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As the United States prepares to make Uzbekistan a key ally in its fight against terrorism, the deplorable human rights record of the Uzbek government is largely being ignored, Human Rights Watch said today.

Uzbek human rights activists estimate that 7,000 Muslims are in prison in Uzbekistan today, most for "anti-state activity" or "attempted subversion of the constitutional order." Typical sentences range from fifteen to twenty years.

In his national address on September 20, U.S. President George W. Bush linked the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) to Osama bin Laden. The government has justified its crackdown on independent Muslims as part of its efforts against the IMU, which is based outside Uzbekistan and has launched incursions into Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The Republic of Uzbekistan, the most populous country of Central Asia, has the largest standing army in the immediate region.

Torture in Uzbekistan is common. Human Rights Watch has documented how police and agents from the National Security Service (the successor to the Uzbek KGB) hang criminal suspects and political detainees by their feet or wrists, beat them with batons or bottles filled with water, apply electroshock to their bodies, and rape or threaten to rape them. Police torture has resulted in at least fifteen deaths in custody in the past two years alone.

In the last decade, the government has decimated Uzbekistan's secular political opposition, arresting and harassing its leaders and prominent members and forcing others into exile. The Uzbek government will not register any political parties other than those aligned with the president, and organized political opposition is not tolerated. The state exercises tight control of the media, including through pre-publication censorship. There are no independent news outlets. Journalists critical of the government are routinely threatened by state authorities and have been driven out of the country under threat of arrest. There is no freedom of assembly in Uzbekistan.

The campaign against independent Muslims intensified after February 16, 1999, when a series of bombs exploded near government buildings in Tashkent, killing sixteen people. No one claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The backgrounder can be found here.

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