing reports and failed to investigate and punish abusers when reports were made. Local authorities pressured women to remain in abusive households and attempted to dissuade women from pursuing divorce.

The International Helsinki Federation issued a report in June 2000 citing a lack of official concern as one of the causes for the growth of trafficking of women in Uzbekistan. The report noted that Uzbek law did not specifically refer to trafficking of humans as a crime and that the abduction of girls often went unreported. A U.N.-sponsored conference held in March 2000 in Tashkent cited trafficking in humans as one of the sources of instability in the region.

Children's advocates reported that the trafficking of minor children for work in the sex industry abroad continued. According to one local NGO, girls thirteen and fourteen years old were provided with false passports and sent to countries including the United Arab Emirates. The traffickers who arranged for the girls' travel and placement in prostitution in the foreign location typically paid large bribes to Uzbek law enforcement officials who agreed to look the other way.

Child victims of sexual and other physical abuse by their families were reportedly placed in state-run facilities together with juveniles accused of committing crimes. Authorities reportedly failed to provide for children's basic needs, such as clothing and soap, at the facilities. There were unconfirmed reports that guards at children's facilities raped some of the children. Police denied minors accused of violations of the state's religion law access to legal representation.

Authorities continued to deny access to secular education for observant Muslim students who were expelled from schools and universities since 1997 for wearing religious dress. Efforts at reinstatement were unsuccessful in 2000. A student expelled from the Women's Medresseh (Islamic school) in Tashkent was detained just days later and beaten by police to force her to abandon her religious attire.

Freedom of expression continued to be severely restricted, with essentially no independent press. All but two newspapers were government-owned and required approval from the Committee for the Control of State Secrets for all published news articles. The two private newspapers primarily published advertisements and horoscopes and did not cover news. Media watchdog Internews reported increased pressure on privatelyowned television and radio stations from local and national authorities. Government authorities closed or blacklisted stations that covered religion or politics and prevented them from obtaining licenses.

While the majority of the country still lacked access to the Internet, the Uzbek government nevertheless placed restrictions on its use, aiming to connect all Internet service through government servers in 2000, thereby eliminating access to content the state deemed unacceptable and enabling the government to monitor citizens' communications.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2000

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