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Introducing Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan

Article by Adam Hug

July 14, 2020

Introducing Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan

Spotlight on Uzbekistan

In September 2016, longstanding Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev assumed the Presidency of Uzbekistan following the death of President Islam Karimov, the despotic ruler who had dominated the country since independence. After decades of heavy repression and isolation by a regime Mirziyoyev was intimately involved with, many international and local observers have been surprised and cautiously heartened by Uzbekistan’s efforts to open up to the outside world and address some of the regime’s more egregious abuses, but questions have remained over the long-term intentions of the new leadership. The recent coronavirus crisis has provided an acid test for assessing the government’s progress, and its response – effective in suppressing the virus – has highlighted progress made in many areas while further illuminating some continuing areas of concern. This introductory essay, and the Spotlight on Uzbekistan essay collection as a whole, seeks to assess the progress Uzbekistan has made since 2016, identify the challenges that remain and develop ideas for further action.


A brief history of modern Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan can trace its roots back to the first settlements of the Scythian people before their absorption into the Persian Empire and its successor states until the Arab conquest in the 7th century. The Mongol conquests in the 13th century consolidated the migration of Turkic peoples to the region that had been gradually taking place in previous centuries. Timur (known in the West as Tamerlane) founded his empire in Samarkand, and later rulers (notably Islam Karimov) have sought to frame him as a founder of Uzbekistan.[1] The remnants of the Timurid Empire were conquered in turn by the Shaybanids, who also took the name Ozbeg (Uzbek) in honour of a senior leader of the Mongol Golden Horde from which they descended, establishing smaller kingdoms in the region. Russia attempted to push south into the region as part of its imperial expansion with the failed Khivan expedition in 1717 under the rule of Peter the Great. This was followed a century and a half later by the Russian capture of Tashkent in 1865, the annexation of Samarkand from the Emirate of Bukhara in 1868, and the annexation of the Khanate of Kokand in 1876, with the full and final absorption of the remnants of the Emirate of Bukhara and Khanate of Khiva in 1920. Until 1924 the Soviet regions somewhat mirrored their predecessor states with the Khorezm People’s Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) replacing the Khanate of Khiva, the Bukharan People’s SSR covering the former Emirate of Bukhara, and the Turkestan Autonomous SSR (ASSR) covering everything else. This was dissolved in 1924 with the creation of the Uzbek SSR, which, after the departure of the Tajik ASSR to form its own republic in 1929, comprises the territory that makes up Uzbekistan today, with Tashkent replacing Samarkand as its capital in 1930.


Islam Karimov ascended to the position of First Secretary of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan in 1989, becoming the first and only President of the Uzbek SSR a year later and at its independence in September 1991 became the first President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, a post subsequently ratified in a controversial December 1991 election. He would rule with an increasingly iron fist, with notable crackdowns following a mysterious series of car bombs in 1999 and the massacre of hundreds of people following unrest in Andijan in 2005, until his death, announced on September 2nd 2016. For the last 13 years of Karimov’s rule Shavkat Mirziyoyev served as his Prime Minister (PM).


Karimov now lies in a purpose built mausoleum complex overlooking the old city of Samarkand, where citizens go to pray and pay their respects. Islam Karimov Avenue runs from his resting place to a large statue near the historic Registan, with shops on the route selling his photo. While his successor may be seeking to move beyond his legacy he is not taking active measures to quell the Karimov cult of personality, instead letting it slowly tick downwards, as shown by fewer examples of pictures of the first President being displayed in public buildings and publically contrasting the actions of the new President with past.


Mirziyoyev era reforms

Mirziyoyev became interim President on September 8th 2016, after elbowing aside the constitutionally designated interim President Chairman of the Senate Nigmatilla Yuldashev to get the role on a temporary basis and outmanoeuvring key rivals, Deputy PM Rustam Azimov and particularly the head of the National Security Service Rustam Inoyatov, to secure the post permanently through election. Azimov would be fired from government in June 2017 and Inoyatov would be removed from his post in January 2018. Mirziyoyev’s inaugural address as President gave some hints at a reformist direction of travel: “In further deepening the democratic reforms and implementing the concept of developing a civil society, we believe that, as it was before, the citizens’ self-governance bodies – mahallas, as well as the non-state, non-profit organizations, free and impartial mass media will take an active place. In implementing the important principle, namely, “From a strong state to a strong civil society”, above all, we will lean upon the strength and capabilities of such social institutions.” However such commitments are often made by leaders who have no intention of delivering on them.


Assessing the state of the much-touted reform process is the central question this essay collection seeks to address. After initial scepticism, it has become quickly clear that under Mirziyoyev the regime has sought clearly to differentiate itself from the image of the Karimov era and the comparisons with other regional poor performers such as Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. Early efforts on currency liberalisation (which has dramatically shrunk the black market), tackling forced labour, visa liberalisation, and reducing censorship led the international community to take notice of a process of rapid change.[2] Irrespective of the continuing debate over the new regime’s motivation, it correctly identified that failure to address its huge economic and structural problems would substantially increase the risk of political instability and the pressure for revolutionary change. The challenge is to identify where change is substantive, where it is cosmetic and where the long-term direction of travel is either unclear or controversial.


The process has been driven from the top with a blizzard of presidential decrees and new legislation, with 25 per cent of all legislation adopted since independence being issued between 2016 and 2019.[3] Supporters of the process have argued this intensively top-down approach is necessary to tackle the institutional inertia of the bureaucratic system developed under Karimov, hitting it on multiple fronts to spur it to action. While that perspective is understandable, there have been notable challenges including: incorporating the views of key stakeholders; errors due to the speed of transposition and implementation; and the ongoing cultural challenge of a risk-averse and poorly educated middle management level, steeped in Soviet and Karimov era paper pushing, being placed under even more pressure, which sometimes leads to increased buck-passing rather than fundamental change. The mantra of the reformist wing of the Uzbek officialdom is repeated relentlessly: that missteps and delays in the reform process are driven by a lack of capacity rather than a lack of political will. Their diagnosis is that the continual infusion of better trained, reform-minded people (often from the diaspora) into the system will help break down the roadblocks to reform (or replace them), a subject addressed in more detail in this collection’s essay by Navbahor Imamova. While this will undoubtedly be important, the leadership will have to find a way to allow greater space for experimentation and measured risk-taking in implementing the reforms in the face of presidential pressure to ensure that the buck-passing culture is brought to an end rather than grinding down a new generation of officials. Recognition that such a top-down approach is unstainable can be seen in efforts to increase the responsibilities of Parliament and to devolve certain functions to local government; however both institutions are in need of significant reform (as addressed below) and the fear that loss of control would lead to a loss of stability persists.


One of the signature initiatives has been the creation of ‘virtual receptions’ (currently 208 of them), under the auspices of the Presidential Administration, where complaints from citizens about poor performing public services and other problems were fed directly to administration officials, initially bypassing the ministries and local administrations. The Centres proved very popular, with over 3,726,949 appeals from the public at time of writing, of which 3,673,670 had been reviewed by officials according to the government.[4] They provided a channel through which the new leadership could assess the key pressure points in the system to inform their policy response, as well as helping to boost the public image of a new President who was seen to be listening to people’s problems.[5] However, there have been reports that after initial success, the public believes they are becoming less effective as a tool in that they now more regularly act to pass on information to the ministries or local officials rather than bypassing them.[6] This shift in approach would make sense in the context of the evolution of government but risks the responses being lost in only partially-reformed bureaucracies.


The picture across the ministries is mixed. Uzbek PM Abdulla Aripov and Deputy PM Achilbay Ramatov are known to be part of the old guard but loyal to the President. The Ministers of Justice, Education, Investment and Agriculture are seen as reformers, and have become the main points of contact for Western interlocutors. Unsurprisingly given the top-down approach to driving forward the reform process, the Presidential administration is powerful but lacks transparency and direct accountability.


The Uzbek Government has been proactively trying to obtain international assistance with the reform programme, with the United Nations (UN) Office in Uzbekistan and International Labour Organisation (ILO) becoming prominent voices both within the country and in highlighting progress to the wider international community. There has been significant growth in the number of international consultants and donor agencies advising on the reform process.[7] The UN has identified education reform, social security transformation and wider public sector reform, climate change and water management, and the protection of historic buildings as the key areas for international focus.[8] However the extent of the response by Western governments and international institutions has been somewhat hampered by Uzbekistan’s middle-income status, which limits the amount of official resources under Official Development Assistance (ODA) rules that can be devoted to it.


The wrangling between Mirziyoyev and Karimov’s security Chief Rustam Inoyatov was just one dimension of the perceived rivalry between the President and the Karimov era security apparatus. Inoyatov’s successor, long-time ‘securocrat’ Ikhtiyor Abdullayev, was himself subsequently arrested and imprisoned for 18 years on charges of bribery, extortion and forming a criminal enterprise alongside 24 other officials from the security services and prosecutor’s office.[9] The rivalry reflects both inter-elite competition and competing visions on the governance of Uzbekistan. The President has taken steps to strengthen the National Guard and Presidential security service as a counterweight to the National Security Service (SNB), giving them greater resources and the power of arrest.[10] There remains a perception that the security services are still not full behind the reform programme, with allegations that they have used proxies to target independent voices, and are more prone to take measures to crackdown on dissent.[11] This perception both perhaps reflects reality and gives a degree of political distancing between the new regime and efforts to crackdown on more troublesome critics.


As well as the old guard in the security services and ministry middle management, the most regularly identified roadblock to reform is the role of local and regional government. The heads of local district (Tuman), city and regional (Viloyat) administrations are ‘Khokims’ currently appointed by the central government, many of whom have been in their posts, or otherwise building up local power bases, since the Karimov era. Regional leaders are routinely blamed for being slow to implement reforms at the speed or to the extent desired by reformers in Tashkent, and as set out in numerous places in this essay collection are often at the heart of local concerns around corruption and administrative incompetence. Both Tashkent Khokim Jakhongir Artykkhodjaev and Ferghana Governor Shuhrat Ganiyev have been recorded as threatening bloggers and other media critics, with the latter involved in a string of controversial incidents (including claims that he threatened residents of the Sokh enclave after unrest that he would ‘erase [their] villages from the map’). That he was not fired by a forgiving President has led critics to dub him as ‘immortal’.[12] In a further sign that personal loyalty to the President is the primary requirement for the job, disgraced former Agriculture Minister and Deputy PM Zoyir Mirzaev, fired in 2018 for being abusive towards farmers, has been reappointed as Khokim of Kashkadarya Province.[13] Only one Khokim of a district, city or region in Uzbekistan – Dilfuza Uralova who heads the local Bayaut district (tuman) in Syrdarya province – is a woman.[14]


The President and other senior leaders have talked about ways to make local government structures more accountable to local people, but progress on delivery has been slow. The initial discussions have centred on separating the executive role of Khokims, appointed by the government, from the elected regional assemblies or local councils (Kengash) so that these representative bodies can improve their scrutiny of the operations of the Khokimiat.[15] At present, while in some cases the Kengash may provide scrutiny of the actions of local officials, it is unknown for them to block a decision of the Khokim. In the absence of genuinely competitive political environment, the administrative separation of executive and scrutiny functions in unlikely to pose an effective check on the activities of the Khokims. Despite raising the issue in 2016 Mirziyoyev has yet to take action on the direct election of Khokims themselves, something that is increasingly becoming a source of local discontent, with a June 2020 petition due to be debated in parliament following local unrest in Fergana.[16] The heads of local neighbourhood associations, the Mahalla Committees, are now elected and the Mahalla remains an important organising institution in Uzbek life.


While direct election of the Khokim may be a more effective tool for fostering local accountability than elections to the relatively toothless Kengashs, in the absence of more competitive political environment local leaders will still ultimately owe their positions to their relationships to, and usefulness for, the President. At present local government funding is reliant on funding from central government, and while regional inequality will necessitate significant financial flows from the centre in any scenario, developing opportunities for local administrations to raise funds locally to boost financial independence may help encourage greater political independence and a stronger focus on local needs rather than constantly looking up to the regional or national government for guidance.[17]


The President’s State of the Nation speech on January 24th 2020 made an ambitious list of promises for further reform this year, including pledges on reform to Propiska (controls on moving residency), strengthening social protections including on health insurance, the creation of a new anti-corruption agency, addressing judicial independence, speeding up the publication of a national human rights strategy (approved in June 2020), a promise of citizenship for 50,000 stateless people who had been resident since before 1995, and a raft of other well received proposals.[18]


The reforms so far, and perceptions of the direction of travel, have led to widespread international praise, such as Uzbekistan’s widely trumpeted rating by the Economist as ‘most improved country’ in 2019.[19] Many long-standing international observers, and a number of emerging local voices, are cautiously optimistic. This is due at least in part to a much greater willingness amongst the elite to speak openly about the challenges the country faces, setting expectations and benchmarks against which their performance can be judged. For Uzbek leaders, many of whom held senior posts under Karimov, this is a delicate dance that involves admitting that problems exist, widely declaring that there is willingness to undertake significant change under Mirziyoyev, but avoiding direct criticism of Karimov.[20] Despite this many longer-standing Uzbek opposition voices, who under Karimov made the same criticisms of the system that the politicians are making now, are still left out in the cold.[21]


Political Space

In his January 2020 address to the nation the President said that ‘democratic reforms are the only right way for us.’[22] The speech took place only a month after the December 2019 parliamentary elections that provided an excellent showcase of Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan, for both good and ill. The government sought to use the elections themselves as a showcase for the reform process – something it partially achieved -but in what was something of a rare international PR misstep, it also drew attention to the limits on what has been achieved so far.


The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights’ (OSCE ODIHR) long-term observation findings, the gold standard in international election observation, highlighted some critical areas of continuing concern. According to the OSCE the December 22nd parliamentary elections in Uzbekistan ‘took place under improved legislation and with greater tolerance of independent voices, but did not yet demonstrate genuine competition and full respect of election day procedures’. They also noted that ‘regrettably, the new legislation and modernized administration of elections did not improve the polling process, with international observers reporting numerous serious irregularities, such as voting on behalf of others and disregard for key procedures during counting’. [23]


As the OSCE point out, in order to stand for election a party must have been registered with the Ministry of Justice ‘at least four months prior to the announcement of the election and to have collected the supporting signatures of at least 40,000 eligible voters across Uzbekistan’s 14 administrative territorial units provided that no more than eight per cent of the signatures collected are from one unit. Given that a party is not required to nominate candidates in all constituencies, the signature collection requirements may be burdensome, in particular, the ceiling of eight per cent per region could create an eligibility barrier for a party that enjoys broad support nationally but lacks such support in one or a few regions’.[24]


Independent candidates are barred from standing. By way of comparison only two people are required to form a basic political party in the United Kingdom (UK) and any Parliamentary candidate, whether a member of a party or standing as an independent, requires signatures of ten registered voters in the seat they are contesting.[25]


It is therefore unsurprising that with the exception of the Ecological Party of Uzbekistan, which had previously sat in parliament as the Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan with unelected seats reserved for it, no new party has been registered since 2003. The OSCE ODIHR has described these restrictions as ‘burdensome and open to arbitrary application’, and explained that in 2019 ‘these factors limited the opportunity for elections to serve as a contest between distinct political viewpoints and narrowed the choice available to voters’, given that ‘all parties are supportive of presidential policies, and while parties worked to distinguish themselves during the campaign, none identify themselves as an opposition party’.[26]


What was being put forward by the regime to voters in December 2019 was an attempt at ‘competitive authoritarianism’: encouraging some intra-party competition within limited bounds that was restricted to the notional representation and prioritisation of issues rather than challenging the system. Each party staked out a broad but different political message, albeit not backed by detailed policies, to give voters the semblance of choice. Mirziyoyev’s Liberal Democratic Party (UzLiDeP) promoted a pro-business message, and the Democratic Party (Milliy Tiklanish) staked out a family values- and cultural heritage-focused conservative platform. Two parties positioned themselves on the centre-left, with the People’s Democratic Party focused on the welfare state and the Social Democratic Party (Adolat) looking at on reforming justice.[27] The Ecological Party notionally addressed environmental issues – albeit whilst actively promoting nuclear power. In the end the UzLiDeP received 43 seats, Milliy Tiklanish 35, Adolat 21, the People’s Democratic Party 18 and the Ecological Party went down to 11 seats.[28]


The role of the new Majils (Parliament) has been conceived by the regime as helping to inform and manage the reform process, with stated plans to use it to increase scrutiny of legislation, budgets and the implementation, rather than being a strong external check and balance to it. The elections were used to facilitate a changing of the guard within the Majilis, to bring in new, younger faces and increase the proportion of women parliamentarians (rising from 16 per cent to 32 per cent in the new parliament).[29]


Whatever the merits of this system it is certainly not something that could be reasonably described as democratic, nor is it automatically a step towards becoming a democracy. What comes next will be critical. At a press conference given for the UK media and policy community, Sodiq Safoyev, first deputy chairperson of the Senate, described the regime’s approach as ‘setting the legal framework to allow domestic opposition to develop from the grassroots’. The idea being presented is that the combination of fresh blood in Parliament and the gradual opening of political space (including allowing public criticism of ministers, regional leaders and elements of the government’s delivery) would allow the system to develop into a more competitive political environment organically over time. However given the barriers to the registration and development of independent political parties, the current setup has the risk of echoing Russian ‘managed democracy’, where Potemkin parties have presented alternative platforms within a curated system without ever truly challenging the structures of power or sought to honestly compete for the presidency.


There certainly seems to be no political appetite amongst the current elite for reassessing the relationship with diaspora-based opposition parties, such as the banned Unity (Birlik) Party and the Erk Democratic Party (led by Muhammad Salih who stood in the 1991 presidential election), which were forced into exile under Karimov. Government officials claim that these groups have no credibility and that bringing them into the process would be ‘artificial’. However if the regime is correct( as it may well be) that such groups have little to no political support within the country, then continuing to ban them seems pointless and potentially counterproductive, given that banning them makes it look like they have something to fear.


Economic change and the opportunities it brings, for good and ill

Economic stagnation and authoritarian control defined the Karimov era state. The urgent need to strengthen Uzbekistan’s previously sclerotic economy has been the driving force behind the reform process, given that the failure to address economic hardships could provide the spark for even more radical change. The challenge of delivering transformative economic change has now been further exacerbated by the pressures of COVID-19. In this collection, essays by Yuliy Yusupov, Kate Malinson and Professor Kristian Lasslett address the reform process, the environment for investors and the challenge of corruption respectively in great detail, but it is worth drawing attention here to some of the key challenges that faced the Mirziyoyev government as it took office.


Under Karimov, the combination of a restrictive currency system (which limited currency convertibility and tied the som to a United States (US) dollar peg), high tariffs, and attempts to focus the economy on import substitution generated the conditions for a substantial black market (including in the country’s large bazaars and street markets), with a substantial gap between black market prices and official purchasing prices for many goods. In 2017 the currency was allowed to float freely, leading to the rapid official conversion of almost $300 million US dollars into Uzbek Som. Over time the Som has continued to depreciate against the dollar,  helping the transition from the black economy and informal employment, (together thought to equate to up to a third of the overall economy) to the real economy by helping equalise the currency rates in the two systems.[30] In addition to the impact of currency liberalisation, the withdrawal of price controls from autumn 2018 on staples such as bread, flour, electricity, natural gas and gasoline have also driven the cost of living up and have proved controversial, with compensatory welfare payment for vulnerable groups not seen to fully cover the increases.[31] Inflation spiked in 2018 at 17.5 per cent and, prior to the crisis, had been relatively slow to decline.


During the Karimov era high tariffs tended to create substantial import monopolies, where political connections were seen to help obtain exemptions from customs duty. While initial efforts were made to reduce tariffs, as Yuliy Yuspov points out in his essay, in late 2018 local interests created a list of domestically produced products that were exempt from tariff abolition, leading to concerns that the process was being driven by local power brokers rather than a desire to help independent industries adjust to the global markets.[32] Until now the high tariffs have also helped keep prices in Uzbekistan artificially high; for example cars sold in Uzbekistan from the state owned UzAuto monopoly are between 20 and 50 per cent more expensive than the same UzAuto-built cars that are sold in other Central Asian markets, helping drive local smuggling operations.[33] Criticism from the public and the government’s own Anti-Monopoly Committee may have helped drive the President’s decision to remove excise tax from car imports as of August 1st 2020.[34] The continuation of smuggling has helped drive Uzbekistan to reinstate border posts near the border with Kyrgyzstan, which had been removed in an earlier phase of the presidency.[35]


Trying to cut taxes while boosting enforcement to bring more of the economy out of the informal sector is an understandable approach under the circumstances, but it has had some practical challenges. For example. VAT has been reduced from 20 per cent to 15 per cent, presented as support for small business, but in reality many of them are paying it for the first time and are finding the official implementation sometimes punitive.[36] The transition from cash to credit card payments also increases VAT collection and as such had been resisted in some quarters prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. For firms transitioning from the black economy to the real economy there are real risks that they may be tempted to return to the shadows. The desire to squeeze the black economy and increase the tax base may be necessary to balance the budget and regularise the economy, but it has a risk of choking off the growth of small business and of greater social tension if this is taking place amid the continuation or expansion of high-level corruption and the perception that the richest in society are avoiding their fair share of the burden.


Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak extensive efforts had been underway to take advantage of Uzbekistan’s heritage assets in the cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva amongst others to promote international tourism. Short-term visa-free travel has been provided for 73 countries and pressure is underway to expand international quality hotel capacity and generate favourable coverage about the country’s potential for tourism.[37] However, the pandemic has hit the fledgling sector very hard.


Efforts to increase agricultural exports to China are of critical importance to the development of the sector, with cherries (the subject of fierce bidding wars), melons, peanuts, and honey the limited group of agricultural products able to access Chinese markets at present.[38] Attempts at reforming the sector, as set out in the October 2019 Presidential Decree ‘On approval of the Strategy for the Development of Agriculture of the Republic of Uzbekistan for 2020- 2030’ and its attached roadmap, have positive elements but lacked details about reform mechanisms (though some of this has been addressed by the announcements in 2020 on ending the state order system, more about which below).[39] Efforts are also underway to improve antiquated irrigation systems to save water and electricity whilst boosting output.[40]


In their essays Yuily Yuspov and Professor Kristian Lasslett highlight some of the changes to the agricultural sector that are currently underway, both in terms of long-promised land reform and the impact of the new ‘clusters’ (vertically integrated businesses that are seeking to develop local crops – first cotton and now fruit and vegetables – into higher value outputs). Given that 27 per cent of formally employed Uzbeks currently work in agriculture (as well as more involved informally and with their domestic small holdings) making it the largest sector of the economy, it is essential that the changes underway are handled with care to protect small farmers, who currently lease their land from the government on 49-year terms.[41] There are concerns that higher-quality agricultural land may end up being consolidated under the control of powerful business interests through the cluster system, either by requiring land swaps or coercing farmers into working for the cluster, as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) have reported amid government complaints about the current underutilisation of arable land – an important debate but an area with clear potential for abuse.[42] Lasslett examines the opaque ownership structures of the clusters in more detail in his essay, but it is clear that there is a real risk of Uzbekistan replacing state monopolies with an oligarchic system (a series of local private monopolies operating on a regional and sectoral basis) rather than boosting competition in the agricultural sector.


There have been some steps taken to end the state electricity monopoly, with Uzbekenergo due to be broken up into Thermal Power Stations (TPP), National Electric Grids of Uzbekistan (NESU), and Regional Electric Grids (REG).[43] Ownership of Uzbekistan’s airports have been separated from Uzbekistan Airways, but the national flag carrier still dominates access to slots.[44] Liberalisation in the banking sector has been limited, with the state retaining control of most banks. Direct foreign ownership has been limited to less than 50 per cent of total shares even under the December 2019 banking reforms – measures designed in part to limit the ability for shares to be held by opaque offshore accounts from Uzbek business people as well as limiting international competition.[45] State control of banks helps continue the practice whereby state-owned enterprises receive cut-rate loans from banks that specialise in that sector.[46]


Attempts at liberalisation and privatisation carry concerns about the risk of the transfer of power from the state to politically connected private interests and around the desire to promote genuine competition rather than transferring monopoly power to the private sector. It is essential that Uzbekistan learns the right lessons from previous privatisation efforts in the wider region, as transferring companies (or their opportunities for corruption and patronage) from the state to oligarchic control is unlikely to generate the benefits for economy and society that genuine reformers are looking for.


Irrespective of political or economic preferences over the relative merits of the state and private sector, the case for reform of Uzbekistan’s public sector and publically owned enterprises, so that activity can be refocused on more socially productive outputs, is overwhelming. For example, there is substantial political pressure, both internally and from international partners such as the UN and World Bank, to expand the social safety net as well as to reform its operation. At present, only a third of Uzbekistan’s poorest people receive some form of social assistance overall and only 37 per cent of poor families receive family allowances.[47] Significant overstaffing is apparent in a number of areas of the public sector, from traffic police on every street corner, to multiple security guards or other staff checking tickets in the same line at train stations or museums – what Kate Mallinson refers to as ‘stamp culture’. To deliver the necessary efficiency gains, and to free up state funds to increase recruitment of suitable staff in more productive areas of public service, there needs to be both expanded opportunities for skills training and for sustained private sector growth to provide jobs for those not able to be redeployed within the public sector, but also for the many citizens, particularly from rural areas, who may prefer to seek employment in Uzbekistan rather than lead the precarious life of a migrant working in Russia.


Before the pandemic, a combination of limited local job opportunities and restrictions on internal migration through the Propiska system, saw Russia (and to a lesser extent Kazakhstan, Turkey and Dubai) become home to significant numbers of migrant workers. While precise numbers are difficult to quantify in 2017 1.8 million Uzbek citizens who arrived in Russia declared their purpose for visiting as being for labour.[48] Surveys have suggested that average annual remittances are approximately $418 per worker and the World Bank estimates that remittances accounted for 15 per cent of GDP in 2018.[49] As economic opportunities in Uzbekistan have begun to grow post-2016, the rate of migration has begun to slow, with some also returning from Russia into both skilled jobs in the public sector and into expanding sectors including taxi driving. However, the pandemic has led to large numbers of migrant workers returning, with around 500,000 labour migrants returning to Uzbekistan by the end of May 2020.[50] With Russia dealing with an oil price slump as well as the pandemic, it is likely that the Uzbek economy may have to absorb many more of these workers into its own economy sooner than it would have planned, further adding to the challenge of economic recovery.


While the reforms undertaken so far are far from perfect, the mood music and positive press coverage they generated prior to COVID-19 meant that business optimism was on the rise.[51] Uzbekistan is currently applying for World Trade Organisation (WTO) membership and attempts are being made to attract international investment.[52] While Chinese, Russian, Korean and Turkish investors may be exploring a wider range of business opportunities, Western interests are focused primarily on education, retail, services, machinery and specialist/technical services (such as architects, law firms and accountants).


While independent international investors have been relatively slow to make substantial investments in Uzbekistan, the sense of new economic opportunity has encouraged ethnic Uzbek billionaires, significantly Alisher Uzmanov, a Russian national based in the UK, and Patokh Chodiev, a Belgian national resident in Kazakhstan, to expand their involvement in the Uzbek economy and public life. For example, Uzmanov’s company SFI Management Group LLC has taken over running of the AlMailk Metallurgical Combine, acting as trustee for the government’s share in the complex to deliver a modernisation programme.[53] Uzmanov has also recently given $20 million to the Uzbek government to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak to help build an emergency hospital, and $15 million to victims of the Sardoba dam tragedy.[54] According to the Financial Times he has also declared that he has put ‘several hundred million dollars’ into not-for-profit ventures to ‘help the new President and his team’, with Mirziyoyev a relative of his by marriage.[55] The International Chodiev Foundation has played an active role in supporting the development of Buyuk Kelajak (Great Future), an organisation designed to promote Mirzyoyev’s reform process by coordinating activities of experts in the Uzbek diaspora and working with some of them to return into roles inside the Uzbek government.[56]


The evolution of the Uzbek economy from rigid state control to a more market-based system carries a significant risk, the opportunity for expansion, diffusion and diversification of higher level (‘grand’) corruption. Under Karimov petty corruption amongst lower-middle tier officials was endemic, with bribes used for everything, from getting better exam grades to getting out of forced labour. The police and particularly the traffic police were notoriously active in bribe taking. After a series of interventions this situation has markedly improved for ordinary Uzbeks, with bribe taking by junior officials framed by the new regime as an impediment to Uzbekistan’s economic development and with policing having undergone a significant overhaul.[57] However while petty corruption was endemic, and elite politics described as ‘an all-embracing system of rent seeking and patronage’ where ‘State institutions were little more than a façade, behind which the real powerbrokers engaged in informal decision-making’ the rigidity in the system and the suppressed state of the economy cramped some of the potential financial scale of elite corruption.[58] As the tale of the former President’s daughter Gulnara Karimova, set out in detail in Professor Kristian Lasslett’s essay, shows such extravagant displays of corruption were possible but restricted both in areas of opportunity and in their proximity to the first family.[59] Corruption investigations have been a common feature in removing institutional opposition to Mirziyoyev, notably amongst the security services had been at the heart of institutionalised corruption in the Karimov era.[60]


New economic opportunities are seen as facilitating new opportunities for corruption, cronyism and nepotism both at a local and national level. The construction boom has seen examples where local politicians have become intertwined with local developers ranging from less than transparent relationships, such as in the case of the current Khokim of Tahskent Jahongir Artikhodjaev outlined in Lasslett’s essay, through to convicted cases of corruption such as in the case of the former Khokim of Samarkand jailed for 13 years for accepting bribes and abuse of power.[61] The perception is widespread that the construction industry and access to construction permits are being dominated by local oligarchs, while concerns about exploitation of the cluster system are set out above, below and in the essays by Lasslett and Lynn Schweisfurth. Overall Uzbekistan’s ranking in the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, 153rd in the World, is the same position in the 2019 survey as it was in the last full year of Karimov’s rule, though its points tally has improved slightly.[62]


In the summer of 2019, the Government announced a new State Anti-Corruption Programme, including an interagency Special Commission.[63] The OECD is providing technical support to the programme and to the prosecutor’s office in relation to anti-corruption work.[64] As set out below Mirziyoyev is aware that corruption poses a significant challenge to both international perceptions of Uzbekistan and to local satisfaction with his rule, as highlighted by his public responses to perceptions of official shenanigans in the housing sector also discussed below. However, it is still unclear about what his strategic objective is. Since coming to power he has aligned himself against some traditional power centres, such as the security services that were mired in corruption, but in doing so he has relied on the support of politically connected networks of business people both to shape Uzbekistan’s new business friendly international image and consolidate his power, and they have seen to particularly benefit from the new opportunities for profit available in today’s Uzbekistan. So questions remain about the long-term direction of travel. It is notable that there has been no steps directly taken by the Government of Uzbekistan to explore participation in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), despite initial contact meetings being made through donor agencies.[65]


As part of efforts to tackle corruption and reform the civil service the Government has produced a draft law that would, amongst other things require civil servants to ‘annually submit a declaration of his income, property and large expenses, as well as a declaration of income, property and large expenses of their family members’. However, this law and transparency requirement will not apply to the President, deputies of the Legislative Chamber (Majils) and members of the Senate, the Central Election Commission, judges, the Ombudsman, deputies of the Zhokarga Kenes of Karakalpakstan and local representative bodies.[66] At present, there is no law that requires these elected officials to declare their sources of income, adding to the controversy around the new law, leaving continuing conflicts of interest unaddressed and opportunities for grand corruption left wide open.


Home Demolitions and the Housing Crisis,

One of the most controversial topics in Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan has been the impact of the recent building boom on ordinary citizens. As Dilmira Matyakubova’s essay on the high profile Tashkent City project points out, physical renewal has been used as a symbol of prospective economic renewal, with Soviet era buildings being replaced by shiny modern edifices. However, as with many regeneration projects around the world, those who previously lived in these areas have not always benefited from the changes.


There have been a number of initiatives taken by the Government to promote regeneration, housing and commercial development to boost housing supply and economic growth. For example many of the major projects in Tashkent, such as Tashkent City, fall under the Presidential Decree from July 2017 July entitled ‘on measures to improve the architectural appearance and improvement of the central part of Tashkent, as well as creation of appropriate conditions for the population and visitors to the capital.[67] The Government of Uzbekistan also has two state directed regeneration programmes the Obod Mahalla (Prosperous Neighbourhood) and Obod Qishloq (Prosperous Villages) aimed at improving infrastructure in local communities, the latter project now being backed by $100 million in grants from the World Bank.[68] According to the President in 2019, “large-scale construction and improvement works were carried out in 479 villages and auls, as well as 116 urban mahallas. 6.1 trillion Soms were directed for these purposes.”[69]


In addition to specific initiatives, there has been clear pressure from the top to deliver new developments in communities across Uzbekistan. According to the President, the schemes delivered 34,700 new residential units in 2019, evenly split across urban and rural areas.[70] The experience of long-standing communities being displaced and cast aside by both urban renewal initiatives and market driven gentrification is far from a being a problem unique to Uzbekistan but the particular challenges faced by local residents highlight some of the issues the country faces around rule of law and corruption.


In the autumn of 2019, the Cabinet of Ministers produced a new resolution, entitled ‘On ensuring the guarantee of property rights of citizens and business entities, as well as the procedure for seizure of land plots and compensation for damage to property owners’, which set out to try and bring order to a construction boom that was beginning to resemble some of the worst aspects of both the Soviet era and the Wild West.[71] The new rules set out the revised legal grounds for compulsory purchase which now included expanded provisions for ‘projects of investment and socio-economic importance, aimed at the integrated development of territories, including the development and improvement of the architectural appearance of a certain territory (hereinafter referred to as investment projects)’, giving a clearer legal basis for practices that had already been taking place for several years in the absence of a specific framework.[72] It made clear that such provisions should apply to ‘large-scale investment and other projects, including the improvement of housing and living conditions of citizens in a certain area, the development of infrastructure and the construction of high-demand socio-economic facilities.’ Such developments are supposed to require detailed plans, in accordance with published masterplans for the area. They should also be ‘carried out only with consent of the owner (or land user, tenant) on the basis of a decision of the Kengash of People’s Deputies (local council) or in accordance with a resolution of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan and the Cabinet of Ministers of Uzbekistan.’ [73] Furthermore the ‘decision on demolition of residential and non-residential premises, owned by individuals and legal entities in connection with the withdrawal of land for state and public needs, shall be made after full compensation for the market value of the property and damages caused to the owner.’


This new legal framework has the potential to make a difference to the lives of ordinary Uzbeks if it is properly implemented, albeit it formalises the existing much more expansive use of state backed compulsory purchase mechanisms to facilitate private business development than is common in more developed legal systems. However, it comes after several years of growing tensions, where in the absence of a clear legal framework high handed officials have pushed through controversial projects and faced accusations of corruption or cronyism in their delivery, with newly established firms with opaque structures or those with ties to political appointees winning contracts for major projects; such as Akfa Dream World, a firm involved in the Tashkent City project and linked to the Tashkent Khokim Jahongir Artykhodzhaev, whom prior to becoming Khokim had been director of the state enterprise responsible for the construction and operation of Tashkent City.[74] Another example is the former Khokim of Samarkand, whom was jailed for 13 years in August 2019 for taking bribes from construction firms involved in a series of controversial developments in and around Samarkand’s UNESCO protected old city; demolitions that further drew attention to the current lack of formal protections, such as a ‘listing’ system or conservation area status, for properties of historical or architectural interest.[75]


Decision making around granting planning permission for developments and the creation of area masterplans is not properly open to public consultation and scrutiny. In Tashkent for example the planning decisions are made by the Khokim (with no formal requirements or mechanisms for prior public consultation) but are ratified by meetings of the local Kengash, which are open to the public but are poorly attended and advertised and so far they have never overturned a decision of the Khokim. Planning decisions made by regional Khokims are formally signed off by the national Cabinet of Ministers. The paperwork residents receive informing them about what is happening with a development and how to get compensation often does not follow official procedures. The requirements for obtaining consent, notionally at least 75 per cent of the current residents should agree to the new development, are in practice elusory due to pressure from developers and the authorities. Crucially many residents were not being fully compensated or in some cases they had not received any relief at all, with compensation payments not paid or replacement homes (where offered) being of lower quality and in less desirable areas. While payments are supposed to be made by developers the local Khokimiyat has responsibility for ensuring compensation is paid, a duty far from always delivered on.


In July 2019, one month before the new decree, over a thousand of angry residents from Urgench in the Khorezm region blocked the main Urgench-Khazarasp highway in protest at their treatment by the regional government.[76] Families from around 400 demolished homes, who were living in a temporary tent city without running water, had only received partial payment of the promised compensation since their eviction and they were further angered by local businesses hiking the price of construction materials by up to 50 per cent making it even harder to rebuild their lives (displaced people in rural areas are often expected to build their own replacement accommodation). The day after the protests PM Abdulla Aripov was dispatched to the area promising the displaced families full payment of compensation and a freeze on demolition where compensation had not been paid.[77] This major protest followed controversial demolitions in Rishtan, Ferghana and in Yakkabog, Qashqadaryo Province where the Deputy Khokim was set alight by protestors and subsequently fired for his poor handling of the demolitions, and in the Yangiyul suburb of Tashkent where residents received demolition notices without any prior consultation or warning that a development scheme was being planned.[78]


There has been a clear recognition of the potential for this issue to become a major political problem for the Government. The swift response by Aripov was followed in August 2019, not only by the Presidential Decree, but a public berating by Mirziyoyev of the regional Khokims, singling out the leaders of the Ferghana, Khorezm and Kashkadarya regions in angry terms. The President’s comments highlight his awareness of the potential reputational damage for his own leadership, telling the Governors:


One of your subordinates quarrelled with one of the local residents and made me a disgrace in the eyes of the international community. If your brain doesn’t work, why are you demolishing a normal building? If your house is demolished, what will you do? You have no shame, when did I instruct you to demolish the buildings? I told you to get permission from the residents and pay all the compensation.” He also said that “I read users’ comments on the internet about the demolition of homes in the Rishtan district… People cry in the comments. It isn’t your photograph that is featured there. It’s mine! Have you no shame? Giving your idiotic orders to demolish homes. Before you tear up any homes, you’d better take your own head off first! … You’ve brought shame to all of Uzbekistan! … I gave you the money… so that you would improve the district but also first that you would get the people’s permission.” [79]


Many of the building projects from the last few years have failed to clearly show that land being appropriated for investment purposes provides a clear public, rather than private, benefit and the requirement for residents consent has often not been met. Time will tell if changes in practice rather than on paper can be delivered and sustained, but controversies have continued, for example the cases of Khushnud Gojibnazarov in January 2020 and Muqaddas Mustafoev in February 2020 who set themselves alight in protest at demolition plans.[80] One ongoing point of tension, relevant to the Mustafoev case, is the decision of the Government to pursue demolition of properties deemed to be built illegally on agricultural land, otherwise without permission or where state records are incomplete.[81] The Government conducted an Amnesty in 2018, which formalised the status of 500,000 homes, despite this 28,000 homes believed to be illegal remain and had been marked to be demolished in 2020 prior to the COVID 19 crisis.[82]


Farida Charif, a Tashkent based housing activist has been on the front line of protests against some of the Uzbekistan more controversial developments. Her Facebook group, Tashkent Demolition which provides mutual aid and legal advice to those facing demolition, has attracted more than 21,000 members protesting the demolition of the city’s historic Mahallas and other properties. While she has not been directly targeted for her activism her son was kidnapped and beaten by people pretending to be from the SNB who tried to make him provide apology video for his activism, as yet there has been no progress from prosecutors in resolving the case.[83]


The construction boom has also been blamed for the widespread removal of trees from public spaces across the city to be used as building materials or to make way for new developments, to widespread public anger. Such removals have included both outright tree theft and applications to local officials for their removal, processes not always subject to significant public oversight or consultation. The Government has begun to respond with fines for identified perpetrators and a Presidential Moratorium on the removal of certain trees.[84]


The housing situation intersects with Uzbekistan’s long-standing lack of political freedoms in the case of the Soviet era policy of Propiska (residential permit), internal restrictions on freedom of movement that legally specify where a citizen is allowed to live and access government services (such as health and education).[85] The system prevents people legally moving their permanent residence without official permission, leading to a situation where only five per cent of people in Uzbekistan were living in regions other than where they were born.[86] In practice the scheme acts to limit the legal flow of people from Uzbekistan’s regions into Tashkent, encouraging both high and low skilled migrants from the regions to seek opportunities abroad rather than migrating to their national capital. Currently the ability to permanently move to Tashkent is restricted to those working in specific Government Agencies, those who can be sponsored by existing residents (such as through marriage) and those who have purchased a new house built in the last three years to encourage investment in the construction industry.[87]


After repeated public pronouncements in previous years only lead only to superficial changes in his January 2020 State of the Nation speech Mirziyoyev announced a further effort to reform the system, describing the system as ‘shackling’ Uzbekistan’s citizens, giving the Cabinet and Parliament the deadline of April 1st 2020 to find a solution. However, by March it became clear that the Government’s approach was to replace one form of registration (the Propiska) with a new form of residential registration, though the draft produced in mid-March was returned for further revision after the initial public backlash.[88] The version introduced in April amended the previous system by extending the possible length of temporary registration from one to five years, allowing people who bought any property (not just new property) in Tashkent to obtain a new residency registration, and expanding the ability of Tashkent residents to sponsor the registration a wider range of out of town family members, also enabling them to be housed in other homes owned by the existing resident rather than just with them in their primary residence. This means that ability to move permanently to Tashkent is still restricted people able to afford to buy property or who have relatives living there, leaving those on lower incomes reliant on the more precarious temporary registrations, which were only formally opened to non-residents who had been offered a job in 2019. Such comparatively modest changes to such a controversial system are unlikely to mollify public pressure for change. The World Bank had joined the chorus of disproval at the previous system with a recent policy paper highlighting how the Propiska system locked in unemployment and underemployment in Uzbekistan’s regions while supressing the potential for economic growth in the capital.[89]


Supporters of the current restrictions argue it helps the government manage pressure on housing and public services, which in turn raises questions as to why the new wave of construction has not led to the significant delivery of new social infrastructure (such as schools, clinics or public amenities) or more affordable housing. The system for determining such contributions seems in practice to be ad hoc arrangements between local authorities and developers, with Tashkent City conspicuous by its lack of provision of facilities to support families, as pointed out in Matyakubova’s essay in this collection. There could be considerable benefits in making transparent requirements of developers to provide support for social infrastructure and affordable housing as part of the planning approval process, processes that require much greater public involvement prior to official consent for developments are given. Uzbekistan could look at the UK’s different systems for providing social infrastructure such as the Community Infrastructure Levy (a cash payment made directly to local authorities for them to provide infrastructure, provided in the Uzbek context transparency could be achieved to ensure the money was subsequently spent correctly) and Section 106 (where developers directly build social infrastructure and other modifications for the benefit of the local community to their developments).[90] Alternatively Uzbekistan could explore models of land value capture, used to social infrastructure and low-cost housing in Hong Kong, and that are becoming increasingly popular in Australia.


The World Bank report also highlights how the high cost of housing, particularly in Tashkent, creates further social and economic bottlenecks. As it stands around 95 per cent of Uzbeks own their own home, and this includes designated low income housing provided with low purchase costs supported by low interest mortgages.[91] However as the World Bank shows it is extremely difficult for citizens to get on the property ladder in Tashkent given the unaffordability of new property, where the city ranks as less affordable in relative terms than hotspots such as London and San Francisco.[92] Overcoming cultural and practical impediments to renting (such as pressure to stay with family if people are unable to afford to buy), both for market and social rents, could create greater flexibility in the Tashkent housing market to respond to the loosening of the residential registration requirements. Facilitating the expansion of a broader private rented sector could also help bring unoccupied new build properties that are being purchased for investment purposes into the active housing supply, something that may require the growth of professional letting agents and property management companies where the owners are not able to market and manage the properties for rent themselves.[93]


Forced Labour

For years one of the most egregious human rights abuses in Uzbekistan has been its systematic and widespread use of forced labour to pick its cotton, the country’s primary cash crop nicknamed Oq Oltin (white gold). After independence Uzbekistan continued with Soviet era practices through which a ‘state order’ system would give each regional government a quota to fulfil for the production of cotton and wheat. Regional government would work with lower tiers of local government and state owned enterprises to make public sector workers participated in picking the cotton crop. The situation was exacerbated in the immediate post-Soviet period as due to the dissolution of Soviet Machine Tractor Parks and wider economic challenges, the proportion of cotton collected through mechanisation (primarily specialised combine harvesters) fell from 40 per cent in 1992 to four per cent in 1997.[94]


For ordinary Uzbeks the experience of forced labour could involve being deployed to work in the fields for several weeks, in some cases several months, in the late summer and early autumn (particularly September and October) to pick cotton by hand, though wealthier people were often able to pay others to handle their personal quota (a trend that has increased as a proportion of overall forced labour recent years). Child labour was a significant problem, both as a result of children being required to work (often organised through schools) and due to parents being required take children with them due to lack of childcare.[95] In the last full year of Karimov’s rule (2015) the ILO’s surveys estimate that 3.4 million Uzbeks participated in the cotton harvest in some capacity, of which 448,000 were identified as being forced, though campaigners put the figure considerably higher.[96]


In response to the systemic use of forced and child labour a group of Uzbek and international human rights activists and trade unionists formed the Cotton Campaign, to help pressure the global garment industry to pledge that it would boycott the use of Uzbek cotton. The campaign, one of whose key members the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights has contributed an essay on cotton for this collection, was highly successful in removing Uzbek cotton from the supply chains of major Western oriented brands.


Child labour was formally banned in 2012 in a decree by then PM Mirziyoyev, who was heavily involved in the supervision of the cotton harvests under Karimov. Systematic use of child labour dramatically decreased from the 2013 harvest onwards to a point today when all but a few isolated cases remain.[97]


In 2013, following pressure on World Bank and the widening boycott, the ILO was permitted to undertake its first monitoring mission, with a widespread ILO led third party monitoring scheme coming into place in 2015.[98] The ILO identified dramatic falls in forced labour from 448,000 in both 2015 and 2016 to 364,000 in 2017, 170,000 in 2018 and 102,000 in 2019.[99] Wages per kilogram (kg) of cotton picked have significantly increased in parallel, from 280 soms per kg in 2016 to between 700-1300 soms per kg in 2018 and 800-1400 soms per kg in 2019. The 2019 Harvest saw a tenfold increase in government officials (259 in total) being fined for forced labour violations. The continuing problem of forced labour, its messages about its criminalisation and the Government’s policy goal of eliminating it, are now being discussed openly and regularly by government officials and in the Uzbek media, including in state outlets.[100]


While a significant improvement 102,000 people being forced to pick cotton is still poses an enormous challenge.[101] In the 2019 harvest both the ILO and Cotton Campaign monitors agreed that the prohibition on the use of nurses, doctors, teaches and student had been observed but that some initiatives at a local government level in the regions still led to some in middle income jobs or businesses being required to pay for pickers. The use of 2100 firefighters, following a decree by the Ministry of Emergencies, and military cadets and conscripts (at the direction of the Ministry of Defense) have been confirmed, although according to the ILO as these workers were paid this was not technically forced labour though still in breach of its standards.[102] Concerns have also been raised around (state) bank lending to farmers for machinery, seed and other supplies being tied to commitments to producing set amounts of cotton, which led to forced labour being provided both through local government and in some cases by the banks themselves providing staff as pickers or paying for others to bring in the cotton.[103]


There are enduring concerns that the privatisation of the cotton harvest, through the ‘clusters’ which vertically integrate farming, harvesting, processing and in many cases the manufacture of textiles, will not necessarily bring forced labour to an end. The opaque ownership structures of clusters can mask the influence of local power brokers, who are or who are working closely with local officials to continue to pressure people into working in the fields. Transferring forced labour from official state policy to the province of localised corruption and private gain must be avoided at all costs. As mentioned above farmers too have complained about late payments, land confiscation and coercive practices by the new clusters.[104]


On March 6th 2020 a Presidential Decree was ending the state order system in 2020 so that farmers who rent land from the state would be free to determine their own output levels and choice of cotton crop ahead of the 2020 harvest, as well as expediting further planned changes to liberalise prices and bank lending.[105] This went faster than a number of experts had previously predicted and that was set out in the 2019 agricultural development strategy, which looked at a phased approach by 2023.[106]


The combination of a strong relationship between the ILO and Government and sustained external pressure has helped drive the changes forward on the ground. However, there is a clear difference of opinion over the relative merits of supporting and pressuring the Government of Uzbekistan into ending forced labour once and for all, rooted in different theories of change. The ILO sees its role as supporting those in Government who have been driving the reforms, something that includes praising progress so far to help  give reformers the political ‘wins’ needed internally to keep progress going and to build the case for further international support to complete the reforms. To that end, the ILO has supported Government efforts to end the international boycott of the Uzbek Cotton sector, arguing that this will allow further increases in wages and spur investment in mechanisation to root out remaining pockets of forced labour. Other supporters of now ending the boycott have made wider arguments including about how normalisation would end smuggling that currently sees Uzbek cotton on international markets posing as products of other nations and encourage Western investment into the sector (with perceptions of higher labour and environmental standards) rather than relying on Russian and Chinese investment.[107]


The debate has been added given added impetus by the COVID-19 outbreak that came shortly after constructive but inconclusive discussions between the Cotton Campaign representatives and the Government of Uzbekistan. The Government of Uzbekistan has made a public call for the ending of the boycott to help the economy weather the impact of the COVID-19 crisis including challenge of rising unemployment and the return of labour migrants.[108] However the Cotton Campaign, as Lynn Schweisfurth makes clear in this collection, stand by their call for the Government to enable the registration of independent human rights and cotton monitoring non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to provide oversight of the efforts to completely end forced labour as a precondition for lifting the boycott.[109] The transition to the cluster model provides both new economic opportunities but new areas where monitoring will be required to prevent the use of forced or coerced labour, not only in the cotton fields but in the emerging textile factories that are developing in dispersed communities potentially away from necessary scrutiny.


At present, neither the local human rights activists who work with the ILO nor those who work with the Cotton Campaign have been able to register the local NGOs despite repeated attempts (part of wider restrictions on independent NGOs discussed below). Harassment against unregistered monitors and investigative journalists has significantly reduced but still continues and those who have sacrificed so much to help bring the practice of forced labour to an end must have an opportunity to play a part in the future. To achieve international credibility and trust in Uzbek cotton there needs to be an ongoing role for the Cotton Campaign, both its local partners and international networks, in providing monitoring and assurance about the forced labour situation in Uzbekistan including examining conditions in the emerging processing and textile operations within the clusters. If Uzbekistan wants to build international support for ending the boycott, allowing the NGO registration of both the Cotton Campaign’s local partners and of those working with the ILO would seem to be a crucial step, along with registrations of independent trade unions for seasonal agricultural workers.[110]


Given the economic challenges facing Uzbekistan post-COVID 19 the urgency of finding a pathway to end the boycott is stronger than ever but it is essential that Uzbekistan remains on the path to rapidly end outstanding cases of forced labour. In the longer-term, the development of independent trade unions will be crucial in labour organising and protecting workers from exploitation, so changes in this area must form part of Uzbekistan’s reform process. As Bennet Freeman of the Cotton Campaign puts it ‘the issue is less whether to end the pledge – but when and how – and above all, how ending it can become a catalyst for responsible sourcing and investment’.[111] The process of opening up the cotton sector to international markets needs to be expedited to meet Uzbekistan’s economic needs and bolster the improvements in rural wages and the registration of cotton focused NGOs and independent unions (as a key step in delivering the wider process of NGO reform) would seem a small price for the Government to pay to strengthen international confidence that the final steps of eradicating forced labour are to be achieved and sustained.[112]


It is worth noting that the Uzbek Forum for Human Rights and others have also documented reports of forced labour being used to carryout local infrastructure and renovation work as part of the Obod Qishloq (prosperous villages) program, by abusing the Soviet era concept of hashar, whereby residents come together to carry out voluntary work for the benefit of their communities. According to the Forum  ‘by labelling public works as hashar, local officials are able to forcibly recruit employees of both state-owned and private enterprises to work without pay and often under difficult and dangerous conditions rather than creating new — paid — employment opportunities’.[113] There have also been reports from RFE/RL that despite the COVID-19 lockdown in late March 2020 hundreds of residents were pressed into work assisting city officials beautify Andijan before a Presidential visit.[114]


Media and online Freedom

Uzbekistan has made gradual progress in the international press freedom rankings from 166th out of 180 in 2015, the last full year under Karimov, to 156 out of 180 in 2020 with the description ‘thaw under way’ and a decrease in its Global Score of over eight points, placing just ahead of Kazakhstan and Singapore and just behind Turkey and Rwanda.[115]


The Mirziyoyev era has seen a significant growth in independent-minded local journalism online with news sites such as Gazzetta.Uz, Kun.Uz, Hook Report and independent bloggers using Telegram Channels and Facebook pages to reach wide audiences and tackle controversial topics in a way that would have been unthinkable under Karimov. As of May 2019, most internationally based websites are now able to be accessed in Uzbekistan, a few notable exceptions such as RFE/RL’s Uzbek language service Ozodlik.[116]


All journalists imprisoned during the Karimov era, such as former RFE/RL contributors Solijon Abdurahmonov and Yusuf Ruzimuradov have been released after long prison sentences, and no journalists remain in long-term detention in Uzbekistan at time of writing, following the release of Bobomurod Abdullaev and Hayot Nasriddinov in 2018.[117] In certain cases local officials have been penalised for impeding the work of journalists, for example a senior official in the Fergana region was fired after having Sharifa Madrahimova, a journalist from the Marifat (Enlightenment) newspaper, arrested for her investigations into price rises at a local market.[118]


The new freedom is a fragile one with reporters unable to fully predict the reaction to stories from the authorities or powerful members of the elite and while criticism of officials and politicians is now broadly tolerated, direct criticism of the President and first family is still off limits on anything more than minor quibbles on procedural issues. ‘Constructive criticism’ seems to be being encouraged but the situation is still some way from full freedom of speech and the media. There is a sense that the more reform-minded parts of the elite see value the development of independent minded domestic media both as a safety valve and a source of information to help inform further reforms to the system. The Government also seems keen to allow the expansion of new domestic providers to help reduce reliance on external media sources (such as BBC World Service, VOA, RFE/RL, and Fergana). While, as with many things reforms of the media environment are a work in progress, a more cynical view would be that the precarious basis on which media freedom is currently built both encourages a degree of self-censorship and openness to pressure on more controversial topics.


The fragility of the situation has been underlined by two recent, at time of writing, cases. In May 2020 well-known journalist Anora Sodiqova was fired from the Uzbek National News Agency in what she believed to be retaliation in particular for her comments on Facebook about Presidential Advisor Khayriddin Sultonov (who until 2018 had overseen the media sector) and about the Sardoba dam tragedy which she said led to increased pressure from her superiors at the agency.[119] The Nemolchi (Don’t Keep Silent) website, which catalogues anonymous stories from domestic abuse sufferers run by women’s rights campaigner Irina Matviyenko was subject of a ludicrous intervention by the Agency for Information and Mass Communications (about which more below). The site was told it was ‘disseminating immoral content’ under laws focused on regulating pornography and ordered to take down references to rape and masturbation in a heartbreaking but important story explaining a survivors’ experiences of being abused as a child.[120] After local and international outcry, the takedown request was withdrawn by the Agency following support for Nemolchi by the Public Fund for Support and Development of National Mass Media.[121]


One of the main challenges still facing journalists are the laws on different types of defamation. In January 2020 a draft law was published seeking to implement the principles of a December 2020 Presidential decree that would remove the threat of prison for ‘slander and insult’ making amendments to the procedures in the administrative and criminal codes. While removing the threat of prison the changes would substantially increase the upper limit of fines imposed from 200 Basic Calculation units ($4250) to 500 BCU ($10,630) which retaining the option of up to 360 hours community service. The crime of insulting someone in connection with their official or civil duty still exists but has been downgraded to an administrative offence.[122] With legal costs high and court system still struggling with corruption the courts are a heavily used route for aggrieved business people and officials to suppress critical voices.


As of time of writing the draft law on slander has not been implemented, with rumours circling about the development of an entirely new law of mass media that might incorporate such changes. The current law on mass media, despite amendments in 2018, remains the source of concern, with international media freedom organisation Article 19 calling for the removal of content and contributor restrictions and the need to clearly differentiate between print/online output and broadcast services with regulation only appropriate for the latter.[123] However, some local journalists have questioned whether further changes to legislation should be the focus of attention, given that many of the outstanding problems in the media sector stem from poor implementation of existing laws and in the structures of power in the country.


This is not to say that the risk of direct harassment and arrest of journalists have entirely gone away, particularly for those in the regions at the hands of local law enforcement. Indeed, there clearly is a sign that more activist journalists who have been challenging the state since the Karimov era, or who take a more negative view of the Government’s reform agenda are more likely to receive negative treatment, reinforcing the cycle of distrust. So those, who fall into the space between political activism and small time blogging (and so sometimes are not seen as being part of the local media landscape) still face significant pressures.[124] This is particularly true for those focused on religious issues or with links to Uzbekistan’s exiled political groups. Poet and blogger Mahmud Rajabov was given a 27 month suspended sentence on smuggling charges for importing banned books produced by former Presidential candidate Muhammad Salih and served time in administrative detention for a march protesting his treatment.[125] A blogger and activist who covered Rajabov’s case, Nafosat Olloshukurova, was arrested and forcibly detained in a psychiatric facility before being able to flee into exile with the support of the US Embassy and local human rights campaigners.[126] Journalist Davlatnazar Ruzmetov was the subject of significant harassment from police and local security services in Khorezm for his coverage of Rajabov and Olloshukurova’s cases and his activities in exposing forced labour in the cotton sector, up until the point he was killed by being run over crossing the road in November 2019.[127] In 2018, eight conservative leaning religious bloggers and activists were arrested and detained on 15 day administrative charges at a time of heightened tension with religious communities following new school uniform regulations that strengthened the de facto ban on the hijab.[128]


The situation on traditional broadcast media (TV and Radio) is more mixed. The advent of digital broadcasting has enabled the growth of new TV channels, such as UzReport, to enter the market and grow their audiences, providing more diverse and critical coverage than their traditional competitors but within similar parameters faced by new online media. State run TV and Radio however have yet to meaningfully reform, with requirements to dutifully follow and repeat the government line (albeit that the line itself is now more open than it was in the Karimov era), with censorship of songs (and lyrics) and other cultural content to avoid controversial topics even on social matters. While there has been an improvement in production values, there have not been significant steps to reform output into more challenging areas or to engage with the international community on different models of public broadcasting or structural reforms.[129]


A newly organised Agency for Information and Mass Communications, overseeing the media sector and consolidating a wide range of government information services, was set up in February 2019 under the leadership of the President’s former Press Secretary Komil Allamjonov, with the President’s daughter Saida Mirziyoyeva as his deputy.[130] After establishing the agency Allamjonov and Mirziyoyeva moved in February 2020 to set up the Public Fund for Support and Development of National Mass Media, a new public foundation for freedom of the media with the stated aims to give bloggers and independent journalists legal, organisational, technical and other assistance. At the fund’s launch Mirziyoyeva announced that “we believe in freedom of speech and we believe in its power. We believe that high-quality journalism is necessary for the life of a democratic society in which all people are equal and have the right to choose regardless of their faith, race, gender, nationality or social status”. She also argued that freedom of speech and the role of bloggers and independent journalists were an essential part of the reform process, saying that “Our president understands that it is more effective to monitor the implementation of reforms when millions of eyes observe the work of authorized bodies. Of course, these authorized persons are not always so comfortable, but only in this way a strong civil society is built.”[131]


In the most countries, particularly in authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes, placing the President’s daughter and former Press Secretary first as the leadership the of the press regulator and then the country’s main foundation for media freedom would raise a number of red flags about the seriousness of commitments to freedom of the media and the ability for the journalists to hold the government to account. However the situation here is perhaps somewhat more complicated by the internal power dynamics of the government, in that a number of journalists have argued that this duo (hailing from the reformist camp and with impeccable access to the President) have been active allies in defending journalistic independence against pressure from the system’s old guard, given the stated importance of media development for the Mirziyoyev project. Irrespective of how substantive the support given to journalists by the reformists has been there remains a substantive gap between nurturing constructive criticism to help spur government backed reforms and a fully open media environment, particularly when it comes to direct criticism of the President and first family. A recent interview by Allamjonov on Uzreport highlighted some of these tensions where he talked of wanting to create ‘a responsible, ethical media space gaining control over their field through credibility’ rather than having journalists and bloggers continuing without rules of engagement ‘where government will keep drawing lines for them’. While supporting efforts to improve accuracy of reporting and sourcing is all well and good he still sees it as the role of the state to apply pressure to achieve these goals, inserting its own conceptions of accuracy and its interests into the process.[132]


At present, due to the restrictions on NGO registration outlined below and deep government scepticism there are not currently not-for-profit donor funded or part-funded outfits such as Kloop in Krygyzstan, loads of outlets in Georgia and Ukraine (such as OC Media or Hromadske), nor OCCRP and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (and similar Western investigative groups). While some commercial entities are doing more investigative journalism, the lack of well-funded investigative journalism organisations that are not reliant on advertising does limit the opportunities for in depth scrutiny.


Space for Civil Society

After a brief opening in the early 1990s, in the years that followed under Karimov independent civil society was gradually suffocated. Registration requirements and state interference in activities progressively expanded, with the Ezgulik Human Rights Centre one of the last independent NGOs to receive registration in 2003 (only made possible with the assistance of the OSCE and US Government). In 2004 new requirements on international NGOs to reregister with the Ministry of Justice, to place all international donations in two particular state banks and to obtain official permission to access their funds (creating a de facto freeze on NGO bank accounts) led to the closure of local presence of Internews, the Open Society Foundations and the Institute of War and Peace Reporting.[133] Crackdown on human rights activists and independent voices in the wake of the 2005 Andijan Massacre led to a further wave of pressure against both local and international NGOs forcing the withdrawal of most of the remaining international organisations such as  the Eurasia Foundation, CounterPart International, Freedom House, the American Bar Association and IREX.[134] The climate of repression against independent organisations would persist throughout the Karimov era.


As is so often the case in much of the post-Soviet space the lack of independent NGOs is not the same as a lack of NGOs. Many of the most prominent organisations that get described as ‘NGOs’ in Uzbekistan, such as Buyuk Kelajak or the Public Fund for Support and Development of National Mass Media mentioned above, were founded by Government Decrees, receive significant funding from state budgets, and are reporting to and operating under the strategic direction of the Government. Some of these organisations have shown a significant degree of dynamism in recent years with Yuksalish, a think tank founded in conjunction with the Parliament, for example proactively trying to raises its profile and engage with international organisations, while developing useful initiatives to support the sector such as the website that seeks to link NGOs with volunteers.[135] These quasi non-governmental organisations (QUANGOS) can be an important part of the delivery of government policy in many countries, they can bring together useful expertise and can often involve effective public participation but they are not non-governmental in any meaningful sense.[136] As Dilmurad Yuspov points out in his essay in this collection when all the separately registered local branches of these systemic NGOs, political parties and trade unions are counted up they amount for around 65 per cent of the 9338 NGOs that are currently registered with the Ministry of Justice in Uzbekistan. The government or parliament are quite open about their role in founding such organisations, leaving little space for the more insidious form of Government Organised Non-Governmental Organisation (GONGO) seen in some of the countries that have been notionally independently founded but remain wholly controlled by regime figures. Many of the other NGOs that have been able to operate are those which address non-controversial topics and humanitarian activities, allowing more collaborative relations with government.


Unlike the liberalisation in the media environment there has not been a similar opening up for new independent NGOs. As Dilmurad Yuspov explains the registration for independent NGOs remains a bureaucratic nightmare (despite some limited reforms and an new online portal) and activities by unregistered groups are banned, though some have reported that in recent years enforcement of penalties for unregistered organisations has for the most part become less strict. The fear of independent, and especially internationally funded NGOs, runs deep across the more authoritarian parts of the post-Soviet Space, buying into narratives that they were the driving force behind the Maidan (Ukraine) and the ‘colour’ revolutions of the 2000s.[137] While a direct causal link between NGOs and revolution remains farfetched, and the subject of substantial propaganda by Russia and other authoritarians, the growth in truly independent organisations would of course provide new opportunities for examining the performance of the Government and provide participants with the skills to do so more effectively.[138] At the moment while criticism of Government policy and delivery is being encouraged by the President and his administration it is predominantly through means, if not always directly controlled then at least mediated by, the Government itself.


In the absence of simple registration paths for formal NGOs, informal but very active Facebook and Telegram groups about issues of local importance have partially filled the void, creating new opportunities for mobilisation on civic and political issues.


In March 2020, the Government approved the registration of Huquqiy Tayanch (Legal Base), a prisoner rights organisation that had been turned down eight times previously and is the first human rights organisation registered since 2002,  and the US NGO Mercy Corps, which had been previously deregistered in 2006 in the wake of Andijan.[139] However, this positive first step has not led to a flood of successful approvals with human rights NGOs, such as the Karakalpakstan based human rights organisation Chiroq being rejected multiple times in 2020, most recently in April.[140] A new NGO code is being drafted, and clearly needs to be expedited, but there needs to be a must political steer from the highest level to end the bureaucratic roadblocks to registration, something that can be done even on the basis of the current legal arrangements.


The April 2020 announcement of the new public chamber comprising a mix of NGO representatives as a formal consultative body between the Government and Civil Society.  If its members are drawn solely from the ranks of QUANGOs and other GONGOs it will lack credibility, both in Uzbekistan and to the international community. This initiative should be used a springboard to open up NGO registration and to enable independent voices to be heard at the highest level.[141]


Human Rights

Under Karimov Uzbekistan was rightly seen as a global pariah on human rights. The regime was marked by the mass jailing political prisoners, widespread use of torture and deaths in custody (including infamous cases where prisoners were believed to have been boiled to death), poor prison conditions as well as wider problems around corruption, rule of law, freedoms and minority rights addressed in other sections of this collection.[142] Mirziyoyev has made substantive changes in this area, recognising not only the impact that loosening the pressure on dissent has only on the internal environment but in changing Uzbekistan’s international reputation.


Over 50 political prisoners have been released since 2016, including almost all of those imprisoned in the Karimov era.[143] Those released now included a number of figures arrested in the early phase of the Mirziyoyev era, with the release of Andrei Kubatin in September 2019, a scholar and supporter of pan-Turkism, arrested and tortured in December 2017. In his case and many others the finger of blame has been pointed at the security services, including by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Diego Garcia-Sayán.[144] As time has gone on the political rivalries between Mirziyoyev and the Karimov era security establishment have also helped opened up opportunities for replacing key personnel and evolving practices at a grassroots level, including reducing the use of blacklists of human rights activist and journalists with 20,000 people removed according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). HRW have also been told that the Uzbekistan has stopped applying Section 221 of the Criminal Code on ‘violation of prison rules’ that was often used to extend the sentences of political prisoners.[145]


In December 2017, a Presidential Decree declared that evidence obtained through torture would be inadmissible in court.[146] While in 2019 the notorious Jaslyk Prison, renowned as ‘the house of torture’ and home to a number of political prisoners was closed.[147] On March 14th 2019, President Mirziyoyev signed into law new provisions mandating the Ombudsman (about which more below) to establish a National Preventive Mechanism in relation to Uzbekistan’s international commitments under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.[148] However, it has yet to sign the ‘Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment’ which sets the international benchmarks for how national monitoring mechanisms should operate. The relative relaxation in the political environment has facilitated an almost tenfold increase in the number of formal complaints to the prosecutor’s office about incidents of torture and mistreatment but the rise in official investigations into malpractice has not been commensurate with the increase in complaints according to HRW.[149] Overall most observers believe there has been a significant reduction, though not elimination, of the use of torture, though sometimes because more devious methods, including pressure on families. The recent deaths of Farrukh Hidirov, where activist have shown pictures believed to show evidence of burning and scaring (while the authorities argue that these were symptoms of Tuberculosis) and Alijon Abdukarimov (discussed below) suggest that more still needs to be done to stamp out this previously endemic scourge.[150]


There are two official bodies with particular roles in addressing human rights in Uzbekistan; the Office of the Authorised Person of the Oliy Majlis for Human Rights (Ombudsman) which handles complaints from members of the public on human rights issues, and the National Human Rights Centre (NHRC), an NGO founded in by Presidential Decree in December 2018 with a focus on improving standards, informing legislation and international engagement (PR role).[151] The Ombudsman’s office has been gradually increasing its independence and ability to address more challenging issues as the climate of repression lifted. This has included engaging with independent campaigners on issues including torture and prison inspection (reporting 138 allegations of torture in 2019, mostly in prisons).[152] However, the annual budget of the Ombudsman is currently 3,600,300,000 soms ($350,000) and it has been seeking international funding to help expand its capacity. The NHRC has received significantly more funding in recent years with its government funding for 2020 is 7,254,000,000 soms ($715,000) and it plays an active role in promoting the progress of the Mirziyoyev reforms to the international community.[153]


Uzbekistan took the opportunity provided by the international goodwill generated by the initial burst of reforms to convene host an ‘Asian Forum on Human Rights’ in November 2018 at a convention centre in Samarkand, which as HRW noted the event was heavy on international observers and Uzbek dignitaries (facilitating dialogue between the two groups) but few independent local activists were able to attend.[154] It had planned to create a follow-up event in May 2020, the Samarkand Human Rights Forum, before being postponed due to COVID-19.[155] The forums form part of Uzbekistan’s campaign a seat on the UN Human Rights Council for 2021-23.[156] Uzbek Government is in negotiations with the UN about the number of UN special rapporteurs able to visit each year, building on recent visits but the ability to deliver these visits rely perhaps more on availability and global on the UN side than on the Uzbek side. As discussed below Uzbekistan is in the process of mounting a bid to join the UN Human Rights Council for 2021-23.


Despite the identifiable progress there is still much to do before international human rights standards are fully met. The case and treatment of former diplomat Kadyr Yusupov was convicted by a closed court of treason in January 2020 has rung alarm bells due to allegations of torture, threats to his family members and prior mental health issues that included a suicide attempt immediately prior to his arrest.[157] This and other cases show that all though progress has been made in checking the power of the security services, including reducing their political threat to the regime, there are still credible concerns that some of their arrests are for the purposes of perpetuating their own existence at current resourcing levels (by keeping Uzbekistan safe from spies whether real and imagined) than meeting the wider needs of Uzbek national security.[158]Campaigners have argued for reforms to Article 157 of the Criminal Code, which sets out the criteria for High Treason though in practice it will take further reform of the security services and of the courts to reduce the risk of national security cases being made on dubious grounds. Further evidence for the need for more security service reform has been set out by Amnesty International who have identified a sophisticated phishing and spyware campaign to try to monitor a number of Uzbekistani human rights activists.[159]


In principle provisions for freedom assembly are enshrined in the constitution and law. However, in practice under Karimov protests were virtually prohibited in practice and continue to be difficult to organise to this day. While, prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, the Government had become less heavy handed in its response to spontaneous public protests, such as over natural gas prices and the housing protests mentioned above, attempts to address formal restrictions on freedom of assembly have stalled.[160] In the summer of 2019, the Government consulted on the ‘Draft Law on Rallies, Meetings and Demonstrations of the Republic of Uzbekistan’. Following criticism by international experts convened by the OSCE/ODIHR that the proposed law was ‘generally not compliant with international human rights standards, and there are a several areas that may be considered particularly deficient in this regard’, the legislation has been stuck.[161] The OSCE had called for Uzbekistan to move from a system where authorities had to authorise demonstrations to one where protesters were only required to inform the Government and to loosen rules around demonstration venues, times and durations.


Longstanding human rights activists describe their situation as having gone from being repressed to being (mostly) ignored. There are some new opportunities for interacting with more reform-minded ministers but perception that many of the changes are cosmetic, with many older hands more cynical about the overall director of travel than the newer group of activists and commentators who have emerged in the Mirziyoyev era. As set out previously the legacy of the Karimov era hangs heavily over Uzbekistan today. The intimate involvement of many of today’s elite with the Karimov regime leaves questions of transitional justice unanswered, past failings are acknowledged but without accountability or redress in a relentless focus on moving forward. The unwillingness to talk about the past even includes the Andjian Massacre, the 2015 event that so defined Uzbekistan’s retreat from the world, with officials unwilling to address its legacy and the Interior Minister at the time of the massacre, Zokir Almatov, currently holds a post of special advisor in the interior ministry.[162] This approach fuels scepticism about the sincerity of the current efforts at change.


The new National Strategy of Uzbekistan on Human Rights confirmed by Presidential Decree in June sets out, on paper at least an ambitious set of action plans with internal monitoring mechanisms to report on progress.[163] However, the real test will be in the implementation and whether local and international activists and journalists are able to openly monitor the situation in practice.


Rule of Law

Improving the situation in relation to the rule of law in Uzbekistan is a central challenge both for addressing the country’s human rights and economic challenges. It is an area where progress has been somewhat uneven compared to some other reforms and major challenges remain ahead around corruption in the judiciary, the continued dominance of the prosecutor’s office and the lack of defence lawyers. As with so many areas of policy the pace of regulatory change in the legal sphere has been rapid, with around 15,000 new Ministry of Justice documents and regulations in the last three years (compared to 20,000 in the previous 25 years).


One area where there has been a clear step forward is in the area of policing. As discussed above, prior to recent reforms low-level bribery was endemic amongst beat and traffic police.[164] After recent changes Uzbek’s everyday interactions with police have markedly improved, though independent activists report that some low level harassment and monitoring of their activities persist. Following the tragic case of Alijon Abdukarimov, who was beaten to death by police officers in May, the Government has committed to installing CCTV in the interrogation rooms of 497 police stations across Uzbekistan, while the police involved have been arrested and charged with torture and illegal detention.[165]


At the heart of Uzbekistan’s rule of law problems have been the overwhelming power of the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) in controlling the legal process from arrest (officers used to have unrestricted power of arrest but though now courts determine who can be arrested it is almost unknown for them to refuse prosecutors requests) through to sentencing (judges almost always accept the sentence proposed by the prosecutors). The charging decision, in the hands of the PGO, is critical in determining the outcome of a trial in a system where acquittals are still extremely rare. Mirziyoyev has spoken openly about the need to increase the number of acquittals in legal proceedings. Following the speech, the annual number of acquittals has risen from six in 2016 to 867 in 2018.[166] However, some observers have noted concerns that these numbers may be being padded out with cases that have yet to complete where sentencing is postponed or where the applicants have died.[167] Reforming the PGO itself has also been an important part of the reform agenda. In August 2017 Mirziyoyev claimed that the PGO officials had been ‘major thieves and facilitators of theft’, saying that he had replaced 80 per cent of them and in March 2019 made further changes to redistribute responsibilities to other state agencies and reduce the PGO workforce by 23 per cent.[168]


Despite these reforms, the inequality of arms in the court room in criminal and administrative court cases is palpable. On the other side of the court from the still powerful PGO across the courtroom in criminal trial are a small band of advocates. As of January 2019 there were 3944 lawyers licensed as attorneys at law in total in a country of 33 million people.[169] Given Uzbekistan’s expanding array of new business opportunities many of these lawyers (and many others with legal training but not registered with the Chamber of Advocates) work in the commercial sector leaving a small number to take up the thankless task of defending those accused in a system with the acquittals rate and sentencing policy noted above. There are issues around the need to improve the status of lawyers in the country, but particularly to make it more attractive to act as a defence lawyer. At the moment lawyers taking human rights or politically challenging cases tend to be from the small group of older lawyers, with younger lawyers still afraid that taking such cases could destroy their careers.


There are some small steps underway to change the situation facing lawyers in Uzbekistan. Firstly, efforts are underway to reform the Chamber of Advocates that represents the profession, attempting to loosen the level of control the Ministry of Justice has over its activities. Following a Presidential Decree from December 2019, the Chamber of Advocates has been tasked with developing a new concept for the administration of the legal profession with a working group, involving a broader range of advocates than previously might have been the case. Key issues under investigation include the nature of the relationship with the Ministry of Justice (previously chair of Chamber of Advocates was chosen by Ministry of Justice) and the development new policy on legal aid, with a view to providing criminal, administrative and civil case support from advice through to trial for those who meet low income criteria and this will be managed by a series of regional centres independent of the judiciary who administered the legacy system (often the cause of corruption and favouritism amongst lawyer). The Chamber of Advocates now has a consultative role in approving any new legislation relating to the profession. On positive initiate in improving access to justice is the Madad network of legal advisory bureaus across Uzbekistan, an ‘NGO’ funded by government decree in 2019, that aim to shortly have an office in every district as well as the national website all providing free legal advice.[170]


Reform of the judiciary remains very much a work in progress; something the President has been open about in is 2020 State of the Nation Speech.[171] At present, the Supreme Judicial Council, created in 2018, makes appointment of judges on the recommendation of the Supreme Court. However, the President appoints the council and formally approves judicial appointments, giving concerns over the ability of the Presidential administration to influence the decisions.[172] Judicial salaries have been increased though still not to a level commensurate with the lifestyles they and their families have come to expect from their position.[173] Reports of bribe taking remain rife, particularly in the criminal and administrative courts. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers 85 per cent of judges remain on a five-year tenure which leaves them potentially more open to pressure in order to secure their future reappointment than more established judges on longer terms.[174] The rapporteur also noted that civil society representatives that he met during his visit with were subject to interrogation by the security services.


The majority of the judges working today have made their way through the Prosecutor’s office. The working group of the Chamber of Advocates has suggested that all new judges in the criminal courts have spent time as a defence lawyer, something that may help change perspectives as well as improving the status of lawyers in general. The more egregious excesses of the judiciary have been removed while the need for deeper institutional change remains.


The international community has been engaging with judicial reform process both on training and on building technical capabilities, such as the well-publicised project by the UN to make documents from the administrative court system open to the public. Efforts to create an automated system of case distribution are yet to be completed with case allocation decisions when assigned judges are unavailable are still being made by the powerful chairs of each court as part of the widespread powers they have over the selection, promotion, evaluation and discipline of judges. As the UN Special Rapporteur noted the measures taken so far ‘should be regarded as initial steps towards the establishment of a truly independent and impartial justice system. Much more needs to be done to ensure that the judiciary is truly independent from other branches of the State, and that judges, prosecutors and lawyers are free to carry out their professional activities without any undue interference or pressure.’


Women’s rights

One of the major challenges recognised by both Government and international donors is the need to address systemic discrimination against women in Uzbekistan’s economy, society and amongst its political elite. Even in the Soviet era of nominal gender equality and state run welfare support networks Uzbekistan was a patriarchal society with few women in leadership roles but as Uzbek academic Nozima Davletova points out the transition to the market economy in the 90s, the gradual re-emergence of religion (about which more below) and the patriarchal way in which the national patriarch Islam Karimov sought to define post-independence Uzbek identity has led to has growing led to a ‘growing re-traditionalisation’, where both economic and cultural pressure ends up promoting ‘traditional’ gender roles.[175]


At present, no full members of the Cabinet of Ministers or regional governors are women. There is only one district level Governor who is a woman and Uzbekistan has only just appointed its first woman Ambassador in June 2020, Feruza Mahmudova the new Ambassador to Israel.[176] However, the recent Majils elections the number of women elected doubled to 48, just under a third of the total members of Parliament, and the new chairperson of the Senate is former Deputy PM Tanzila Narbaeva.[177] Davletova believes that there is some political will from the current elite to address women’s rights issues but a lack of capacity to address informal and discriminatory practices at the middle management level and a local level outside of Tashkent.[178]


Even positive steps have led to outcomes that have disadvantaged women. For example, efforts to raise standards of education in pre-school education (kindergarten/nursery) led not only to improvements in the curriculum but a change of the age of admission from two to six years to three to seven years, thereby removing it as a childcare option for families of two year olds and making it harder for the primary caregiver (almost always women) from returning to work.[179] This links to a system of maternity leave which provides 126 days (somewhat oddly spaced split to give more time-70- days prior to birth than after 56 days) of leave paid by the employer, followed by the option of unpaid leave until the child reaches the age of three. Similarly the progressive elimination of forced labour leading to a rise in higher paid male cotton pickers displacing women who had previously been employed (including those doing work on behalf of others who paid to get out of forced labour). It is important to note however that the specific focus on preventing the use of teaching and health care workers as forced labour gives particular protections for women.


Women in rural communities often find themselves responsible for managing the family’s Tomorqa (backyard/subsistence smallholding) and lack of access to water can lead to a disproportionate impact on women in collecting it. Rural Communities disproportionately deal with the challenge for women around labour migration. The average age of marriage is 21-22 years and, while forced marriage does exist, there are wider problems around pressure to marry early. A combination of culture pressure and the housing crisis often leads to many new wives being forced to move in with her husband’s parents. This creates a particular challenge in cases, as is often the case in rural communities where the husband may be required to become a migrant worker. These arrangements that can last for many years and often become permanent. In the context of low spousal loyalty due to early or pressured marriage, it is often the parents who are the direct recipients of remittance payments and there have been many cases where the wives are forced out of their in-laws homes and made homeless when their migrant husbands have decided to start new families in Russia or elsewhere.


Domestic violence remains a significant problem (with claims that 90 per cent of women have faced some form of domestic violence) that has until recently not been talked about (and even then with narrow focus on physical violence and deprivation of liberty rather than the full range of domestic abuse). The work done by Irina Matvienko, the creator of the independent information project (Don’t Be Silent) mentioned above has been extremely effective in drawing the attention of the Government and international community to these issues.[180] On September 2nd 2019, President Mirziyoyev signed the ‘Protection of Women from Harassment and Violence Act and the Guarantees of Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men Act, as part of a wider range of initiatives towards gender equality in.[181] Although the law, which sought to provide additional support for women bringing forward cases of domestic violence, came into effect immediately there had been delays in the regulatory changes required to bring key elements into force.[182]


While there is pressure amongst some in elite circles to improve gender equality there is also countervailing pressure from both gradually growing nationalist movements that are using social media (Telegram and Facebook) to promoting ideas of ‘Uzbek national values’ which include traditional or misogynistic conceptions of women’s role in society. Cultural conservatism includes criticism of women’s clothing including wearing jeans or shorts being used as a signifier of growing disrespect of traditional gender roles and family structures.[183] Following a recent case in Fergana where a young women was attacked and had her jaw broken in a row over her wearing short shorts, women’s rights activists have been staging a virtual flashmob across Uzbekistan, posting pictures of themselves protesting alone with protest signs challenging attempts to control what women wear.


Gradual religious liberalisation and growing religiosity, discussed in more detail below, has also been identified by women’s rights activist as reinforcing conservative cultural attitudes towards women including pressures to enforce hijab, the use of which remains effectively illegal in Uzbekistan. In 2018 the Government introduced a law brought in that required the presentation of a legal civil marriage certificate before religious marriage could be performed by cleric as attempt to crack down on temporary Islamic marriages, polygamy, etc. which, according to Women’s rights campaigners, have been on the rise. The official Muftiate does do anti-polygamy work but lacks credibility and campaigners argue that a wider range of public interventions will be needed.


Freedom of Religion and belief

The role of religion in modern Uzbekistan, and Uzbek identity is a complex one. As Uzbekistan’s many tourist sites can attest, the country has played an important role in the spiritual life of Central Asia over many centuries. Under the Soviets Uzbekistan was home to the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Central Asia and Kazakhstan (SADUM), which coordinated training, materials and supervision of religious activity in across the five Central Asian republics. Under Karimov, while Islamic identity was a constituent part around which he sought to build the remerging Uzbek identity, his approach to the religion itself remained one of tight state control of religion under the supervision of Uzbekistan’s branch of SADUM renamed the Muslim Board of Uzbekistan.[184] In the late 1990s and early 2000s growing concerns about radicalisation and impact of conflicts in Afghanistan and Tajikistan helped to facilitate a further crackdown on religious activity across Uzbekistan and in particular in the more devout Fergana valley. The crackdown, and the opening of the notorious Jaslyk Prison, was spurred on by six car bombs in Tashkent on February 16th 1999 that targeted government facilities, including one outside the Cabinet of Ministers just before Karimov was due to give a speech there. The official narrative pinned responsibility on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), though many at the time questioned this, including whether the regime itself was responsible.[185] The result was huge pressure on devout Muslims, particularly those operating independently of the state backed Muslim Board, leading to the arrest and imprisonment of thousands often on allegations (both suspected and fabricated) of membership not only of the IMU but of the banned non-violent extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, whose adherents were often given long sentences and some of whom died in jail after torture.[186] A similar witch hunt of devout Muslims took place in the wake of Andijan Massacre, with hundreds jailed on the grounds of alleged membership of Akromiya, supposedly an splinter group of Hizb ut-Tahrir headed by Andijan native Akrom Yo‘ldoshev, though there have been allegations that the organisation’s role was exaggerated or even its existence fabricated by the Government as a pretext for rounding up independent Muslims.[187]


Under Mirziyoyev, many of the systems put in place under the Karimov era but for the most part the pressure on religious activity has eased substantially. One of the early acts of the new regime was to remove 16,000 members of an alleged 17,000 strong watch list of suspected religious extremists being kept under surveillance, while HRW have reported that the Prison Authorities claim hundreds of independent Muslims had been released it is impossible to confirm the number of prisoners currently incarcerated for religious offenses.[188] Many of those given Presidential pardons in May 2020 to celebrate Eid al-Fitr had previously been jailed for religious offenses.[189] Uzbekistan has been removed from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) list of countries of particular concern, instead recommending that it remain on its ‘Special Watch List’.[190] The overall number of raids, fines and other punishments have been reduced. However, there are concerns that more recently the numbers on the ‘blacklist’ have increased and that during the COVID-19 pandemic there have been security sweep focused on Hizb ut-Tahrir in the Fergana Valley.[191]


Uzbekistan is yet to deliver on its 2018 pledge, made following the visit of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or belief to revise the 1998 Law on Religion, and earlier drafts seen by campaigners were deemed not to contain many major improvements.[192] The current law states that ‘Citizens’ of the Republic of Uzbekistan (except a registered religious organisation’s ministers) cannot appear in public places in religious attire, with the implementing regulations providing the options of fines of between five to ten times the monthly minimum wage or up to 15 days administrative detention though there is no definition of ‘religious attire’.[193] In practice the ‘religious attire’ provisions have allowed police, institutions and local authorities to attempt to prevent the wearing of the hijab or for younger and middle aged men to have long or bushy beards. Although there is some uncertainty about the national direction of travel in 2019, there have been public efforts at Tashkent to prevent children from wearing the hijab on school property while students at the Islamic University (and other institutions) have been expelled for insisting on wearing them, while beards of men at markets in Namangan and Tashkent were forcibly shaved.[194] While these prohibitions exist there does seem to be an attempt to enforce them in a less heavy-handed manner, however Muslim activist Tulkun Astanov was sentenced to five years suspended sentence for his efforts at lobbying the Muslim board over the hijab ban which included materials the authorities deemed extremist.[195] The Governor of Fergana Shuhrat Ghaniev was reprimanded for linking the hijab and beards to Islamic Extremism as part of a rant that talked of his work trying to stop their use in his region.[196]


As with independent NGOs, registering religious organisations is proving challenging with Shia Mosques and some protestant groups struggling to register without bribes. Jehovah’s Witnesses face similar registration challenges, amid rumours of efforts to ban adherents, and have had appeals to the ombudsman rejected.[197] International religious freedom organisation Forum 18 have documented how state control over participation in the Haj is used as both a mechanism of control over Muslims outside of state structures and an opportunity for corruption.[198] Even during the COVID lockdown raids on unsanctioned religious materials have continued.[199]


Minority rights

Uzbekistan remains, along with Turkmenistan, one of the two countries in the post-Soviet space where sex between men is against the law, with penalties ranging from fines to three years imprisonment under article 120 of the criminal code.[200] A notable feature of the current Government has been a willingness to discussing difficult topics, even where action is not being taken, which makes its unwillingness even to discuss issues of sexuality stand out as an area of concern. Like many other international observers, this author had been advised on multiple occasions by otherwise helpful officials that writing on this topic would damage the wider research project, making the issue all the more important for it to be addressed. Efforts to raise discrimination against Uzbekistan’s LGBTQ community has received short shrift in international forums.[201]


The atmosphere of repression means that it is very difficult for a community to develop, even in Tashkent which is comparatively tolerant when compared to the regions and some venues are more tolerant of LGBTQ people (even if not openly so).[202] Recent arrests of gay men include couples arrested in their own homes; with police using arrests such opportunities for extortion. Over the last year, a number of murders have been linked to attacks on the LGBTQ community, notably the death of Shokir Shavkatov shortly after coming out on social media.[203] Unsurprisingly given both the overall lack of independent NGOs and the legal situation there are no groups openly working directly on LGBTQ issues on the ground in Uzbekistan. HIV testing, even when undertaken anonymously, is challenging given the levels of homophobia in the medical profession, with doctors known to contact relatives of patients and with issues around data security given tests are logged with a code identifying the risk category (homosexual sex) why the sample was taken. Given the relative ease of travel gay men and transwomen often seek some form of refuge in Russia, where homosexuality is legal but heavily discriminated against but, particularly in cases of trafficking, many end up being forced into sex work.


The rise of Telegram and Facebook groups, as well as the use of WhatsApp, YouTube, Instagram and vkontakte has provided a multitude of platforms for homophobic abuse to be shared, as part of a wider meme culture and examples of toxic masculinity. Examples include the @tashGangs page on telegram with 576,000 followers at time of writing.[204] Such groups have been known to share personal information of LGBTQ people and spread videos of physical punishment, lynchings, humiliation and abuse of gay men. Mirziyoyev has not spoken publically about LGBTQ issues, even when called out in a public letter by Shohrukh Salimov (a gay Uzbek man who after police harassment had to relocate to Istanbul) in the summer of 2019.[205] However given his willingness to talk publically about most other issues, and the government’s blanket denial of the need to address issues facing the LGBTQ community this does not bode well for the chances of reform, amid conservative fear that openly discussing issues of equality in Uzbekistan might lead to weakening of the existing cultural taboos.[206] Although limited in their leverage, Western-partners will need to continue to push for decriminalisation and make clear the lasting damage that its current position does to the country’s international reputation.


Uzbekistan is slowly working to improve how it treats its disabled citizens, though with significant challenges including deinstitutionalisation, changing bureaucratic responses to disabled people and adapting the legacy of the Soviet and Karimov era built environment to try to improve accessibility. It is an area of growing interest to campaigners, such as Dilmurad Yusupov who writes in this collection on NGO registration work that followed on challenges around the registration of the Association of Disabled People of Uzbekistan.[207]


Uzbekistan’s place in the world and relations with the UK

One of the most dramatic areas of change under Mirziyoyev has been speed with which Uzbekistan has emerged from geo-political isolation under Karimov to become a regional leader and active international player, in a manner appropriate for Central Asia’s most populous country. Initially under Karimov, a policy of balancing external forces prevailed, with an at times hostile posture towards Russia leading it to become a founder member of the GUUAM Organisation for Democracy and Economic Development (along with the more Russia sceptic nations in the post-Soviet Region) but by the early 2000s it had begun to disengage with such relationships, formally withdrawing into semi-isolation after the diplomatic fallout of the Andijan massacre. The fallout from Andijan also significantly curtailed the post-Afghanistan marriage of convenience between Uzbekistan and the West over security cooperation.


As Dr Luca Anceschi and Dr Vladimir Paramonov highlight in their essay contribution Mirziyoyev has been energetic in reviving relationships with other Central Asian leaders, while simultaneously strengthening relations with Russia, China and potential Western investment partners. Part of this has been about deploying the increasingly effective public relations machine to burnish the new leadership’s international credentials to boost the attractiveness of Uzbekistan as an investment opportunity but it is built on a real and significant change in behaviour. At a Central Asian level the diplomacy has been frenetic, both in terms of opening up physical borders to facilitate travel and trade, and frequent visits and publicised phone calls.[208] Taken together these initiatives project a desire for Uzbekistan to proactively push regional cooperation rather than pull away from it as it often did under Karimov. This increase in Uzbek assertiveness has coincided with the political transition period in Kazakhstan, the country that had somewhat assumed regional leadership during Uzbekistan’s isolation. While the domestic response to the cross border tension with Kyrgyzstan over the Sokh enclave has been broadly criticised and is discussed in the crisis response section here, at an intergovernmental level Uzbekistan swiftly dispatched PM Abdulla Aripov to meet the Kyrgyz Deputy PM at the border to seek to prevent a diplomatic fallout.[209]


Uzbekistan’s improving relationships with Russia and China comprises both enhanced business and diplomatic engagement but also increasing cooperation with their respective economic-strategic projects: the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and Belt and Road.


As Anceschi and Paramonov point out the debate about Uzbek membership of the EAEU has been rumbling on since Mirziyoyev took office, and noises, particularly from the Russian side, prior to the COVID-crisis suggested that Uzbekistan was likely to join in 2020.[210] Reducing both tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade (particularly in the agricultural sector) with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (as well as Russia), lowering prices on certain imported goods as well as to helping regularise the status of up to two million Uzbek Labour migrants in Russia are understandably big potential prizes that could be won from EAEU.[211] However, there remain significant problems around the extent of regulatory alignment that would be required as part of membership and the implications swifter market opening would have for the, often politically connected, import substitution based industries in Uzbekistan. Furthermore, Uzbekistan is considering joining the EAEU at a time when the union’s other Central Asian members are expressing dissatisfaction with a system that has been seen to provide a greater economic boost to Moscow, where the organisation’s institutions are based (and critics would say policies shaped) and have served to encourage trade flows to and from Russia rather encouraging the cross-border trade in Central Asia that had been hoped for. As it is bilateral efforts already undertaken have delivered significant improvements in Uzbekistan’s trade with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.[212] Furthermore historic concerns about Russian attitudes towards Uzbeks and Uzbekistan’s independence of action from the Russian orbit persist, with the debate over the continuing use of the Russian language a source of tension.[213] As with many multilateral projects the EAEU initially slow to demonstrate its usefulness as a solidarity mechanism during the COVID-19 pandemic. Russia was seen to priorities sending aid to Western European nations such as Italy rather than directing support to Central Asia in the way that might have been expected. Uzbekistan has become an official observer nation to the EEAU but further announcements that some observers had expected for early summer 2020 have been slowed by the pressures of the COVID response.


This debate over Uzbekistan’s membership of the EAEU comes at the time not only when Uzbekistan is seeking to increase bilateral trade with China, something that has now surpassed trade with Russia, but also its participation in Belt and Road infrastructure projects.[214] Unlike Russia, China has also been proactive in responding to the COVID-19 crisis in supplying PPE (‘mask diplomacy’) and other health related aid to Uzbekistan and the rest of Central Asia, reviving the concept of a ‘health silk road’ as an adjunct to Belt and Road.[215] Already a crucial economic player in the region, the crisis has seen it expand its role into more political areas previously seen as Moscow’s area of interest.[216] The Uzbek elite have studiously avoided being drawn into dispute with China over its treatment of the Uighur community, including backing China at the UN over its treatment of the Uighurs and preventing the entry into Uzbekistan of the academic Gene Bunin who has been documenting the plight of those in China’s camps.[217]


Over recent decades Western strategic interest in Uzbekistan and the wider Central Asian region has gradually dwindled, particularly after the drawdown of forces in Afghanistan. Economic interests still remain, particularly amongst European states but the sense of political drift has been palpable.[218] In 2019 both the US and European Union (EU) have released new Central Asia strategies, reflecting on paper at least, a desire to increase their presence on the ground and give an alternative diplomatic and economic outlet to the Russia-China duopoly.[219] While Uzbekistan clearly desires new sources of investment and market access, a combination of past neglect and the lack of proximity, means that both the US and EU are unlikely to be more than bit-part players, helping to balance out the interests of the regional hegemons in the regime’s strategic thinking. One of the few remaining strategic priorities for the US and EU remains the fraught situation in Afghanistan both in terms of stability and the impact of drug trafficking and organised crime across the Uzbek-Afghan border. Under Mirziyoyev Uzbekistan has been attempting to play a diplomatic role with both the Government in Kabul and the Taliban.[220]


Beyond the major players and blocks a number of other countries such as South Korea (Uzbekistan hosts a significant Korean minority population) and Turkey have been showing an active business and political presence to take advantage of economic opportunities.[221] When looking at these mid-tier players it is useful, given the Foreign Policy Centre’s London base, to briefly explore the emerging relationship between the UK and Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan. Unlike many other post-Soviet elites London had not become an epicentre for an Uzbek diaspora, though efforts to boost ties are growing.


Uzbekistan was one of the first countries to agree a post-Brexit UK-Uzbekistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA). This arrangement mostly transferred over the contents of the EU-Uzbekistan PAC but without reference to EU treaties and bodies. The UK-Uzbekistan agreement did not seek to replicate the formal political dialogue processes (such as the human rights dialogues) contained in the EU agreement, however it does contain a joint-declaration confirming that violations on issues of ‘democracy, principles of international law and human rights’ particularly breaches of UN and OSCE commitments, could lead to a suspension of the agreement.[222]


The UK is home to a significant concentration of financial institutions and globally connected service sector organisations that the Government wishes to engage with to boost its attractiveness for trade and investment. These include a range of different public relations and communications operations to help promote the Government’s message around the reform agenda. For example Corporate Communications International Ltd who own the Eurasian Investor website focused on business stories in the post-Soviet space and operates as an event brand through which the now annual Uzinvest Forum takes place in London, featuring networking with many senior figures in the Uzbek Government for a standard entrance fee of £999 per ticket.[223] The UK also provides the legal inspiration for the Navoi Free Enterprise Zone (FEZ), now covering the whole Navoi region, which has now adopted the use of English Law for commercial proceedings.[224] As set out in the essay by Professor Kristian Lasslett the UK, and its Caribbean dependencies, are also hope to a ranged of different financial vehicles, including Scottish Limited Partnerships that are used to hide the ownership of countries across the world, including in Uzbekistan.


Education is an important pillar of the UK-Uzbekistan relationship and has been identified as a key growth area by the British Government. In 2002 Westminster International University in Tashkent, a partnership between the UK’s Westminster University (which accredits the degrees) and the Uzbek Government (which oversees local administration and management), became the first international university in the Country. WIUT provides a range of courses such as business, computing and law that respond to the demands of the emerging economy and the Government’s educational priorities but does not yet cover potentially more challenging topics in the areas of social and political science. Given the nature of the Uzbek government’s approach to higher education academic freedom is not what would be expected on campus in the UK, with some academics reporting they had been warned against publishing research or articles seen to be overtly criticising the Government.[225] Bangor University and the University of Sunderland also have a partnership with MDIS (Management Development Institute of Singapore) Tashkent, validating a number of their business courses. They have recently been joined by the University of Law, the UK based but Netherlands owner for-profit legal training institution, to provide consultancy around the development of a new International University of Law in Tashkent.[226]


In the broader education world the British Council has a presence in Tashkent though its semi-diplomatic status in the country limits some of the more commercially focused activities, such as English language teaching, that it provides in some other countries leaving it focused on cultural exchanges. However, UK Education services firm Cambridge Assessments is playing a major role in supporting education reform in the country through a partnership that has led to the creation of 14 presidential Schools across each regions. The schools are free to access boarding schools with a curriculum designed by Cambridge and a focus on encouraging critical thinking rather than rote learning. They are academically selective on entrance with 28,500 applicants for 560 places at the first four to open.[227] Although the schools report directly to the cabinet of ministers rather than the Ministry of Education, the goal is to use these schools to help spread new teaching practices and raise standards across the public education system. Cambridge are also working to develop a new evaluation framework for school standards inspection, including multiple inspectors and anonymous write components that the Uzbek Government would deliver with Cambridge providing monitoring and support. There is seen to be scope to help reform the administration of state exams, which are seen by many Uzbeks as being open to corruption, while UK companies are expanding involvement in the nursery (kindergarten) sector.


Uzbekistan is currently campaigning for membership of the UN Human Rights Council for 2021-23, due to be decided at the 2020 General Assembly in October. While given that voting takes place regionally some of the world’s worst human Rights abusers make it onto the council, if Uzbekistan was able to be elected in the Eastern European states section (mirroring the former Eastern bloc so comprising both the EU’s Eastern Members, the Western Balkans and the post-Soviet space) it would be seen as a big endorsement of the Mirziyoyev reforms (and its improved diplomacy). Therefore it is important that the international community fully assess the country’s recent performance on human rights related issues, which as set out above is significant but more patchy and problematic than the scale of reforms in some other areas.


Responding to crisis

At the start of this research project it seemed that one of the most important ways to judge the true progress of the Mirziyoyev reform programme was how it would respond to first significant setback and what its response would tell the world about the depth and breadth of progress. Over the last few months Uzbekistan has not only faced a number of major domestic challenges including the collapse of the Sardoba Dam and the resurgence of violence at the border with Kyrgyzstan but faced the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The response has highlighted both the strengths and weaknesses of the current system.


After registering its first case of COVID-19 on March 15th, Uzbekistan immediately announced the test result.[228] The following day (on March 16th) the Government of Uzbekistan closed itself off from international travel by plane and car (with international rail travel ceasing on March 19th), closed all schools and universities by bringing forward their holiday period and banned mass gatherings and sporting events.[229] Measures escalated rapidly after this with restrictions on long-distance travel through the return of region-level police posts on March 23rd, wearing a facemask in public became mandatory (with penalties including up to 15 day imprisonment) on March 25th and by March 27th a comprehensive lockdown was instituted with citizens only able to leave their house to shop for groceries and medicine.[230] Certain sectors of the economy, such as major agricultural and industrial operations and construction sites were reopened on April 14th with hygiene measures put in place.[231] Schools and universities have transitioned to online and distance learning, with online classes taking place during the lockdown and exams simplified to enable them to be done remotely. The government has announced that schools and universities will remain shut and remote learning will continue until at least September 2020.[232]


As the number of cases had begun to decline Uzbekistan introduced a ‘traffic light’ system of local infection with ‘red’ zones maintaining most of the previous quarantine restrictions, while ‘yellow’ and ‘green’ zones have respectively fewer restrictions, with the latter group seeing sports facilities and children’s summer camps reopen.[233] Restaurants, cafes have reopened for food outside and public transport has restarted (notionally with social distancing) as of June 8th, while long distance train journeys within the country and limited international flights returned on June 15th.[234]


Particularly in the early phases of the crisis the Uzbek state was able to move quickly to clearly and widely communicate public health messages, swiftly mobilising state resources (including creating an emergency medical helpline and building temporary hospital facilities) and showing an openness to discuss cases that would have been unthinkable in the Karimov era.[235] The proof of success has been the extent to which the country has control the spread of the virus. As of early July, Uzbekistan with a population of approximately 33 million, had confirmed 9,326 virus infections and 28 deaths (compared to 53,858 deaths in the UK, a country with only twice the population size).[236] However, the effective deployment of Uzbekistan’s improved public communications capacity, was accompanied by a darker side such as coordinated campaigns to encourage school children and teachers to post pro-Mirziyoyev comments on the Telegram channel and other social media feeds of independent media outlets such as RFE/RL’s Ozodlik service.[237]


Uzbekistan has introduced new measures in the criminal code to prohibit the spreading of false information about the spread of COVID-19 or other infectious diseases that could include large fines or up to three years in prison.[238] The Government has used administrative provisions against ‘spreading false’ information to stop the work of bloggers such as Osmonjon Qodirov jailed for 15 days.[239] Overall police reported large numbers of quarantine violations, 86,400 by mid-April, most of whom received small fines.[240] However the quarantine regulations have reportedly been used as a political to force human rights activists monitoring suspected child labour in the cotton harvest to quarantine themselves for 14 days (in one case with police supervision) despite the activity taking place in a ‘green’ COVID-free Pop district in Namangan.[241]


Despite public pressure, Mirziyoyev has so far rejected calls to increase direct cash payments to at risk citizens- ‘helicopter money’. As set out in the essay by Eldor Tulyakov, the March and April economic support packages total 32.3 trillion soms ($3.177 billion or £2.4 billion) in support for businesses and citizens, equating to only 6.2 per cent of Uzbekistan’s GDP.[242] Instead the Government has encouraged/put pressure on the local business community, as part of a national strategy dubbed Sakhovat va Komak (‘Kindness and Solidarity’/‘Generosity and Assistance’) to provide support for the unemployed and economically disadvantaged, by offering tax breaks and low interest loans to support such activities so as ‘hang its task on the neck of entrepreneurs’ in the words of Finance Minister and Deputy PM Jamshid Kuchkarov.[243] The President has talked of the need for entrepreneurs to hire ‘needy’ people, while a new Sakhovat va Komak Fund has been established under the auspices of the Mahalla Charitable Foundation for direction by local officials.[244] Its initial efforts focused on the provision of food aid, through coordinated distribution centres, but its wider activities are somewhat opaque. There has been evidence that state employees such as teachers and police officers are being pressured into donating up to 30 per cent of their salaries to support the initiative by their superiors while local businesses face heavy pressure from officials to ‘donate’.[245]


Placing the burden of support onto the emerging entrepreneurial class is in line with Mirziyoyev’s approach that has sought to expand opportunities for the new elite (and pressuring state employees comes from a longstanding playbook), but there are future risks if the support expands elite patronage networks. There are also practical questions around how reliance on business to drive support systems if the downturn in the global economy sends the Uzbek economy into recession – so far World Bank growth projections have been cut from 5.7 per cent to 1.6 per cent but this remains open to change depending on both national and international factors.[246] The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has provided $375 million in credit to Uzbekistan to assist with the pandemic, while the country has ramped up gold exports at a time of rising international prices with $1.55 billion in sales from January-April 2020.[247]


Understandably, the previously burgeoning tourist industry has been thrown into disarray during the crisis and demand is unlikely to rebound substantially until the global public health crisis recedes. Businesses have been offered an interest holiday on loans and some tax relief but the sector will struggle to recover.


Despite wider efforts to move away from the Karimov autarkic model the impact of the pandemic has encouraged the President to launch a nationwide push to promote agricultural self-sufficiency, given that the country had to import almost three million tonnes of grain in 2019-20 and was reliant on imports of rice, soybeans and sunflower seed from the EAEU, which had been subject to an export ban during the crisis while Kazakhstan also caped its grain exports.[248] While economic barriers have been raised Mirziyoyev has taken the opportunity presented by the crisis, and the conspicuous Russian absence, to be seen to be leading regional coordination efforts in Central Asia in response to the public health crisis.[249]


The message of the pandemic has been clear the swift and comparatively transparent public health response has led to performance in suppressing the virus that far exceeds many more developed countries, though authoritarian tendencies (particularly at a local level) have reared their heads on occasion to suppress dissent but not as much as might have been feared. The economic response however has been more patchy, albeit set in the context of limited resources. A number of observers had wondered if pent-up frustration catalysed by the crisis, perhaps focused on inequalities exacerbated by the crisis or a revival of previous flashpoints around construction, would manifest as some form of social explosion on the streets but for the most part has yet to happen.


One example where local tensions have exploded however is in the Sokh district, an Uzbek enclave surrounded by the territory of Kyrgyzstan in the Fergana valley that has been the source of cross border tensions since independence.[250] In late May tensions flared over a long-running dispute over ownership of a spring (and frustration at corruption or harassment at border crossings), which led to riots that left 150 Uzbeks and 25 Kyrgyz injured.[251] On the Uzbek side, the incident flared into shows of public dissatisfaction with Fergana’s controversial Khohkim Shuhrat Ganiev who was the subject of protest, including reports he was pelted with stone, and calls for his dismissal. As ever Ganiev avoided dismissal, with Sokh district Khokim being replaced instead.[252] The President has responded by sending a business ombudsman to report on local economic problems and has prepared a $50 million expansion of the Sokh budget for 2020-22 with business loans, investment in local hospitals, targeted tax cuts and loans.[253]


The other major flashpoint in recent months has been the dramatic collapse on May 1st of the Sardoba Dam, part of a reservoir complex in the Sirdaryo region that was primarily used for irrigation but where only the previous month work had begun to build a new hydroelectric plant.[254] The dam was built in 2017 at a cost of $400 million. The subsequent flooding led to five deaths and the evacuation of 70,000 despite the pressures of the pandemic. The evacuation itself was seen to be handled effectively by the Government with praise too for effective cross-border collaboration with Kazakhstan, which was heavily impacted by the flood water. However, concerns have been raised about the cause of the collapse and whether corruption or mismanagement had taken place during the building of the dam, with RFE/RL documenting multiple claims that construction was not up to the specified standard and that the tender process was influenced by political interests. The investigation process will be a test of the Government’s transparency and accountability, not least because President was seen to be associated with the project. The inclusion of one of those involved in constructing the dam on the board of investigation and the lack of a clear timeline or remit do not bode well in this regard. Concerns have also been raised about money allocated for support being misallocated due to local corruption and cronyism and RFE/RL report that pressure has been put on farmers in Andijan to make contributions to the Sardoba relief effort under the threat of having their land confiscated.[255]


What our authors say

This essay collection brings together a broad range of different perspectives, some of them differing, to try and help broaden the understanding of what is happening in Uzbekistan.


Yuliy Yusupov examines how, from 1996 onwards, the Government of Uzbekistan set a course for strengthening state interference in the economy and implementing import substitution policy. The results have been very poor. However, since 2017 the country has started significant reforms. Much has been done over this time, but more changes are still to come. The essay covers the achievements, problems of implementation and perspectives of reforms. Currently, the emphasis is placed on foreign economic activity, the banking sector, the tax system, the legal regulation of business, the agricultural sector, and administrative reform.


Kate Mallinson explores President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s reformist ambition and its impacts on the investment climate in Uzbekistan. She writes that Uzbekistan’s government has set on a clear path of liberalising the economy and improving the business environment, including removing currency controls, liberalising exchange rates and relaxing visa regulations. However, the next phase of the programme including breaking up the monopolies, privatisation and capital markets reform, is more challenging and now coincides with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the collapse in energy prices, which will result in reduced investment capital, increased debt and a more complicated foreign business environment.


Professor Kristian Lasslett writes on the complex legacy of corruption left by Uzbekistan’s first post-soviet President, Islam Karimov, who passed away in 2016. Uzbekistan did not suffer serious political upheaval on his death. However, an increasingly secretive and coercive authoritarian state groomed a political economy that favoured select networks of security chiefs, politicians, mandarins, businessmen, and organised crime figures, who built personal alliances, and leveraged unchecked state power, to administer rackets and protect economic territory. Karimov’s successor Shavkat Mirziyoyev has attempted to distinguish his Presidency through a programme of governance reforms and market liberalisation measures that tackle some, but not all, of these legacies. This essay examines how heavily the legacies of grand corruption and kleptocracy weigh on the present, looking at investigative data sets from the Mirziyoyev era. It also considers how these dynamics will mediate the reform trajectories currently under way.


Navbahor Imamova writes that Uzbekistan simply cannot develop without the contributions of Uzbek professionals around the world. The good news is that they are increasingly interested and willing to return, and then work in the public and private sectors, as well as in non-governmental institutions. Others are committed to supporting reforms from their current homes overseas. They, too, want to support Uzbekistan by leveraging their social and professional networks and lending their expertise but Tashkent has not systematised its approach to talent recruitment, retention, and placement. Instead, the government is relying on its embassies to find the right talent and connect them with the relevant entities but this is all being done in an ad hoc, informal, and often haphazard way. Not surprisingly, the approach has not been effective. What Uzbekistan needs now is a transparent, fair, and professional recruitment system, specifically tasked to hire from abroad.


Dilmira Matyakubova’s paper examines the rebranding policies of the government of Uzbekistan by remodelling the architecture of the cities. It argues that the urban redevelopment process is creating social and increasingly political problems as it involves forced evictions without adequate compensation or resettlement. It is becoming a major source for resistance, resentment and discontent among the population, who commit desperate actions in protesting the home demolitions and evictions. The urban transformation actions are also yielding irreversible changes in the environment surrounding historically important sites turning them into Disney-like amusement parks. The paper argues that building glittering, soaring, pretentious cities will not improve the country’s reputation. The nation branding agenda cannot be achieved without enhancing and ensuring human rights protection, independence of the judiciary, transparency, good governance and an open dialogue with people.


Nikita Makarenko discusses the moves being taken to promote freedom of speech and media in Uzbekistan. Despite a few challenges such as self-censorship, lack of qualified human resources and pressure in the courts, the situation is improving. Online media is growing and bloggers are on the rise. The media is successfully united to combat the pandemic; however, the future is uncertain with a possible economic crisis on the horizon.


Dilmurad Yusupov examines the challenges that grassroots activists and self-initiative NGOs are still facing in Uzbekistan despite the strong political will of President Mirziyoyev to strengthen the role of civil society in the process of democratic development of the country. While giving credit where credit is due, he argues that unlike government-organised NGOs, bottom-up groups are struggling to get registered and the whole process of administrative procedures is designed to frustrate and discourage. Besides red tape, registered NGOs are suffocating due to burdensome reporting and the demand for advance approval requirements for the day-to-day activities. On top of limited local financial resources and weak organisational capacities, Uzbek NGOs are limited in foreign funding. Practical recommendations are provided on how to allow the third sector a breath freely by erasing stereotypes, prejudice and negative attitudes towards NGOs in Uzbekistan.


Lynn Schweisfurth writes on how Uzbekistan’s cotton sector has long been associated with child and forced labour, making it unattractive to global buyers bound by ethical commitments in their codes of conduct. Since coming to power in 2016, President Mirziyoyev has embarked on a reform process that has invested enormous efforts in eradicating forced labour in order to win back the trust of brands and retailers. Through the privatisation of the sector and the creation of ‘clusters’ intended to unite production, processing and manufacturing, the government hopes to entice brands to start sourcing Uzbek cotton again. But the question still remains on whether it will be enough.


Steve Swerdlow writes that four years since the death of Islam Karimov, whose ruthless 27-year reign (1989-2016) in Uzbekistan became synonymous with the worst forms of repression, torture, and political imprisonment his successor President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has taken several decisive steps to address some of Karimov’s worst human rights abuses. However, the past, left unexamined, can take revenge on well-intentioned reforms. Swerdlow argues the government should fully rehabilitate political prisoners as well as victims of other serious human rights abuses. It should commit to a meaningful process of reckoning with the past and of transitional justice: judicial and non-judicial measures focused on truth and reconciliation as well as on justice and accountability to acknowledge the legacy of widespread human rights abuses under Karimov. The essay sets out a number of ways in which this might be achieved, providing a roadmap for transitional justice in Uzbekistan.

Nadejda Atayeva gives a critical analysis of both of the horrific cases of human rights abuse under Karimov and also of the recent developments under Mirziyoyev. She makes the case that independent activists still face political pressure, that political prisoners and their families who have been released in recent years still face discrimination and that those in the exiled human rights community still face abuse by the authorities.

Uzbek human rights activists, writing anonymously, share their concerns about the series of factors in the wake of the COVID-19 and Sardoba dam crises that may lead to future social unrest in Uzbekistan including increasing economic anxiety, issues in the disaster response and limits on freedom of speech.


Eldor Tulyakov provides a comprehensive account of the legislative and administrative actions taken by the Government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes detailed information by all the different sectors of economy and society. He argues that overall the Government’s response to the crisis has been effective in stabilising the economy and society while controlling the virus.


Dr Luca Anceschi and Dr Vladimir Paramonov write that the evolution of Uzbekistan’s relations with China and Russia since the accession to power of Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Its argument highlights the continuity sitting at the core of these relationships, showing how Uzbekistan is pursuing equidistance when it comes to the great powers, a policy that, ultimately, was perfected during the long Karimov era.


[1] Francisco Olmos, State-building myths in Central Asia, Foreign Policy Centre, October 2019,

[2] Catherine Putz, Uzbekistan Abolishes Exit Visa System, The Diplomat, January 2019,

[3], A new moratorium proposed to amend new laws, December 2019,

[4] President Mirziyoyev’s website:

[5] Lee Kyung-sik, “Uzbekistan enters a new decade; great opportunities open up to spearhead transformation even deeper”, The Korea Post, February 2020,

[6] Lira Zaynilova, Public Image Problems of State Instiutions in Uzbekistan: How to Establish Dialogue with the People?, May 2019, CABAR,

[7] GIZ, Uzbekistan, December 2019,

[8] This article suggests that Uzbekistan spends in the range of six to nine per cent on social security annually, spent across a fragmented range of different bodies,, Government of Uzbekistan, UN launch joint programme to strengthen social protective system in the country, November 2019,; The World Bank recorded the figure as 5.9% of GDP in 2018, The World Bank, International Development Association – Project appraisal document on a proposed credit in the amount of US$50 million to the Republic of Uzbekistan for a strengthening of the social protection system project, May 2019,

[9] Eurasianet, Uzbekistan: Former security services chief sentenced to 18 years in prison, September 2019,

[10] Bruce Pannier, Uzbekistan’s New Security Powerhouse: The National Guard, RFE/RL, August 2019,

[11] For example Steve Swerdlow (who writes in this collection) was harassed in July 2019 in an incident seen to be orchestrated by those with links to the Security Services; Reuters, Uzbekistan says it will investigate harassment of Western rights activist, June 2019,

[12], Shukhrat Ganiyev: It is high time to collaborate with the mass media, December 2019,; Nikita Makarenko, Twitter post, Twitter, June 2020,; Gazeta’uz, “All hokims have ill-wishers”, June 2020,

[13] Bruce Pannier, Uzbekistan’s Unsinkable Zoyir Mirzaev, RFE/RL, November 2019,

[14], Khokim of Bayautsky district approved Dilfuza Uralova, February 2020,;

[15] Daryo, Tanzila Norbaeva: Governors are currently the head of the representative and executive body. In time, these two will be separated, January 2020,

[16], Petition on electing Khokims gained more than 10 thousand votes, June 2020,

[17] For background on local government reform: Rustam Urinboyev, Local Government in Uzbekistan, Lund University, 2018,

[18] Full speech text: Lee Kyung-sik, “Uzbekistan enters a new decade; great opportunities open up to spearhead transformation even deeper”, The Korea Post, February 2020,; Eurasianet, Uzbek president’s state-of-the-nation greeted with hope and gratitude, January 2020,

[19] The Economist, Which nation improved the most in 2019?, December 2019,

[20] The author has experienced this but see also: Navbahor Imamova, Where Freedoms Are Expanding – Slowly, The Atlantic, October 2019,

[21] There has been opportunities provided for those willing to speak positively about the changes under Mirziyoyev but for those who have yet to trust the new regime opportunities are limited.

[22] Uzbekistan News, Twitter Post, Twitter, January 2020,

[23] OSCE, Uzbekistan, Parliamentary Elections, 22 December 2019: Final Report, May 2020,

[24] Ibid.

[25] The Electoral Commission, Introduction to registering a political party,;  The Electoral Commission, UK Parliamentary general elections: Guidance for candidates and agents, November 2018,; UK Parliamentary Candidates are required to submit a deposit of £500 (6.5 million soms) which is returned if the candidate receives five per cent of the vote and all candidates receive free postage for one piece of election literature (printed at the candidates expense) to go either addressed to every elector or unaddressed to every household in the Parliamentary Constituency.

[26] OSCE, Uzbekistan, Parliamentary Elections, 22 December 2019: Interim Report,; OSCE, Uzbekistan, Parliamentary Elections, 22 December 2019: Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions, December 2019,

[27] Peter Leonard, Uzbekistan: Elections look livelier but choice still threadbare, Eurasianet, December 2019,

[28] Eurasianet, Uzbekistan election delivers humdrum result but major expectations, December 2019,

[29] OSCE, Republic of Uzbekistan: Parliamentary Elections 22 December 2019, ODIHR Election Observation Mission, Final Report, May 2020,

[30] As Sam Butia points out part of the driver has been increased imports of capital products that should post Uzbekistan’s productivity in the medium to long-term: Sam Bhutia, What the recent weakening of the sum says about Uzbekistan’s economy, Eurasianet, September 2019,;; Sam Bhutia, Measuring Central Asia’s shadow economies, Eurasianet, February 2020,

[31], Uzbekistan ends wheat flour and bread subsidies, September 2018,; EuroWeek Editor 1, Powering up Uzbekistan’s electricity supply, GlobalCapital, October 2019,; Further changes to electricity prices in 2019 have further increased costs to households: Eurasianet, Uzbekistan: Utilities prices to go up as lure to investors, August 2019

[32] Kate Mallinson, Can Uzbekistan’s President Meet Raised Expectations?, Chatham House, December 2019,

[33] Sam Mceachern, GM Uzbekistan Now Wholly Owned By Uzbek Government, GM Authority, July 2019,;, “UzAuto Motors has constantly violated consumer rights” – Antimonopoly Committee, March 2020,

[34], How much will it be cheaper to import a car to Uzbekistan from August 1?, June 2020,

[35] RFE/RL, Uzbekistan restores patrol posts abolished by Mirziyayev, December 2019,

[36] Richard Asquith, Uzbekistan VAT cut to 15% Oct 2019, Avalara VATlive, September 2019,–oct-2019.html

[37] Todd Prince, Uzbekistan Turns To Foreign Social-Media Stars To Boost Tourism, RFE/RL, September 2019,; Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Visa of the Republic of Uzbekistan,

[38] Cherry Hysteria – middle men competing with farmers for supplies (big Chinese export markets) and effective local auctions going on; UZ Daily, Uzbekistan and China sign a protocol, opening up the Chinese market for Uzbek melon and honey, September 2019,;, Uzbekistan first started exporting peanuts to China, June 2020,; Talks are underway for other fresh produce including pomegranates, lemons and grape.

[39] For more details see: Alisher Ilhamov, What is the reason for the continued practice of “voluntary=forced”cotton picking in Uzbekistan?, November 2019, CABAR,

[40], About 40% of water is lost in irrigation networks – Minister of Water Resources, June 2020,

[41] State Statistics Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan:

[42] Ron Synovitz and Sadriddin Ashur, Uzbek Farmers Get ‘Cluster’ Bombed by Reforms, RFE/RL, December 2019,; Tellingly Agriculture Minister Jamshid Hodjaev has been quoted as saying ‘Uzbekistan has four million hectare arable land but most of it is not used. So, the principal question is not whether the land should be a private property but how to best use what’s available. You can do a lot with any land leased for 50 years.’; Navbahor Imamova, Twitter Post, Twitter, January 2020,

[43] UZ Daily, The liquidation process of Uzbekenergo starts, April 2020,

[44] Russian Aviation Insider, Uzbekistan completes a key stage in the restructuring of its civil aviation, November 2019,

[45] Dentons, Changes in the Uzbek banking system, February 2020,; Ben Aris, Uzbekistan banking on international investors, BNE Intellinews, September 2019,

[46] Eurasian Investor, Uzbekistan attempting difficult move away from state-led growth, November 2019,

[48] Sherzod Eraliev, Can Return Migration Be a ‘Brain Gain’ for Uzbekistan?, The Diplomat, May 2019,

[49] Kun UZ, Average amount of remittances sent by labor migrants from Russia to Uzbekistan announced, December 2019,; Bruce Pannier, Do Oil Price Cuts Signal Bad Economic Times Will Return To Central Asia?, RFE/RL, March 2020,; The World Bank, World Bank Personal remittances, received (% of GDP), Uzbekistan,

[50]Eurasianet, Uzbekistan: Heartbreak and despair for expat laborers trapped by COVID, June 2020,

[51]Peter Leonard, Uzbekistan: A private sector affair, Eurasianet, August 2019,; The World Bank, Uzbekistan: Toward a New, More Open Economy, August 2019,

[52]Todd Prince, Where Wall Street Meets Tashkent: Amid Reforms At Home, Uzbek Officials Make Their Pitch To Investors In New York, July 2019,

[53] JSC <Almalyk MMC> website:; Azernews, Uzbekistan leaves full profit to Almalyk Mining and Metallurgical Combine, October 2018,

[54] The Tashkent Times, Alisher Usmanov donates US$20 million for emergency hospital to treat coronavirus, April 2020,; Ben Aris, Uzbek-born philanthropist Alisher Usmanov donates $ 15mn to help victims of the Sardoba dam distaster, BNE Intellinews, May 2020,

[55] Henry Foy, Alisher Usmanov: ‘I was never what you could call an oligarch’, Financial Times January 2020

[56] Buyuk Kelajak website:; Press Release PR Newswire, The International Chodiev Foundation Welcomes Nafissa Chodieva and Asal Chodieva to its Management Team, Markets Insider, November 2018,;, Ministry of Energy, Buyuk Kelajak sign a memorandum of understanding, March 2019,

[57]  BBC News, Uzbek transport police banned from hiding behind trees, March 2018,

[58] David Lewis, TACKLING CORRUPTION IN UZBEKISTAN: A WHITE PAPER, Open Society Foundations, June 2016,; Rustam Urinboyev, Corruption in Post-Soviet Uzbekistan, Lund University, 2018,

[59] Miranda Patrucic, Following Gulnara’s Money, OCCRP, March 2015,

[60] ACCA, In Uzbekistan, former Prosecutor General and Special Services’ head with his deputy were convicted, February 2020,

[61], Court verdict against the ex-khokim of Samarkand region Turobjon Jurayev announced, August 2019,

[62] Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2019,; Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2015,

[63], Uzbekistan approves the State Anti-Corruption Program on combating corruption, June 2019,

[64] Anti-Corruption Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Uzbekistan anti-corruption project, OECD,

[65] Situation explained by the EITI International Secretariat to the author.

[66], The frat law on public service is put up for discussion, May 2020,

[67] DECREE CABINET OF MINISTERS OF THE REPUBLIC OF UZBEKISTAN, On measures to improve the architectural appearance and landscaping of the central part of the city of Tashkent, as well as create appropriate conditions for the population and guests of the capital, July 2017;, Appointed hokim of Tashkent, December 2018,

[68] The World Bank, Prosperous Villages,; The details of the proposal can be seen here though this was when the funding request was for $75 million: The World Bank, Uzbekistan Prosperous Villages, October 2018,

[69] Lee Kyung-sik, “Uzbekistan enters a new decade; great opportunities open up to spearhead transformation even deeper”, The Korea Post, February 2020,

[70] Ibid.

[71], Discussion of draft regulatory documents of the Republic of Uzbekistan:

[72] The previous law was frames as follows: ‘the Regulation on the procedure for compensation of losses to citizens and legal entities in connection with the seizure of land for state and public needs (Appendix to the Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Uzbekistan dated May 29, 2006 N 97) gave five fairly broad grounds for land seizure:

  • the provision of land for the needs of defence and state security, protected natural areas, the creation and functioning of free economic zones;
  • fulfilment of obligations arising from international treaties;
  • discovery and development of mineral deposits;
  • construction (reconstruction) of roads and railways, airports, airfields, aeronautical facilities and aeronautical centres, railway facilities, bridges, subways, tunnels, power systems and power lines, communication lines, space activities, trunk pipelines, engineering and communications networks; and
  • execution of master plans for settlements in the construction of facilities at the expense of the State budget of the Republic of Uzbekistan, as well as in other cases directly provided for by laws and decisions of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan.’

See:, All legislation of Uzbekistan,

[73] Consent, according to the legislation means that the initiator of the development has to gain 75 per cent of the residents’ consent of the building targeted for redevelopment/demolition. If the remaining 25 per cent of the residents’ were to withhold consent then the initiator would be able to go to court to obtain final approval.

[74] Kristian Lasslett, You should know where the money’s coming from: a response to the mayor of Tashkent, openDemocracy, February 2019,

[75], Court verdict against the ex-khokim of Samarkand region Turobjon Jurayev announced, August 2019,;  CABAR, Renovation in Uzbekistan: to Evict and Demolish, April 2019,

[76] Sadriddin Ashur and Ozodlik, In Khorezm, thousands of people blocked the highway in protest against non-payment of compensation for demolition of houses (video), Ozodlik, July 2019,

[77] BBC News, Uzbeks protest against at house demolitions, July 2019,

[78], How Rishtan is undergoing reconstruction, July 2019,; Bruce Pannier, In Uzbekistan, The Fraught Politics of Building Demolitions, RFE/RL, July 2019,;, In Yangiyul hastily demolished houses, July 2019,

[79] Victoria Panfilova, Uzbek President rants at local authorities about illegal house demolitions, Vestnik Kavkaza, August 2019,; HRW, Charting Progress in Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan, October 2019,

[80] Vladimir Rozanskij, Another woman sets herself on fire to save her home,, February 2020,

[81] Fergane.News, A resident of Kashkadarya set herself on fire in protest against the demolition of her house, February 2020,

[82] Fergana.News, Uzbek Justice Ministry hints at new wave of illegal buildings demolitions, February 2020,

[83]ACCA, Uzbekistan: no elements of crime were found in kidnapping and torture of blogger, February 2020,; JfJ, Attacks on journalists, bloggers and media workers in the Central Asia and Azerbaijan, 2017-2019,

[84] Eurasianet, Uzbekistan: Tree-lovers score win in battle against developers, February 2020,

[85] The Propsiska system was in fact strengthened in the post-Soviet period over its predecessor so that as of 1999 it became almost impossible for outsiders to gain residency in Tashkent.

[86] William Seitz, Free Movement and Affordable Housing: Public Preferences for Reform in Uzbekistan, The World Bank, January 2020,

[87] Umida Hashimova, The Unattainable Uzbek Propiska, The Diplomat, December 2018,;, Permanent registration: income or income? What about human rights? December 2018,

[88] Eurasianet, Uzbekistan: Planned Propiska changes slammed by public, March 2020,; Fergana.News, Uzbek draft law proposes abolition of “Propiska”system, April 2020,; Resolution of the Cabinet of Ministers of The Republic of Uzbekistan, On further simplification of the procedure for permanent registration and registration of citizens of the Republic of Uzbekistan in the city of Tashkent and Tashkent region, ID-15922,, March 2020,

[89] William Seitz, Free Movement and Affordable Housing Public Preferences for Reform in Uzbekistan,  The World Bank, January 2020,; Catherine Putz, William Seitz on Uzbekistan’s Propiska Problem, The Diplomat, February 2020,

[90] GOV.UK, Guidance: Community Infrastructure Levy, June 2014 (updated September 2019),; LGA, S106 obligations overview,

[91] As Seitz notes 5 million, predominantly urban, homes previously owned by the State Housing Fund were privatised in the 1991-93 period in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.

[92] Both Seitz figure 4 and using more recent figures for comparator cities from: Wendell Cox, Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey Executive Summary, January 2019, New Geography,

[93] Services that could be delivered by either the private sector or using cooperative or local authority led models.

[94] Deniz Kandiyoti, Invisible To the World? The Dynamics of Forced Child Labour in the Cotton Sector of Uzbekistan, SOAS,

[95] Ibid.

[96] ILO, Third-party monitoring of child labour and forced labour during the 2019 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan, 2020,—ed_norm/—ipec/documents/publication/wcms_735873.pdf

[97] Ibrat Safo and William Kremer, Doctors and nurses forced to pick cotton, BBC News, October 2012,; Cotton Campaign, Pick All the Cotton: Update on Uzbekistan’s Use of Forced Child Labour in 2009 Harvest, December 2009,

[98] ILO, Third Party Monitoring on Child and Forced Labour in Uzbekistan,–en/index.htm

[99] ILO, Third-party monitoring of child labour and forced labour during the 2019 cotton harvest in Uzbekistan, 2020,—ed_norm/—ipec/documents/publication/wcms_735873.pdf

[100] Jonas Astrup, Twitter Post, Twitter, September 2019,

[101] It is worth noting that in the essay by Lynn Schweisfurth of the Uzbek Forum she notes some scepticism that the ILO’s data is fully capturing the scale of the continuing problems. However given the lack of other hard data, the detailed work that has gone into the ILO’s process and the fact that its figures are comparable year on year they provide the best place to start when examining the overall trends in the reduction of forced labour.

[102] Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, Cotton Harvest in Uzbekistan – 2019, March 2020,

[103] Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, The accountability gap: Are Uzbek bank officials really organizing nationwide forced labor?, February 2020,

[104] Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, Cotton clusters and the despair of Uzbek farmers: land confiscations , blank contracts and failed payments, April 2020,

[105] Eurasianet, Uzbekistan scraps cotton state-order system, March 2020,; RFE/RL, Presidential Decree: The cotton-growing schedule and its purchase price will be abolished, March 2020,

[106] From conversations with international officials and cotton campaigners see also:, Jamshid Khobzhaev called the abolition of state orders for cotton and grain a turning point in the life of 60% of the population, February 2020,

[107] Centre 1, Shukhrat Ganiev: five reasons to cancel the boycott of Uzbek cotton, May 2019,

[108] Ministry of Employment and Labor Relations of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Open letter to Cotton Campaign Coalition of removing the Uzbek Cotton Pledge, April 2020,

[109] Julian K. Hughes and Nate Herman, It’s Not Time to End the Uzbek Cotton Boycott Yet, Foreign Policy May 2020,

[110] No relation of the controversial Fergana Governor.

[111] hNavbahor Imamova, Twitter Post, Twitter, April 2020,

[112] This framing is that of the editor. For the suggested criteria for lifting the boycott being put forward by the Cotton Campaign see the article in the collection by Lynn Schweisfurth.

[113] Ishita Petkar and Lynn Schweisfurth, Can communities lead their own development in places where civil society is severly restricted? Development banks think so, Medium, April 2020,

[114] Mehribon Bekieva and Ozodlik, Hundreds of residents of Andijan closed for quarantine brought on a clean-up day to Mirziyayev’s arrival, Ozodlik, April 2020,

[115] RSF, Ranking 2020,; RSF, Ranking 2015,; The higher the Global Score in the ranking the worse the situation.

[116] IIWPR Central Asia, Uzbekistan: A Small Dose of Media Freedom, IWPR, June 2019,

[117] RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Independent Uzbek Journalist Released After Nine Years in Prison, RFE/RL, October 2017,; ACCA, In Uzbekistan, journalist spent almost 20 years in prison, April 2020,; CPJ, Uzbekistan releases remaning jailed journalists, May 2018,; Though the use of administrative detention continues and in the Olloshukurova case forced psychiatric detention was used instead.

[118] Fergana.News, An official detaining a Ferghana journalist lost his job, April 2020,

[119] The UNNA claimed that Sodiqova had resigned voluntarily, a claim she denied: BBC News, Uzbekistan: Why did journalist Anora Sodiqova resign? Uzbekistan, May 2020,; Navbahor Imamova, Twitter Post, Twitter, May 2020,

[120] Malik Mansur, Uzbekistan Orders Article on Abuse to Be Deleted, VOA, April 2020,; Irina Matvienko, Twitter Post, Twitter, March 2020,; Reader Stories, …mother said that I was spoiled, and that boy was not to blame (when I was 3 years old, he was 12 years old)…., NeMolchi, February 2020,

[121]Public Fund for Support and Development of National Mass Media,

[122] Currently the legislation reads Administrative Code, article 40: Slander i.e. that is, the dissemination of deliberately false fabrications, disgracing another person — entails the imposition of a fine of twenty to sixty basic calculated values; Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Administrative Responsibility, Section One, General, Lex.UZ, September 1994,;  Criminal code, article 139: Slander

Slander, i.e. the distribution of deliberately false fabrications, dishonoring another person, committed after the application of administrative penalties for the same actions, shall be punishable by a fine of up to two hundred basic calculation units or by compulsory community service up to three hundred hours or by correctional labour up to two years. The information in the January draft legislation was here: ACCA, In Uzbekistan, prison sentence for slander and insult will be replaced by a fine, January 2020,; Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan, A Common Part, Lex.UZ, September 1994,

[123] Article 19, Uzbekistan: Law on Mass Media,; Article 19, Uzbekistan: Law on the Protection of Professional Activity of Journalists, May 2019,

[124] For some recent examples see: Amnesty International, Blogging in Uzbekistan: welcoming tourism, silencing criticism, June 2020,

[125] Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, Home of poet and journalist Mahmud Rajanbov raided by police, May 2019,; Cotton Campaign, Uzbekistan: Amidst reform effort, journalists and activists face criminal charges, arbitrary detention, forced psychiatric treatment, International Labor Rights Forum, October 2019,; RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Uzbek Poet Gets Suspended Prison Term For Importing ‘Banned’ Books, RFE/RL, October 2019,

[126] RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Blogger Flees Uzbekistan After Spending Weeks in Involuntary Psychiatric Care, RFE/RL, January 2020,

[127]Ozodlik, Khorezm-based journalist Davlatnazar Ruzmetov was detained at a police station for five hours, Ozodlik, October 2019,; All three had been previously involved in monitoring and exposing the issue of forced labour in Uzbekistan: Mehribon Bekieva and Ozodlik, In Khorezm, a car knocked to death a journalist Davlatnazar Ruzmetov, who was under pressure from the authorities, Ozodlik, November 2019,,

[128] Catherine Putz, Conservative Religious Bloggers Detained in Uzbekistan, The Diplomat, September 2018,

[129] Navbahor Imamova, Twitter Post, Twitter, March 2020,

[130] Agency of Information and Mass Communications under the Administration of the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, Provisions,

[131], “We believe in freedom of speech and its power” – Saida Mirziyoyeva, February 2020,

[132] Navbahor Imamova, Twitter Post, Twitter, June 2020,

[133] Eurasianet, Uzbek Authorities Crack Down on Another Foreign NGO in Tashkent, September 2004,; RSF, Uzbek authorities shut down international organization Internews, January 2016,; The New Humanitarian, New registration procedure for international NGOs, January 2004,; Office for Communications, Uzbek Government Forces Closures of Local Soros Foundation, Open Society Foundations, April 2004,

[134] Relief Web, Uzbekistan: Government closes another American NGO, May 2006,

[135] Unions website:; YukSalish, NGOs and volunteers on one web site, March 2020,

[136] Oonagh Gay, Quangos, UK Parliament, 2010,

[137], Maidan paranoia, January 2020,

[138] See the Exporting Repression Project.

[139] Steve Swerdlow, Twitter Post, Twitter, February 2020,; RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Uzbek Justice Ministry Registers Prisoners’ Rights Group, U.S. – Based NGO, RFE/RL, March 2020,–based-ngo/30484147.html

[140] Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, Failure to Register – Please Submit Again: Uzbek Human Rights NGO Rejected Once More, April 2020,; Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, Tricks, Threats and Deception: Registering an NGO in Uzbekistan, March 2020,

[141] Ozodlik, Under the President of Uzbekistan, a Public Chamber is being created, April 2020,

[142] HRW, Uzbekistan: Two Brutal Deaths in Custody, August 2002,

[143] HRW, Charting Progress in Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan, October 2019,

[144] Eurasianet, Uzbekistan: Scholar imprisoned for espionage absolved and released, September 2019,

[145] HRW, Charting Progress in Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan, October 2019,

[146] RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Uzbek President’s Decree Says Evidence Obtained Though Torture Inadmissible, RFE/RL, December 2017,

[147] Mansur Mirovalev, Uzbekistan closes infamous prison, but experts question motive, Al Jazeera, August 2019,; Farangus Najibullah, Uzbekistan’s ‘House of Torture’, RFE/RL, August 2012,

[148] The editor is grateful for input from Penal Reform International in relation to these issues.

[149] HRW, Uzbekistan: Torture Widespread, Routine, December 2019,

[150]Will Nicol, A Torture Scandal Is Prompting Scrutiny For Uzbekistan’s Bid To Host The 2027 Asian Cup, Forbes July 2020,

[151] NHRC website:; Ombudsman website:

[152] Navbahor Imamova, Twitter Post, Twitter, May 2020,

[153] Funding figures provided to the FPC in PDF format.

[154] HRW, Beyond Samarkand: Can Uzbekistan Turn Its Nascent Reform Efforts into a Clear Break with Its Brutal Past?, March 2019,

[155] Asian Forum website:

[156] NHRC, Voluntary Obligations of Uzbekistan,

[157] Nataliya Vasilyeva, Secret Uzbek court convicts former envoy to UK for treason amid human rights objections, The Telegraph, January 2020, and Eurasianet, Uzbekistan: Ex-deputy ambassador to UK imprisoned after secret trial, January 2020,

[158] Bruce Pannier and Muhammad Tahir, Majlis Podcast: Spy Games In Uzbekistan, June 2020, RFE/RL,

[159] Amnesty International, Uzbekistan: New Campaign of Phishing and Spyware Attacks Targeting Human Rights Defenders, March 2020,

[160] Umida Hashimova, What Recent Protests in Uzbekistan Really Tell Us, The Diplomat, December 2019,

[161] OSCE ODIHR, Comments on the draft law on rallies, meetings and demonstrations of the Republic of Uzbekistan, September 2019,

[162] Eurasianet, Uzbekistan: Andijan blindness slows transition to era of openness, experts say, May 2020,

[163] KunUz, The National Strategy of Uzbekistan on Human Rights has been approved, June 2020,

[164] Local observers reported extraordinary, but unverified, claims that Tashkent traffic police previously were to required to meet a $100 per day quota for fines and bribes to return to their bosses (before officers took their own cut).

[165] Eurasianet, Uzbekistan: Police to fit interrogation rooms with recording equipment, June 2020,

[166] UN OHCHR, Uzbekistan faces crucial challenges for judicial independence, says UN human rights expert, September 2019,

[167] From discussions with a well-known legal observer.

[168], Shavkat Mirziyoyev sharply criticized prosecutors, August 2017,; Umida Hashimova, Uzbekistan Makes Serious Cuts to the Prosecutors General’s Office, The Diplomat, March 2019,

[169], Forms of activity reports and statistics, January 2020,

[170] The Tashkent Times, Central office of Madad NGO opens in Tashkent, December 2019,

[171] Lee Kyung-sik, “Uzbekistan enters a new decade; great opportunities even deeper”, The Korea Post, February 2020,

[172] Supreme Council of Judges of the Republic of Uzbekistan website: UN, Human Rights Council: Visit to Uzbekistan, April 2020,

[173] Believed to be a range of between seven to ten million soms (700-1000 dollars) per month, significantly more than the average wage of 2.21 million soms per month. For information on the latter see The Tashkent Times, Average salary in Uzbekistan at US$ 235, October 2019,,634%2C880%20soums%2C%20US%24%2067.

[174] United Nations Human Rights, A/HRC/44/47/Add.1, April 2020,

[175] Central Asia Program, Women of Uzbekistan: Empowered on Paper, Inferior on the Ground, July 2019,

[176], For the first time in recent years, the Senate has appointed a woman ambassador, June 2020,

[177] Eurasianet, Uzbekistan: Little change in parliament, but more women represented, January 2020,

[178] In discussions with the editor.

[179] Norma, Admission to Kindergartens – From 3 Years, August 2017,

[180] NeMolchi website:; NeMolchi Facebook page:; UNDP Europe and Central Asia, #HearMeToo: Activists in Central Asia break ground in fight against violence, November 2018,

[181] See point eight her: OHCHR, Sixth periodic report submitted by Uzbekistan under article 18 of the Convention, due in the 2019, November 2019,; CIS-Legislation, Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan, September 2019,; UZ Daily, President signs law on the protection of women from harassment, September 2019,

[182] ACCA, Law concerning the protection of women in Uzbekistan is inactive for four months, July 2020,

[183] Nikita Makarenko, Twitter Post, Twitter, October 2019,

[184] NHRC website:

[185] A terrorist group founded by ethnic Uzbeks Tohir Yuldashev and Juma Namangani (Jumaboi Khodjiyev) who participated in the Civil War in Tajikistan and became enmeshed in the conflict in Afghanistan.

[186] Eurasianet, Uzbekistan: Hizb ut-Tahrir trial a testbed for religious boundaries, May 2018,; Galima Bukharbaeva, Uzbek Prison Brutallity, IWPR,

[187]Sarah Kendzior, Inventing Akromiya: The Role of Uzbek Propagandists in the Andijon Massacre, Academia,; Jeffrey Donovan, Former Uzbek Spy Accuses Government Of Massacres, Seek Asylum, RFE/RL, September 2008,

[188] HRW, Charting Progress in Mirziyoyev’s Uzbekistan, October 2019,; Eurasianet, Uzbekistan: Hizb ut-Tahrir trial a testbed for religious boundaries, May 2018,; USCIRF 2020 Annual Report,

[189], Shavkat Mirziyoyev pardoned 258 convicts, May 2020,

[190] USCIRF 2020 Annual Report,; Catherine Putz, US Religious Freedom Report Signals Improvements in Uzbekistan, The Diplomat, April 2020,

[191] Eurasianet, Uzbekistan keeps up heat on marginal Islamic groups, May 2020,

[192] OHCHR, UN expert welcomes Uzbekistan roadmap to ensure freedom of religion or belief, June 2018,; Mushfig Bayram and Felix Corley, Uzbekistan: When will draft Religion Law be made public?, Forum 18, June 2020,

[193] The Law of the Republic of Uzbekistan On Freedom of Worship and Religious Organizations (New Versin),; HRW, Laws and Rules Regulating Religious Attire, 1999,

[194] RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Uzbek Teachers Get Tough Assignment: ‘Remove Their Hijabs, But Don’t Hurt Their Feelings’, RFE/RL, October 2019,; Eurasianet, Uzbekistan: Supporters of Islamic clothing take battle to court, March 2019,; RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Fresh Anti-Beard Campaign Reported In Uzbekistan, RFE/RL, September 2019,; RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Uzbek Men Reportedly Detained, Forced To Shave Beards, RFE/RL, August 2019,

[195] The Supreme Court of the Republic of Uzbekistan, T. About Astanov’s Case, January 2020,; Mushfig Bayram, Uzbekistan: Muslim activist’s sentence imminent?, Forum 18, October 19,; Sentenced under 244 d) of the Criminal Code for the Production or storage for the purpose of disseminating materials containing ideas of religious extremism, separatism and fundamentalism, calls for pogroms or forced evictions of citizens or aimed at creating panic among the population, as well as production, storage for the purpose of distribution or demonstration of attributes or symbols of religious extremist, terrorist organizations… d) using the media or telecommunications networks, as well as the worldwide information network Internet; Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan, A Common Part, September 1994, Lex.UZ, For the full criminal code see

[196] RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Uzbek Governor In Hot Water After ‘Ugly Beard,’ Hijab Remarks, RFE/RL, September 2019,

[197] Mushfig Bayram, Uzbekistan: Obstacle, pressure, bribe demands obstruct legal status applications, Forum 18, December 2019,

[198] Mushfig Bayram, Uzbekistan: Haj pilgrims face state control, bribery, exit ban lists, Forum 18, November 2019,

[199] Mushfig Bayram, Uzbekistan: Despite coronavirus lockdown officials continue literature raids, Forum 18, April 2020,

[200] Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan,

[201] Reuters, Anything you want – except gay rights, Uzbekistan tells U.N., May 2018,

[202] Darina Solod, In Uzbekistan, homosexuality is illegal. Here’s what LGBT life is like there, open Democracy, February 2020,; Global Voices, In Uzbekistan, where homosexuality is illegal, LGBTQ+ people must hide to survive, November 2019,; ADC Memorial, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan: Criminal Prosecution for Consensual Same-Sex Relationships Between Men,

[203] RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Murder In Tashkent: Killing of Gay Man Spotlights Plight Of Uzbek LGBT Community, RFE/RL, September 2019,; Umberto Bacchi, Gay man’s murder raises questions over Uzbek human rights reforms, Thomson Reuters Foundation News, September 2019,; Steve Swerdlow, Twitter Post, Twitter, September 2019,

[204] tashGangs Telegram channel,; Egor Petrov and Ekaterina Kazachenko, No one will hide behind a rainbow (18+), September 2019,

[205] RFE/RL’s Uzbek Service, Murder In Tashkent: Killing Of Gay Man Spotlights Plight of Uzbek LGBT Community, RFE/RL, September 2019,

[206] For example, this bizarre article argues for the need to maintain social taboos on discussing LGBTQ issues for fear of moving the Overton Window, arguing that if ‘a person succumbs to this hobby (homosexuality), he will lose such spiritual qualities as a sense of patriotism, the instinct of self-preservation and self-defense’. Re:post, Analyst from UzA announces introduction of homosexuality ideas in Uzbekistan through Overton’s Window, October 2019,

[207] For more on Dilmurad’s work on disability rights please see his website here:

[208] Ozodlik, On the border between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan is expected to open another border post, December 2019,

[209] Muso Bobohozhiev, As a result of the conflict, about 175 people were injured on the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border on both sides, Asia-Plus, June 2020,

[210] Bek Khoshimov, Twitter Post, Twitter, December 2019,; Eurasianet, Uzbekistan befuddled by Eurasian Economic Union tug of war, November 2019,

[211] Luca Anceschi, Twitter Post, Twitter, October 2019,

[212] Muhammad Tahir and Bruce Pannier, Majlis Podcast: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan Show Dissatisfaction With Eurasian Economic Union, RFE/RL, May 2020,

[213] Shukhrat Babadzhanov and Ozodlik, An employee of the Russian oil company Lukoil called the Uzbek workers “a crowd of rams” (video), Ozodlik, November 2019,; Eurasianet, Uzbekistan bristles at Russia wading into language law debate, May 2020,

[214] Elliot Watson, Russia losing ground in Central Asia as key rival pumps in cash, GlobalMarkets, May 2019,

[215] Asia Bound, Mapping China’s Health Silk Road, Council on Foreign Relations, March 2020,; EIAS, “The Health Silk Road”: Implications for the EU under Covid-19, April 2020,

[216] Reid Standish, China’s Central Asian Plans Are Unnerving Moscow, Foreign Policy, December 2019,

[217], Chinese, Uzbek FMs hold talks on ties, August 2019,; Mansur Mirovalev, Why are Central Asian countries so quiet on Uighur persecution?, Al Jazeera, February 2020,; The Tashkent Times, Uzbekistan joins countries backing China’s Xinjiang policy, July 2019,; Joanna Lillis, Twitter Post, Twitter, November 2019,

[218] Several EU member states but also Switzerland remains a major outlet for Uzbek Gold; FDFA, Bilateral relations Switzerland – Uzbekistan,; OEC, Uzbekistan,; For information about the growing relations between Italy and Uzbekistan see: UZ Daily, Prospects for cooperation with the Confederation of Industry of Italy discussed, May 2020,; Davide Cancarini, Italy and Central Asia, a ‘proxy friendship’ or a serious foreign policy commitment?, FPC, March 2020,

[219] EEAS, New EU Strategy on Central Asia, May 2019,; U.S. Department of State, United States Strategy for Central Asia 2019-2025: Advancing Sovereignty and Economic Prosperity (Overview), February 2020,

[220] Eurasianet, U.S. experiments with three-way dialogue with Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, May 2020,

[221] Hurriyet Daily News, Turkey, Uzbekistan aim to boost bilateral trade to %5 bln, February 2020,

[222] UK/Uzbekistan: Partnership and Cooperation Agreement [CS Uzbekistan No.1/2019],

[223] Eurasian Inventor, About,; Ownership of the copyright for Eurasian Investor belongs to CCI Ltd (Corporate Communications International Ltd) whose director Constantine Bridgeman was listed as CEO of Trinity Events and Eurasian Investor is listed a media brand of Trinity Events Group (home to a number of event brands including Adam Smith Conferences); Trinity Events Group website:;  UZ Invest Forum, A Major Two-Day Conference, Uzbekistan: One of world’s most promising economies,

[224] Matthew Fisher and Robert Garden, Perspectives: Uzbekistan internationalizes legal landscape to entice foreign investors, November 2019,

[225] MDIS Tashkent, Accounting and Finance,

[226] Shokhruz Samadov, Twitter Post, Twitter, October 2019,

[227] Figures according to Cambridge Assessments.

[228] Nikita Makarenko, Twitter Post, Twitter, March 2020,

[229] Grata International, Uzbekistan has announced the quarantine regime, March 2020,

[230] Umida Hashimova, Uzbekistan Adopts Strict Regulations To Fight COVID-19, The Diplomat, April 2020,

[231], Construction at large facilities will resume, April 2020,; AsiaTerra, In Uzbekistan, during the period of “self-isolation” allowed to build large facilities, April 2020,

[232] Javlon Vakhabov, Twitter Post, Twitter, April 2020,

[233] Xinhua, Uzbekistan eases COVID-19 restrictions, Asia & Pacific, May 2020,; Reuters, Uzbekistan extends duration of coronavirus curbs, but eases some, May 2020,; Almaz Kumenov and Ayzirek Imanaliyeva, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks cautiously, anxiously, eye return to familiar patterns, Eurasianet, May 2020,

[234] Mena FN, Uzbekistan to resume international flights, domestic train services soon, June 2020,

[235] Development Strategy Center and CERR, Information on measures to combat the effects of coronavirus in Uzbekistan, May 2020,

[236] Information via Telegram Channel @koronavirusinfouz; Reuters, Uzbekistan extends duration of coronavirus curbs, but eases some, May 2020,; BBC News, Coronavirus UK map: How many confirmed cases are there in your area?, (continuously updated),

[237] Radio Ozodlik, Tashkent teachers used as “trolls” praising Mirziyayev’s quarantine policy, Ozodlik, April 2020,

[238], Uzbekistan criminalizes fakes about COVID-19, March 2020,; HRW, Central Asia: Respect Rights in Covid-19 Response, April 2020,

[239] Navbahor Imamova, Twitter Post, Twitter, May 2020,; Navbahor Imamova, Twitter Post, Twitter, May 2020,

[240], It is estimated that Uzbekistan could receive about $ 38 million in fines during quarantine. Ahead, at least three more weeks of self-isolation, April 2020,

[241] Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, Human Rights Activists Isolated for 14 Days After Monitoring Cotton Fields, June 2020,

[242] See the essay in this collection by Eldor Tulyakov

[243] Eurasianet, Uzbekistan: President nixes helicopter money idea, appeals to business community, April 2020,; Irina Matvienko, Facebook Post, Facebook, April 2020,

[244] Kindness/Freedom, The campaign to forcibly transfer money to the fund initiated by the President will intensify, Ozodlik, April 2020,

[245] Ibid.; Bruce Pannier, Crony Charities Spring Up in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan Amid COVID-19 Crisis, RFE/RL, May 2020,

[246] Office of the Chief Economist, Fighting COVID-19, Europe and Central Asia Economic Update, World Bank Group, Spring 2020,

[247] Alisher Ruziohunov, Twitter Post, Twitter, May 2020,; bne IntelliNews, Long Read: The Growers – a handful of countries in New Europe are coping with the coronacrisis and are still expanding, May 2020,

[248] Eurasianet, Uzbekistan shores up food defences as coronavirus rages, April 2020,

[249] Bruce Pannier, Mirziyoyev Steps Up As COVID-19 Crisis Increases Contact Among Central Asian Leaders, RFE/RL, April 2020,

[250] RFE/RL, Sokh Exclave: Two Decades of Simmering Tension, January 2013,

[251] Muso Bobohodzhiev, As a result of the confict, about 175 people were injured on the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border on both sides,Asian-Plus, June 2020,;  BBC Uzbek, Sukh: Isn’t Uzbekistan ready to talk to Kyrgyzstan?, June 2020,

[252] BBC News, Uzbekistan: Why are the Sukhis dissatisfied with the governor? Uzbekistan (Video), June 2020,

[253] Fergana.News, Shavkat Mirziyoyev reminds Uzbeks of a thousand-year neighbourhood with Kyrsgyzstan, June 2020,;, Mirziyoyev sent business ombudsman for 2 months to Ferghana region to study problems of entrepreneurs, June 2020,; Eurasianet, Uzbekistan pledges huge investments in troubled exclace, June 2020;

[254] Hydropower & Dams, Investigations underway following Sardoba dam breach in Uzbekistan, The International Journal on Hydropower & Dams, May 2020,

[255] BBC Uzbek, Sardoba tragedy: Has the allocated aid money become “familiar”?, June 2020, and Mehribon Bekieva, Andijan farmers who did not transfer money to liquidate the consequences of emergencies in the Syrdarya region are threatened with land acquisition, Ozodlik, June 2020,

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