Civic space under attack in Central Asia: NGOs document key trends as region sees increasing international engagement

International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and its partners draw attention to the widening attack on civic space and freedoms seen in Central Asia at a time of increasing international interest in the region and an increasing number of high-level meetings with the region’s leaders, such as a meeting organised by US President Joe Biden in New York earlier this month, a meeting to be hosted by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin this week, and an EU-Central Asia Summit planned for next year. In their engagement with the Central Asian countries, international actors should use all available opportunities to speak out against current alarming trends and push for concrete steps by the governments of the region to roll back repressive policies, which undermine public debate and civic participation on issues of concern to citizens.

IPHR and its partner organisations Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, Legal Prosperity Foundation, Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights and Association for Human Rights in Central Asia have prepared an overview of current key concerns regarding the protection of the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly in the five Central Asian countries ahead of the Warsaw Human Dimension Conference, which will be held on 2-13 October 2023 to discuss human rights protection in the OSCE region.

The key trends documented in the NGO briefing include:

• Lack of accountability for serious human rights violations related to the crises seen in Central Asia in 2022, when the authorities employed harsh measures to end mass protests against government policies and ensuing unrest during the so-called ‘Bloody January’ events in Kazakhstan, in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) in Tajikistan and in the Republic of Karakalpakstan in Uzbekistan. To date, measures taken to investigate allegations of excessive use of force, torture and ill-treatment, and other violations of the rights of protesters during these events, as well as to bring those responsible to justice have lacked independence, thoroughness, and effectiveness, resulting in widespread impunity for serious human rights abuses.

 Persecution of civil society activists, opposition supporters, human rights defenders, journalists, and bloggers who speak out against injustice, criticise government policies and demand transparency and accountability of those in power. The use of criminal prosecution as a tool to intimidate and silence critical voices is of particular concern across the region. This tactic was used during wider crackdowns launched in response to the mass protests seen in Kazakhstan, the GBAO in Tajikistan and Karakalpakstan in Uzbekistan in 2022, but is also used more broadly in all countries of the region, with criminal cases on slander, extortion, fraud, rioting, extremism and other charges initiated in retaliation against those who exercise their freedoms of expression, association, and assembly in peaceful and legitimate ways. It is of serious concern that especially the authorities in Tajikistan and Kazakhstan have misused extremism-related charges to target government critics and that a growing number of bloggers have been singled out for prosecution in Uzbekistan and other countries because of social media posts on issues deemed sensitive by the authorities. Recently, there has been an increase in politically motivated criminal cases in Kyrgyzstan in the context of a worsening climate for free speech, while the authorities of Turkmenistan have sought the forcible return of outspoken activists based abroad, in addition to imprisoning “inconvenient” individuals living in the country.

 Pressure on independent media and restrictions on access to alternative information through the internet. The few independent media outlets that operate in the region, as well as those working for them are subjected to ongoing intimidation and harassment, both on- and offline. There have been several recent government initiatives to shut down independent media services and block access to their sites in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, a country where the media environment has up until now been more favourable than in other countries of the region. Draft media legislation currently under consideration in Kyrgyzstan, as well as in Kazakhstan threatens to result in increased state control over media operations. Broadly worded restrictions on blogging activities have been initiated in several countries, including Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and the authorities are misusing the fight against disinformation to stifle free speech across the region. Internet censorship is most pervasive in Turkmenistan where thousands of sites have been arbitrarily blocked and the authorities actively campaign against censorship circumvention tools used to access blocked sites that provide information alternative to that of state-controlled national media.

• Excessive and unjustified restrictions on the operation of independent civil society organisations. An increasing number of NGOs have either been forcibly shut down or pressured to “voluntarily” close in Tajikistan, while several independent human rights groups have been denied registration on technical grounds in Uzbekistan, and not one human rights NGO is registered in Turkmenistan. Draft NGO legislation initiated in Kyrgyzstan mirrors legislation seen in more repressive countries in the post-Soviet region and would – if adopted - undermine the hard-won gains in terms of civil society participation in this country. In particular, foreign-funded NGOs risk being subjected to stigmatisation and excessive state regulation and interference. There are also concerns that a recent government initiative in Kazakhstan to publish a list of foreign-funded NGOs could result in increasing stigmatisation and state control of such groups.

 Practices undermining the right to peacefully protest. Such practices include a court-sanctioned ban on protests that has been in place in central areas of Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek for more than a year; the systematic dispersal of peaceful gatherings held without government approval and the detention of protesters before, during and after such assemblies in Kazakhstan; and measures taken by authorities in Turkmenistan to promptly cut short public expressions of discontent about economic hardships, corruption and other problems.

These issues are covered in more detail in the joint briefing paper, which describes recent developments concerning civic space and freedoms in each of the Central Asian countries, features descriptions of individual cases of concern, and provides recommendations for measures that the authorities of the region should take to improve the situation.

The briefing paper is based on ongoing cooperation between IPHR and its Central Asian partners on monitoring and documenting developments affecting fundamental freedoms in the five Central Asian countries in the framework of the CIVICUS Monitor, an initiative to track and rate civic space across the world.  The CIVICUS Monitor currently assesses civic space as ‘’closed’’ in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, as ‘’repressed’’ in Kazakhstan and as ‘’obstructed’’ in Kyrgyzstan.

Download the joint NGO briefing here


Justice for Torture Victims in Central Asia

 I want justice. A sniper bullet damaged my optic nerve. Later – in pretrial detention, I was beaten so severely over the head that I lost my eyesight – I live in the dark now”.

Yermek, torture survivor, Almaty, Kazakhstan
Today, 26 June, is the United Nations (UN) International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. And on this day the Coalitions against Torture in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA, Uzbekistan, based in exile in France), the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights (TIHR, Turkmenistan, based in exile in Austria), International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR), the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) call on the governments of Central Asia to take immediate action to put a stop to torture.
Across the world, this day provides an opportunity to support victims of torture and their families, to stand together in solidarity and to demand justice.
Despite numerous promises of zero-tolerance and reform, torture and ill-treatment continue to be widely used in all five Central Asian countries. Hundreds of individuals are charged and convicted based on confessions extracted under duress; and, fearful of suffering from reprisals, many more victims of torture and their relatives never dare to lodge complaints at all.
The bloody consequences of excessive police violence and serious allegations of torture in several countries of the region last year have been felt throughout 2023. In 2022 the governments of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan responded to predominantly peaceful protests with excessive force often amounting to extra-custodial torture and leading to numerous civilian deaths, arbitrary arrests, widespread torture in detention, persecution of human rights defenders and journalists. To date they have failed to effectively and impartially investigate the actions of state representatives and hold the perpetrators accountable. The governments weaponized internet by deliberately shutting it down in the regions where protests took place, thus preventing people from communicating, reporting on violations and obtaining updates about the security situation.
In Kazakhstan, nearly a year and a half after the ‘Bloody January’ events of 2022, the government has failed to take effective steps to impartially and thoroughly investigate the events and to hold accountable those responsible for serious human rights violations which occurred when authorities forcibly put down mass protests for social and political change and evolving unrest. Reported human rights violations include the excessive use of force and related killings of protesters and passers-by, the arbitrary detentions of thousands of protesters, and widespread torture and ill-treatment of protesters in detention. Many investigations opened into killings and torture allegations were prematurely closed due to the alleged lack of evidence of crimes in the actions of law enforcement and security officials involved. The High Commissioner of Human Rights of Kazakhstan (Ombudsperson) stated that 80 per cent of all cases have been closed. Only 1-2 per cent of complaints of torture have reached court, and in only a handful of cases have perpetrators of abuses been convicted.[1] Thus, unfortunately, very few victims of torture and their families who have been brave enough to lodge complaints will see justice.
The Kazakhstani government has not recognized that systematic human rights violations took place in January 2022, has failed to initiate an effective and transparent investigation and provide adequate compensation for the victims and their families. On the contrary, victims, and those protecting their rights such as human rights defenders and lawyers continue to face harassment and persecution in retribution for carrying out their professional duties.
In May 2023 the UN Committee against Torture expressed its deep concern at ‘’many consistent reports indicating various forms of torture, ill-treatment, including excessive use of force’’ related to the January 2022 protests in Kazakhstan, as well as the ‘’high rate of closed cases’’. It called on the Kazakhstani authorities to promptly, independently and impartially investigate all acts of torture, ill-treatment and excessive use of force and punish the perpetrators in a manner commensurate with the gravity of their acts.[2]
In Tajikistan, there has to date been no accountability for serious human rights violations perpetrated in connection with the authorities’ response to mass protests that took place in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) in November 2021 and May 2022. Reported violations include the excessive use of force, arbitrary detentions, torture and ill-treatment, extrajudicial killings, and unfair trials of dozens of people.[3]
Following the events in GBAO, the authorities launched a widening crackdown on dissenting voices and civil society, targeting in particular those who criticised the authorities’ actions in the region.[4] About 20 civil society activists, human rights defenders and journalists were detained, tortured, criminally prosecuted and convicted following non-transparent trials held in violation of international standards. In a case of particular concern[5], in December 2022, the Supreme Court sentenced Manuchehr Kholiknazarov, Director of the Lawyers’ Association of Pamir (LAP) and member of Tajikistan’s Anti-Torture Coalition, to 16 years in prison on fabricated charges of participation in a criminal and banned organisation which were initiated in retaliation for his efforts to assist victims of human rights violations and promote access to justice and the rule of law in GBAO.
In a similar pattern, there are ongoing concerns about torture and ill-treatment and the disregard of victims’ rights in Uzbekistan. Analysis of torture complaints there over the past years shows that collusion between perpetrators of torturer and doctors is an ongoing problem, making it more difficult to document and investigate torture cases. Victims’ lawyers are often threatened with disbarment if they actively raise torture concerns. Victims and journalists who speak out in public are at risk being prosecuted. There is still no efficient national mechanism for a rapid response to reports of torture.
The authorities have yet to ensure an independent investigation into the July 2022 events in Karakalpakstan in western Uzbekistan when mass protests broke out against proposed constitutional amendments which would have deprived the republic of its current constitutionally protected status and its right to secede from Uzbekistan. There are multiple, credible reports that authorities resorted to excessive use of force, arbitrary detentions, and torture and ill-treatment when putting down the protests. According to official figures, at least 21 people died and 270 were injured, although the real figures could be much higher.[6]
The investigative efforts undertaken into the Karakalpakstan events have been shrouded in secrecy and to date no one is known to have been held accountable for the killings or violations of the rights of protesters, although a few law enforcement officials were reportedly charged with wrongdoing.[7] At the same time, as the authorities have presented the events as an attempt to seize power in Karakalpakstan, several dozen protest participants have been charged with and convicted of various crimes following legal proceedings falling short of international fair trial standards. Among them are well-known journalists, bloggers and activists, who publicly criticised the proposed constitutional amendments, including lawyer and blogger Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov who has been depicted as a protest leader. In January 2023, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison on charges of encroaching on the constitutional order, organising mass riots and other crimes. In court, he was the only defendant who dared to speak out about having been tortured in detention, but his allegations were not referred for an independent investigation before the verdict was issued. The live broadcast of the court proceedings was stopped after Tazhimuratov told the court he had been tortured. In June 2023, the Supreme Court upheld his sentence on appeal. Civil society sources reported that other defendants were also tortured but did not speak out in court for fear of reprisals.
In Kyrgyzstan, torture and ill-treatment also remains a serious problem, especially in pre-trial detention, where conditions often amount to degrading treatment. Those detained in politically motivated cases are at particular risk of abusive treatment, including activists who were arrested in October 2022 and charged with preparing riots, although they are only known to have peacefully engaged against the government-negotiated border deal with Uzbekistan concerning the strategically important Kempir-Abad water reservoir.[8]
In this respect, the important role of Kyrgyzstan’s National Prevention Mechanism (NPM) in torture prevention should be emphasized–because its members can carry out unscheduled visits to detention facilities and meet detainees.
There are ongoing concerns about torture and enforced disappearances in politically motivated cases in Turkmenistan. We are worried about the fate of blogger Farhat Meimankulyiev (aka Durdyiev) who was recently forcibly returned from Turkey to Turkmenistan where he is at serious risk of torture because of his criticism of the authorities.[9] The blogger has also previously been subjected to harassment, including by being arbitrarily detained[10] in Turkmenistan’s consulate in Istanbul in connection with a planned protest in August 2021. While there, he was reportedly ill-treated and pressured to apologise for posting videos critical of the regime. Other outspoken activists based in Turkey or other countries with friendly relations with Turkmenistan’s government are also at risk of being returned to torture.[11]
We call on the authorities of Central Asian countries to put a stop to torture by:
  • acknowledging  the scale of the problem of torture;
  • publishing comprehensive statistics on cases and investigations;
  • allowing independent monitors full access to detention facilities; initiating immediate independent investigations into widespread allegations of torture related to mass protests of 2022 with the participation of international experts and local civil society representatives;
  • ensuring genuine cooperation with relevant UN mechanisms and addressing entrenched systemic problems in a transparent manner.
The Central Asian authorities must now turn words into action by ending impunity for torture and guaranteeing victims the protection and compensation to which they are entitled.
[1] For more information on human rights violations related to the January events and the measures taken to investigate and prosecute violations, see briefing paper prepared by IPHR and Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (KIBHR) for the EU-Kazakhstan Human Rights Dialogue in March 2023: https://www.iphronline.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/IPHR-KIBHR-briefing-paper-for-EU-Kazakhstan-HR-dialogue-2023.pdf; report issued by IPHR, KIBHR, the Coalition against Torture and the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT) in January 2023 on torture, ill-treatment and impunity related to the January 2022 events: https://www.iphronline.org/we-don-t-even-cry-anymore.html; as well as joint CAT submission by the Coalition against Torture, IPHR and OMCT from March 2023: https://www.iphronline.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/CAT-submission-final-22-March-1.pdf
[2] The Committee’s concluding observations are available at: 
[4] For more information on this trend, see update prepared by IPHR as part of its cooperation with the CIVICUS Monitor, published in March 2023: https://www.iphronline.org/tajikistan-continuous-crackdown-on-civil-society.html 
[5] For more information on his case, see joint statement by IPHR, the OMCT, Human Rights Watch, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Frontline Defenders, International Federation for Human Rights and Freedom Now issued on 3 April 2023: https://www.iphronline.org/tajikistan-manuchehr-kholiqnazarov-must-be-immediately-released.html 
[6] For more information about the Karakalpakstan events and related violations, see submission for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Uzbekistan by Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) and IPHR from April 2023: https://www.iphronline.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/UPR-Uzbekistan-2023.pdf


NGOs urge the EU’s Charles Michel to press for accountability for rights violations during Central Asia visit

This week, Charles Michel, President of the European Council will attend a high-level meeting with the heads of the Central Asian States, which will take place in the city of Cholpon-Ata in Kyrgyzstan. Ahead of Michel’s visit to the region, five NGOs sent him a joint letter, urging him to raise key human rights issues with the Central Asian leaders and to insist on concrete human rights progress as a condition for a further strengthening of the EU’s partnerships with the countries of the region.

The signatories of the joint letter include International Partnership for Human Rights, Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, Legal Prosperity Foundation, the Turkmen Initiative for Human Rights and the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia. The NGOs urged Michel, in particular, to stress the need for accountability for serious human rights violations related to last year’s crises in the region, when the authorities employed harsh measures to end mass protests and ensuing unrest in Kazakhstan, the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) in Tajikistan and the Republic of Karakalpakstan in Uzbekistan. To date, measures taken to this end have lacked independence, thoroughness and effectiveness.
The five signatories of the joint letter also asked Michel to raise concerns about recent initiatives aimed at stigmatising and restricting the activities of NGOs, especially foreign-funded ones in the Central Asian countries such as highly worrying draft legislation put forward by MPs in Kyrgyzstan this month. In addition, the five organisations urged Michel to call for an end to the persecution of activists, human rights defenders, journalists and bloggers who are critical of the authorities in the countries of the region, including in the following cases:
— The leader of the unregistered opposition Democratic Party, Zhanbolat Mamai, was recently convicted for his alleged role in the unrest seen during the January 2022 events in Kazakhstan. He was given a suspended six-year prison sentence and banned from conducting political, civic or social media activities during this period, thereby effectively preventing him from continuing his opposition campaigning.
— Together with others charged in the so-called Kempir-Abad case in Kyrgyzstan, human rights activist Rita Karasartova continues to be held in deplorable conditions in pre-trial detention despite the absence of any compelling grounds for keeping her behind bars. Those charged in this case were arrested in October 2022 after peacefully engaging against a government-negotiated border deal with Uzbekistan concerning a strategically important water reservoir.
— Journalist Bolot Temirov, known for his investigations into high-level corruption, was deported from Kyrgyzstan in November 2022 in violation of the constitutional prohibition on expelling citizens of the country.
— As part of a wider crackdown on dissenting voices seen following last year’s protests in Tajikistan’s GBAO, human rights defender Manuchehr Kholiknazarov was sentenced to 16 years in prison on charges initiated in retaliation for his efforts to assist victims of human rights violations and promote access to justice and the rule of law in this region.
— Human rights lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov, who is serving a 22-year prison sentence initiated in retaliation for his professional activities in Tajikistan, is facing new charges which could result in a further extension of his sentence.
— In late May 2023, Turkmenistani YouTube blogger Farhat Meimankulyiev (aka Durdyiev) was reportedly deported from Turkey to Turkmenistan after being detained at the request of Turkmenistani diplomats. Because of his criticism of the Turkmenistani authorities, the blogger is at serious risk of politically motivated arrest, imprisonment and torture in Turkmenistan.
— The UN Human Rights Committee recently called for the release of journalist Nurgeldy Khalykov, civil society activist Murat Dushemov and human rights defender Mansur Mingelov who are currently serving prison sentences on charges believed to be politically motivated in Turkmenistan.
— Earlier this year lawyer and journalist Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov was sentenced to 16 years in prison in Uzbekistan for allegedly playing a leading role in the July 2022 events in Karakalpakstan. Currently the Supreme Court is hearing his case on appeal with a decision expected to be issued soon.
— Also in Uzbekistan, blogger Otabek Sattoriy continues to serve a six-year prison sentence deemed unlawful by UN experts and was recently denied a transfer to less harsh prison conditions because of alleged violations of prison rules. Another blogger, Miraziz Bazarov was forcibly detained by law enforcement authorities in May 2023, held for several hours and reportedly pressured to delete online content under torture and threats of criminal charges for allegedly violating the terms of a restricted liberty sentence issued against him in 2022.
President Michel’s visit to Kyrgyzstan comes at a time of increasing EU interest and engagement in Central Asia given the changing geopolitical situation due to Russia’s war against Ukraine. Previously Michel visited Central Asia and held discussions with the region’s leaders in October 2022.


What future awaits our country with Shavkat Mirziyoyev?

May 8-9 are special days in the history of mankind. Blessed memory to the heroes who saved this world from fascism.

How bitter it is that my Motherland is headed by such a person as Shavkat Mirziyoev, who is not able to say no to Putin when he is drawn into the Kremlin propaganda, belying the values for which our grandfathers gave their lives.

At the same time, Mirziyoyev failed to find 5 minutes to express support for the Ukrainian people, whose merit in the victory over fascism is INVALUABLE.

Showing support for Putin, when more than 30 countries have called Putin a war criminal, Mirziyoyev shows solidarity with him on behalf of the Uzbek people. 

What is the future of our country with such a president?


Uzbekistan: participation in the referendum means legitimizing the crimes of the Mirziyoyev government

Amendments to the Constitution of Uzbekistan have one goal - to nullify the term of office of Shavkat Mirziyoyev. And the so-called constitutional reform is being carried out in the context of the ongoing persecution of bloggers, journalists, and human rights activists. And during the period of the public discussion of the amendments to the Constitution, a state of emergency was declared in Karakalpakstan to hide a massacre of a peaceful rally  in this part of Uzbekistan.

As a result, the final version of the amendments to the Constitution retained only the version of the authorities, that is, the citizens of Uzbekistan were not heard, the institution of impeachment has not be created.

Participation in such a referendum means legitimizing the crimes of the Mirziyoyev government.

Now, more than ever, we are convinced that Mirziyoyev is a product of the “red dictatorship”, capable of representing exclusively the interests of the modern Uzbek mafia and the Kremlin.

What will be the future under Mirziyoyev's rule, if our children and elderly citizens were and remain the most vulnerable? Young children in our country are either slaves in the cotton fields, or the victims of pedophile officials, or freeze in the winter, because the leadership chose to swap the natural gas for the Kremlin’s protection of the existing government in Uzbekistan.

There is widespread corruption, poverty in the country, and the judicial system has turned into a political prisoners production factory stamping them like bricks and ignores complaints against torture, which is why the number of political emigrants is growing.

Well, how can you trust such a political regime if it terrorizes its own people?

Nadejda Atayeva, citizen of Uzbekistan


Key concerns for UN Universal Periodic Review of Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan (for 8 November 2023) 

Submission to the United Nations Universal
Periodic Review 44th session
of the UPR Working Group
Karakalpakstan protests – Freedom of expression and the media – Human rights defenders, civil society and lawyers – Torture and ill-treatment –Domestic violence – LGBT – Forced evictions


This document was produced by Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (AHRCA) and International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) ahead of the Universal Periodic Review of Uzbekistan, scheduled for 8 November 2023 during the 44th session of the Working Group.

AHRCA is an independent human rights organization founded by émigrés in 2006 and based in France. Through a network of contacts in Central Asia, AHRCA monitors the human rights situation, documents violations, and conducts international advocacy. IPHR is a non-profit organization founded in Brussels in 2008, with a mandate to support local civil society groups in their work to eradicate violations of human rights and help their concerns be heard at the international level.

The submission covers key developments regarding freedom of expression and the media; human rights defenders, civil society, and lawyers; torture and ill-treatment; rehabilitation; domestic violence; LGBT; and forced evictions. At the end of the report, you find suggested recommendations to the government of Uzbekistan on the topics and human rights concerns featured in the main part of the report.

Human rights violations related to the 2022 Karakalpakstan protests

Thousands of people gathered in the Republic of Karakalpakstan in western Uzbekistan on 1-2 July 2022 to peacefully protest against proposed constitutional amendments, which would have deprived the Republic of its sovereignty and right to secede from Uzbekistan. The authorities reportedly used force to disperse protesters in the capital Nukus and other cities in the Republic, including with water cannon, rubber bullets, stun grenades and smoke bombs. Clashes between police and demonstrators were reported. Videos circulating on social media showed numerous people, who appear to be dead or badly injured lying on the pavement.

On 18 July 2022, media reported the Prosecutor General’s Office of Uzbekistan as saying that 21 people died and over 270 required medical assistance in connection with the protests. However, the exact number of those killed or injured remains unknown as official sources have subsequently published differing figures and there are credible reports by civil society sources indicating that several victims have not been included in official statistics. The authorities have not provided comprehensive information about the circumstances of their deaths. To date, nobody has been charged specifically with responsibility for the killings and the investigation into the Karakalpakstan events has been shrouded in secrecy. 

The Uzbekistani authorities depicted the events as an attempt to seize power in Karakalpakstan and accused protesters of seeking to storm government buildings. They imposed a month-long state of emergency in the Republic and suspended internet access, thereby restricting access to information and the ability to participate in online discussions about the constitutional amendments that were taking place in other parts of the country. Internet access in Karakalpakstan today remains weak and unreliable.

Over 500 people were detained in connection with the protests. AHRCA and IPHR are seriously concerned about credible reports of excessive use of force, arbitrary detentions, and torture and ill-treatment of detainees in connection with the measures taken to put down the protests. There is a pressing need for the authorities to impartially and thoroughly investigate all allegations of human rights violations related to the mass protests and to ensure accountability.

While many detainees were released after being subjected to administrative penalties, several dozen faced criminal charges for allegedly committing anti-constitutional crimes. Among those detained and charged are well-known journalists, bloggers and activists from the region, who publicly criticised the proposed constitutional amendments and are accused of playing leading roles in the protests.

The first trial against 22 defendants opened in the Criminal Court of Bukhara Region on 28 November 2022, hundreds of kilometres away from Karakalpakstan. It failed to meet international fair trial standards. While the first hearing was publicly accessible through a live broadcast, the broadcast was stopped on 5 December at the request of the prosecution, a few days after lawyer and blogger Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov had given a speech in court maintaining his innocence and saying he had been tortured. The allegations of torture were not referred for an independent investigation. Civil society sources reported that other defendants were also tortured but did not speak out in court for fear of reprisals.

Along with journalist Lalagul Kallykhanova, Tazhimuradov was charged with encroaching on the constitutional order and other serious crimes for allegedly playing leading roles in the protests. On 31 January 2023, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison; Kallykhanova was given a suspended seven-year sentence with three years’ probation. Another 14 defendants were sentenced to prison terms of up to eight and a half years. Tazhimuratov vehemently denied all charges, while Kallykhanova confessed to wrongdoing and expressed remorse, raising concerns that she might have been pressured to do so in exchange for a lighter sentence, although she subsequently made a statement saying that her sentence was “deserved”.

On 17 March 2023, Bukhara Regional Court sentenced a second group of 39 defendants to lengthy prison terms. They were charged with offences including vandalism, rioting and disseminating materials posing a threat to public order. Twenty-eight of them, including lawyer Oralbai Dosnazarov and businessman Omirbek Kurbanov, were sentenced to prison terms of between five and 11 years. Eleven were given restricted freedom sentences. According to civil society sources, only three defendants were represented by a lawyer of their own choice. Several of the defendants’ relatives reportedly sold their houses or other property before the verdicts were announced to cover the costs of the alleged damage caused by the actions of which they were accused. Reportedly, state-appointed lawyers had urged them to do so for the defendants to receive lighter sentences. According to civil society monitors, four defendants had cuts on their arms that appeared to originate either from suicide attempts or torture.

All defendants in both trials and their relatives were required to sign non-disclosure agreements, forbidding them from discussing their cases with human rights and international organisations. There are allegations that two more trials are underway in relation to the Karakalpakstan protests.

Freedom of expression and the media

In 2019 and 2020, President Mirziyoyev publicly encouraged more critical media reporting. In his message to Parliament on 29 December 2020, for example, he said: “Of course, many local officials don’t like challenging and critical materials, they disturb their calm and carefree existence. But transparency and freedom of speech – that is what is called for today, it’s what the reforms in Uzbekistan demand.” This initially raised hope for reform and free speech, and independent journalism and blogging began to flourish.

In Uzbekistan, the Criminal Code carries sanctions for slander (Article 139) and insult (Article 140), in violation of the country’s obligations under international human rights law. Insulting the president is punishable by five years’ imprisonment under Article 158, part 3 of the Criminal Code although international human rights standards clearly stipulate that public officials should be prepared to tolerate more, rather than less, criticism, given the importance of allowing effective public scrutiny of government actions. Disseminating ‘’false’’ information about COVID-19 and other infectious diseases carries a penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment. Although the Administrative Code also includes punishment for defamation, critical bloggers are typically charged under the Criminal Code.

We are also concerned that amendments to the Law on Informatisation, adopted in March 2021 provide further tools for the authorities to clamp down on government critics. The amendments stipulate that the owners of online resources, including bloggers, must ensure that their platforms are not used for the dissemination of “knowingly false’” or “defamatory” information, or other information defined as impermissible in vaguely-worded language. The failure to promptly remove such information can result in restrictions for the online resources in question.



Dozens of journalists and bloggers have come under pressure from the authorities due to their criticism of the authorities in recent yearsSeveral bloggers were convicted on criminal charges initiated in apparent retaliation for their posts on issues considered sensitive by the authorities.

For example, blogger Miraziz Bazarov was charged with slander and, in January 2022, sentenced to three years’ restriction of liberty for his social media posts about the government’s use of COVID-19 related loans and alleged double standards amongst officials in relation to LGBT people. Since then, Bazarov has been under state surveillance and there are unconfirmed reports that another criminal case is being prepared against him.

Another blogger, Otabek Sattoriy was sentenced to six and a half years’ imprisonment on trumped up charges of libel and extortion, in retaliation for his criticism of corruption of local officials. In an Opinion published in February 2023, the United Nations (UN) Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on Uzbekistan to “release Mr. Sattoriy immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations”.

Another blogger, Sobirjon Babaniyazov was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for allegedly insulting President Mirziyoyev on social media.

Independent journalist, human rights activist and former political prisoner Aziz Yusupov was arrested in September 2022 shortly before he was due to attend the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in Warsaw, in an apparent attempt to prevent him from attending. Yusupov was subsequently charged with the possession of drugs and reportedly forced to make a video-filmed ‘’confession’’ under duress. In December 2022, he was sentenced to five years of restriction of freedom – a non-custodial sentence - and released; however, the conditions of the sentence are harsh and prevent him from continuing human rights work. He is prohibited from attending public events and using the internet, and his contacts with others are restricted.

In February 2023, blogger Abdukadyr Muminov was detained on charges of blackmail and extortion. His supporters allege that he has been targeted because of his public criticism of the authorities. At the time of writing, his family had not been allowed to visit him. Muminov’s state-appointed lawyer failed to defend him properly. The family found several independent lawyers for him, but Muminov repeatedly refused their services, raising concerns that law enforcement agents pressurized him into agreeing to keep the state-appointed lawyer. The police investigator has stated publicly that Muminov will be imprisoned, which violates the principle of presumption of innocence. Since his mother Saboat Abdullayeva spoke about his case with Radio Ozodlik, human rights activists and diplomats, she reports to have been put under surveillance.

On 17 December 2022, 60-year-old blogger Shahida Salomova who has frequently posted criticism of government officials and has given free legal aid to victims of evictions, published a photo of the President and his relatives on her telegram channel accusing them of corruption and nepotism. On 18 December, she posted a picture of the President’s son-in-law Otabek Umarov with a woman she described as his second (unofficial) wife. Just a few hours later, police reportedly stormed into her apartment and arrested her. Formally, the arrest was based on a complaint submitted by another blogger in May 2022 who alleged that Salomova had insulted him, but civil society sources believe that the authorities used the complaint to silence her. During the first days of her detention her lawyers were not given permission to visit her and she was reportedly given a state-appointed lawyer instead. The court ruled to place her in a psychiatric hospital where she continued to be held at the time of writing.

Journalist Agnieszka Pikulicka, correspondent for The Guardian and Al Jazeera, was subjected to harassment by an official of the Uzbekistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs when she attempted to renew her journalistic accreditation in Uzbekistan. The Ministry later apologised to her for the official’s behaviour, but in November 2021, Pikulicka was banned from entering Uzbekistan and prevented from continuing her work in the country.



The government uses internet shutdowns, blocking and disabling websites, social media platforms and internet messengers in order to silence critical voices. To date, many sites of international human rights organisations are not accessible, especially the Russian or Uzbek pages. The authorities clamp down on access to information and media freedom during times of heightened security concerns, e.g Presidential elections and the unrest in Karakalpakstan.

Critical independent media were targeted with cyber-attacks last year. At least two media outlets were subject to attacks and removal of content in June and July 2022 after publishing critical information related to the political environment. Previously, access to social media was restricted in early November 2021 by the state agency in charge of oversight of telecommunications, after it accused several platforms of failing to store user data on servers in Uzbekistan, a requirement introduced under a law adopted in January 2021.

Under the pretext of protecting personal data, the state exercises close control over Internet users. Media reported in May 2021 that, according to the Director of the State Personalisation Centre, the authorities are ensuring the collection and storage of personal data and that social networks which operate from abroad have been notified of the need to comply with legal requirements, which provide for legal or administrative penalties for those who fail to comply1.

Human rights defenders, civil society

The operating space for civil society remains seriously restricted. The process of registering new NGOs remains fraught with difficulties, and the groups that manage to get registered are mainly those which work in humanitarian fields. Several independent human rights NGOs have repeatedly been denied registration on grounds that appear politically-motivated.

For example, human rights defender and former political prisoner Agzam Turgunov has received 11 rejections since 2019 when attempting to register the NGO Human Rights House, with the Ministry of Justice referring to alleged minor technical mistakes in the application. Even the involvement of well-known lawyer Sergey Mayorov did not help to overcome the obstacles to registration. In 2022, in Turgunov was further subjected to harassment and intimidation by state officials.

In a welcome development, in September 2022, human rights activist Nikolay Kungurov was able to register the human rights organisation Democracy and Law, which he had been trying to do since June 2003. After exhausting national remedies, a complaint was sent to the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) in 2006, which concluded in September 2011 that the refusal to register Democracy and Law violated Kungurov’s freedoms of association and expression. It took another 11 years before the NGO was registered. By law, the National Human Rights Centre (NCHR) would have been responsible for submitting the conclusions of the HRC to the Supreme Court for consideration. According to Kungurov, inaction by the NCHR director meant that this was not done. However, in September 2022, Kungurov’s application to register Democracy and Law was finally approved.

NGOs are subject to excessive reporting requirements and restrictions on their activities and access to funding. A government resolution adopted in June 2022 further increased state interference into NGO activities by introducing a new mechanism for state approval of foreign grants received by NGOs and compulsory partnership with state agencies on the implementation of foreign funded projects.

Torture and ill-treatment

President Mirziyoyev’s stated promises to address the root causes of torture have led to the adoption of some positive measures. For example, legislation was introduced stipulating that evidence obtained under torture is not admissible in court and that medical examinations for prisoners are conducted after transfers from pre-trial detention to prisons, to check for signs of torture.

However, these legal safeguards are not implemented consistently and our monitoring has not found any cases where investigations have been opened into torture, based on injuries detected through the newly introduced medical examinations. Cases of torture still occur and are typically not properly investigated by the authorities. Moreover, detainees often refrain from lodging complaints for fear of reprisals or because they do not believe that they can attain justice through the criminal justice system. To the knowledge of the authors of this report, no victim of torture in Uzbekistan has been granted compensation for moral damages in recent years. Cases such as that of Alexander Trofimov, who was allegedly tortured in 2021, illustrate the continued inability of the judicial system to impartially investigate cases of torture and bring the perpetrators to account.



Prisoners convicted of espionage, other anti-state offences or affiliation with banned religious groups are at particular risk of torture and ill-treatment in prisons. Former prisoners and prisoners’ relatives report frequent beatings and sexual and other abuse by prison guards and other prisoners.

Former prisoners and torture survivors have alleged that rape and sexual assault are used deliberately to break the will of devout Muslim men and women, but are also used against secular prisoners. As rape victims or suspected rape victims, these prisoners would automatically be considered “untouchables” in the prison system, reportedly the lowest category in the prison hierarchy, vulnerable to systematic abuse by both other prisoners and prison staff.

Former diplomat Kadyr Yusupov, who is serving imprisonment for “treason” based on a statement he made during a psychotic episode in 2018 when in hospital following a failed suicide attempt, was attacked by fellow prisoners in September and October 2021. Despite calls for his immediately release from the UN WGAD in May 2021, he remains in prison.


Women’s prison colony in Zangiota District

Human rights defenders who monitored the prison colony in the Zangiota District of Tashkent reported that pregnant women do not receive adequate care; are not given sufficient food and are forced to work, including heavy work, until they give birth in order to buy basic necessities and groceries. They are not given any maternity leave.

Several women prisoners reported that during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy prison staff put pressure on prisoners to terminate their pregnancies. Former prisoners reported that many women are infected with Hepatitis C or HIV during pregnancy and after delivery because of the poor hygiene standards in the prison hospital (repeated use of non-sterilized utensils, etc). Women reported that there were frequent cases of prison staff beating their children, and that they saw their children with bruises on their bodies.

Domestic violence

The authorities should build on positive steps taken since the last UN Universal Periodic Review of Uzbekistan to strengthen the protection of women against domestic violence.

In 2022, a parliamentary Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) of state and civil society representatives reviewed proposed amendments to legislation including the Criminal Code, the Administrative Code and the Law on Guarantees of the Rights of the Child. The draft law on legislative amendments was published In January 2023 and submitted to Parliament in February, but failed to take into account all IAWG recommendations. In March 2023, media announced that the draft law had been adopted although the final text is not publicly available at the time of writing. It is expected to be approved by the Senate and signed by the President in April.

According to information available to the IAWG, the proposed amendments to the Criminal Code include introducing a new Article 126 (1) which criminalizes physical, psychological and economic domestic violence; harsher penalties for sexual coercion; rape and violent sexual assault of a person under 18; sexual relations with a child under 16 (even if the perpetrator is not aware of the age); facilitating prostitution etc. The draft does not however exclude reconciliation between perpetrator and victim in cases of coercion into sexual relations or marriage or illegal deprivation of liberty; nor increase protection to children under 18 against lewd acts; nor does it specifically criminalize child exploitation through prostitution or grooming.

Existing legal safeguards are not consistently implemented, e.g. the Law on Protection of Women provides that a victim of psychological, physical, sexual and economic violence can receive free legal advice, but mechanisms have not been put in place to enable women to access this right. As a result, most victims of domestic violence are unable to access legal support as they are financially dependent on their spouses. Victims of domestic violence also suffer from inadequate emergency assistance, insufficient numbers of shelters and funding for hotlines, as well as a lack of trained social workers and psychologists.

Persecution and torture of LGBT

Apart from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan is the only former Soviet country that has not decriminalised homosexuality. Article 120 of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan punishes consensual sexual relations between men by up to three years’ imprisonment.

UN bodies have repeatedly called on Uzbekistan to decriminalize homosexuality2 and on 15 March 2023, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk stated after visiting Uzbekistan that in discussions with government officials he had “encouraged legislation to decriminalise same-sex relations, in line with (Uzbekistan’s) international human rights standards.” 

According to a letter, dated February 2022, from the governmental NCHR to IPHR, 36 persons were convicted under Article 120 in 2021. Many more people live under the looming threat of Article 120 in their daily lives. In 2022, research by IPHR, AHRCA and partners additionally demonstrated that in Uzbekistan lesbians, gays, bisexual and trans people (LGBT) continue to be at constant risk of torture, ill-treatment, intimidation, humiliation and extortion, without any recourse to justice.

To our knowledge, the government is currently not planning to abolish Article 120. Instead, there is draft legislation indicating no change of policy or even further limitations of the rights of LGBT people and freedom of expression about this topic.

The draft Criminal Code published by the Prosecutor General’s Office on 22 February 2021 retains criminal punishment for consensual sex between men, and leaves its wording unchanged. The crime was moved from Article 120 in the current Criminal Code to Article 154 in the new chapter of the draft Code entitled “Crimes against family, children and morality”. At the time of writing, the draft Criminal Code is still under consideration.

On 14 December 2022, the draft Information Code, developed by the Agency for Information and Mass Communications, was published and contained a ban on disseminating “propaganda of unnatural relations of same-sex persons” in mass media and the Internet.

Other proposed legislation - discussed in Parliament on 10 June 2022 - includes an amendment to Article 63 of the Constitution stressing that marriage is only possible between a man and a woman. In addition, on 30 August 2022, the Interior Ministry submitted a draft resolution to the Cabinet of Ministers for discussion which would provide a legal framework for compulsory HIV testing regarding so-called “risk groups”. The status of these legislative proposals is currently unknown.

The World Health Organization and UNAIDS do not recommend mandatory, compulsory or coerced HIV testing of individuals on public health grounds. Anand Grover, then Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, pointed out in 2010 that “public health policies regarding the HIV/AIDS epidemic clearly demonstrate that decriminalization of homosexuality, coupled with efforts to fight against LGBT discrimination, constitute a substantial tool to halt the spread of the virus.”

The Uzbekistani government holds a different view. “The decriminalization of homosexuality has not been considered owing to the pressing need to combat the spread of HIV”, was the blunt answer that the government of Uzbekistan gave to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in September 2020 when asked to describe what steps the government had taken to combat discrimination against LGBT and to decriminalize homosexuality.

Forced evictions

IPHR and partners have documented dozens of cases throughout Uzbekistan when homeowners were forcibly evicted from their properties in recent years - not under exceptional circumstances but for private investment and so-called embellishment projects. In many cases the private enterprises and investors involved were reportedly supported by local authorities.

Often no genuine consultations were held and those at risk of eviction were not given appropriate advance notice about the timing of the eviction. Typically, those affected have no access to free legal aid. In many cases courts have held proceedings without notifying those affected and have issued decisions without their participation in the proceedings. Court rulings have sometimes disregarded existing legal safeguards against forced evictions. Many victims stated that they did not receive fair and adequate compensation and were unable to buy equivalent standard premises in the same area for the compensation offered. Non-material values were not considered (children’s schools, family ties).

Forced evictions have often been carried out in a disrespectful and sometimes aggressive manner. They have been carried out in winter, at weekends and on special family occasions. In some cases, bulldozers began destroying uninhabited parts of a house in order to force out the remaining inhabitants; or while the homeowner was outside the country. During one eviction a homeowner was hospitalised and later died in hospital. In some cases, desperate, traumatised people set themselves on fire in protest at the evictions.

Before January 2020, eviction procedures were initiated by a mayoral (hokim) decision to allocate land to a legal entity “to develop infrastructure.” According to Ministerial decree no. 54, the authorities had to check that certain criteria were fulfilled, including whether property owners gave their consent. However, in practice, mayors’ decisions were frequently issued without these checks. Furthermore, according to Article 10 of the Law on Local State Authorities, decisions of the hokims on seizure of land plots must be approved by the Council of People's Deputies (Kengash), which is often ignored by the hokims. According to Uzbekistani human rights activists, there is a complicity of corrupt officials in the executive and judicial branches of government, as well as the Prosecutor's Office, who do not act to protect the rights and interests of ordinary citizens, as provided in the Constitution and other legislative acts of Uzbekistan, but in giving illegal advantages to private developers.

On 1 January 2020, a new Ministerial decree (no. 911) came into force on the “expropriation of land”, introducing “investment projects” as grounds for eviction in addition to “public and state needs”. This legalisation of evictions to carry out private investment projects contradicts international standards. The decree states that the evictor can force up to 25 per cent of owners to sell their property if an agreement is reached with the other 75 per cent. On 2 July 2021, the Constitutional Court ruled this provision was constitutional because “compensation is determined by the court”. The decree and subsequently adopted legislation also included some legal safeguards for home owners, but human rights lawyers stated that it is too early to fully assess the effects of the new legislation and further monitoring is required. In the meantime, IPHR continued to receive reports of forced evictions, albeit on a smaller scale than before 2020.

Proposed recommendations to the authorities of Uzbekistan


  • Allow an independent investigation, including independent national and international experts, into the killings and allegations of torture in connection with the June 2022 protests in Karakalpakstan and bring the perpetrators to justice in fair proceedings.
  • Impartially, thoroughly and independently investigate credible allegations that Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov and others linked to the mass protests in Karakalpakstan were subjected to torture and other forms of ill-treatment; bring those reasonably suspected of being responsible to justice; and ensure redress for the victims.

Freedom of expression and media freedom

  • Immediately release the blogger Otabek Sattoriy and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in line with Opinion 83/2022 of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
  • Express concern at allegations that bloggers Miraziz Bazarov, Abdukadyr Muminov, Sobirjon Babaniyazov, Shahida Salomova and journalist and human rights defender Aziz Yusupov were targeted to punish them for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression; ensure that all charges are dropped and that they are released unconditionally.
  • Cease intimidating and harassing media, bloggers and journalists.
  • Abolish criminal punishment for slander and insult (Articles 139, 140 and 158, part 3 of the Criminal Code).
  • Amend the Law on Informatisation to ensure that it is not used to curtail freedom of expression.
  • Refrain from imposing Internet shutdowns and cease the arbitrary blocking and disabling of websites, social media platforms and mobile phone messengers.
  • Ensure that those who were imprisoned for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression in the past are granted rehabilitation.

Human rights defenders, civil society

  • Provide an enabling environment for civil society by swiftly registering the independent civil society group Human Rights House and other peaceful civil society groups seeking registration in Uzbekistan and by bringing national legislation in line with Uzbekistan’s obligations under international human rights law.

Torture and ill-treatment:

  • Ensure prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations into allegations of torture and other forms of ill-treatment of Alexander Trofimov and of all other persons subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment, as well as when there are reasonable grounds to believe that the abuse has occurred even if no complaint has been made; ensure that complainants are protected against any form of reprisal and bring the perpetrators to justice in fair proceedings.
  • Set up a genuinely independent mechanism which is appropriately resourced and authorized to receive complaints and investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment.
  • Ensure that the legal safeguards pertaining to the early stages of detention are consistently implemented in practice and provide for sanctions against law enforcement officials who are found responsible for violating these legal requirements.
  • Ensure that victims of human rights violations are provided with access to justice and the right to an effective remedy and reparation, including restitution, fair and adequate financial compensation and appropriate medical care and rehabilitation where necessary, the truth about what happened, as well as effective guarantees of non-repetition.
  • Promptly release former diplomat Kadyr Yusupov from prison, in line with the Opinion of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, issued in May 2021, which found his detention to be arbitrary.
  • Ensure that pregnant women and young mothers serving prison receive appropriate and free food and medical care in sanitary conditions; are granted maternity leave from work; do not have to carry out inappropriate heavy work; are encouraged to breast feed their babies and provided with appropriate conditions to do so.

Domestic violence:

  • Ensure that an article criminalizing all forms of domestic violence including psychological violence, economic and sexual violence is included in the final draft of the Criminal Code and that it specifically addresses the ongoing, controlling and coercive nature of domestic violence.
  • Amend the Criminal Procedural Code to stipulate that incidents of domestic violence should, in all cases, be investigated through public prosecution instead of through private prosecution and that a victim of domestic violence is not responsible for instigating criminal proceedings.
  • Ensure in practice that all victims of domestic violence can access free legal aid and emergency assistance.


  • Decriminalize consensual sexual relations between men and swiftly and unconditionally release and rehabilitate all those convicted of Article 120.

Forced evictions

  • Carry out evictions only as a last resort, once all other feasible alternatives have been explored in compliance with international standards, inter alia to carry out genuine consultation with the people affected, give reasonable notice, making all plans transparent and informing all those affected, providing alternative housing, compensation and access to legal support.



1 The Law "On Personal Data" that entered into force in April 2021 provides that social networks and Internet companies shall ensure collection and storage of personal data in databases in Uzbekistan and recorded on the State Register of personal data when processing personal data of Uzbekistani citizens using the Internet. A similar policy in the Russian Federation led to the US company Meta Platforms Inc. being declared an extremist organisation and banned for not cooperating with Russian state agencies.

2 The UN Committee against Torture (CAT), the HRC and the CESCR issued conclusions in January 2020, April 2020 and March 2022 respectively, raising concern about the criminalization of consensual same-sex relations between men and about continuing reports of human rights violations against LGBT people by state and non-state actors, including discrimination, harassment, torture and ill-treatment in detention, as well as impunity for the perpetrators of such abuses. The Committees called on Uzbekistan to repeal Article 120 of the Criminal Code and to adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. The CAT and the HRC additionally urged Uzbekistan to effectively investigate allegations of torture and other forms of abuse; bring the perpetrators to justice; and combat social stigmatization, harassment, hate speech, discrimination or violence based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.