(Tokyo, October 22, 2015) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Central Asia trip is a key opportunity to raise concerns about the alarming state of human rights throughout the region and underscore the importance of reforms, Human Rights Watch said today. Releasing people wrongfully behind bars, allowing human rights groups and journalists to do their work unhindered, and ending impunity for torture should be on the to-do list for all Central Asian leaders.

In a letter and briefing memorandum ahead of Abe’s trip, which begins on October 22, 2015, Human Rights Watch highlighted key areas of concern for him to raise with government officials in each country. They include politically motivated prosecutions and imprisonment of human rights and civic activists; renewed efforts to clamp down on the activities of nongovernmental groups and on freedom of the media, assembly, and association; and impunity for torture.

“Central Asia’s leaders – and the many human rights victims in the region – need to hear that human rights is an integral component of Japan’s policy of engagement with the relevant governments,” said Veronika Szente Goldston, Europe and Central Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Abe should use his visit to convey a clear expectation for reforms as part of a successful relationship.”

Abe is slated to visit all five Central Asian countries between October 22 and 28, beginning with Turkmenistan, followed by Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. The visit is his first to the region and the first since 2006 by a Japanese head of government.

Promoting investment opportunities appears to be a prominent part of the agenda, as the prime minister will be accompanied by representatives of about 50 Japanese businesses and other entities, according to media reports. He is to meet with the leaders of each country.

Ensuring that his trip has a strong human rights component is in line with Abe’s positive announcement in January 2013 that the government would pursue an international “diplomacy based on the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, basic human rights, and the rule of law.”

“Rights respecting countries that are transparent and accountable are a lot more attractive to prospective investors,” Szente Goldston said. “This trip is a key opportunity to impress upon Central Asia’s leaders that embarking on long-overdue reforms is in their interest, and a priority for Japan.”