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Human Rights in Central Asia




A group of yurts in front of mountains and a sunset
A group of yurts

International organizations and civilians have recorded human rights abuses in Central Asian countries. The region includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The governments of these five countries have not held truly democratic elections, restricted human rights (freedom of press, speech, assembly, and religion), and unlawfully detained suspects. Consequently, individuals and organizations have persuaded Central Asian governments to improve their human rights records.



KAZAKHSTAN

Kazakhstan is south of Russia, north of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, northwest of China, and east of Mongolia. The Russian Empire conquered modern day Kazakhstan during the 1700s and 1800s. The territory joined the Soviet Union in 1925. Kazakhstan attained independence in 1991 and has the largest economy in Central Asia. The Land of the Wanderers is a presidential republic, and the capital is Astana.

[1] 


Kazakhs protested against heightened fuel prices, inequality, and government corruption at the beginning of 2022.[2] Law enforcement officers violated the protestors' human rights. They used excessive force and arbitrarily arrested participants. More than 230 protestors died in January. Ten people were shot and killed. President Tokayev gave soldiers the command to "shoot and kill without warning" on January 7th, 2022.[3] Astana only sentenced one official involved in the protests.[4] Astana rebuffed independent organizations willing to investigate the January demonstrations.[5]

Prisoners encountered unsanitary conditions, health issues, and torture.[6] Kazakhstan has a different definition of torture than the UN Convention against Torture.[7] According to the Anticorruption Agency, there were more than 800 investigations into potential abuses. Courts dismissed over 300 cases due to a lack of evidence. At the end of November, only 20% of cases remained because of other issues.[8]

Courts rarely convicted officers accused of maltreating civilians in jails, interrogation rooms, and pretrial facilities.[9] Yerzhan Elshibayev, a political prisoner, attempted to commit suicide due to abuse. Consequently, the court extended his sentence by seven years.[10] Batyrbaev asserts that the police deliberately hurt him with a hot iron.[11] Over 22 prisoners also accused law enforcement officers of burning them with a clothing iron.[12] Courts tried less than ten officials, and judges only disciplined officers due to public pressure.[13] 



KYRGYZSTAN

Kyrgyzstan is south of Kazakhstan, west of China, north of Tajikistan, and east of Uzbekistan. Moscow annexed the majority of Kyrgyzstan in 1876. The Kyrgyzs rebelled against Russian rule in 1916 and a sixth of Kyrgyzs died. A decade later, Kyrgyzstan joined the Soviet Union. The Land of the Forty Tribes gained freedom in 1991. The capital is Bishkek, and the country is a parliamentary republic. Sadyr Japarov was elected president in 2021 and accumulated more power after Kyrgyzstanis voted for pro-government legislation.[14] The legislative branch lost power, and the president gained more influence over laws in 2021.[15] Kyrgyzstan's government supports a law forbidding the spread of inaccurate news. The Kyrgyz Ministry of Culture restricted access to two media websites, ResPublica and 24 . kg without authorization from the judicial branch during the summer of 2022. Four months later, the agency blocked Azattyk Media's webpage because they cited Tajik officials in a video on the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border conflict. 

 

Kyrgyzstan penalizes dissidents. NextTV office had its' office ransacked because it shared a Ukrainian article concerning Kyrgyzstan's potential military support to Russia.[16] Taalaibek Duishenbiev was apprehended and imprisoned for instigating interethnic hatred. Bolot Temirov, an independent journalist, was arrested for possessing drugs. His peers believed that the drugs were not his. Temirov was investigating the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) leader Kamchibek Tashiev for corruption before his arrest. Temirov was banished and sent to Russia at the end of 2022.[17] 

 

Torture is an issue in Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz National Center for Torture Prevention received more than 1,422 torture complaints in 2022. A year earlier, the organization discovered that three-quarters of those accused of torturing citizens were law enforcement officers. Lawyers, reporters, and human rights organizations also noted the usage of torture by law enforcement officers to obtain admissions of guilt from inmates. Administrative reasons caused the abandonment of twelve cases. Judges and defendants made complaints that delayed trials, which led to case dismissals. Some courts doubted victims' honesty, and investigators reviewed allegations so slowly that physical evidence faded.[18] 

 

Detainees in pretrial facilities lacked enough food, medicine, warmth, and space. Gangs governed some Kyrgyz prisons due to law enforcement's inexperience. Members selected what could go in and out of the facility. Law enforcement disregarded the gangs because they thought the groups had too much influence.[19] A political analyst and a banker died in prison, creating concerns that the prisoners were neglected and mistreated. More than 150 prisoners also passed away in detention centers. Azimjon Asakarov, a human rights defender, passed away from a lack of medical attention in 2020.[20] 

 


TAJIKISTAN

Tajikistan is south of Kyrgyzstan, southeast of Uzbekistan, west of China, and north of Afghanistan. The country is landlocked. The Russian Empire conquered Tajik territory during the late 19th century. Natives fought against Bolshevik rule after the Russian Revolution. However, Moscow regained control and Tajikistan was an autonomous region in the Uzbek republic. In 1929, Tajikistan became its own republic and gained independence from Russia in 1991. The capital is Dushanbe. Tajikistan is a presidential republic, and the president is elected. According to watchdogs, elections are not free and honest. Tajikistanis elected Emomali Rahmon as president in 1994. The leader banned the last opposition party in 2015 and anointed himself the "Founder of Peace and National Unity, Leader of the Nation".[21] In 2020, Tajikistan elected Emomali Rahmon's son, Rustam, president. Tajikistan is one of the poorest former Soviet republics.


Conflict erupted in Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO) during 2021.[22] Tajik law enforcement officers killed 40 people between the end of 2021 and the summer of 2022 because they were protesting against harassment and police brutality. Crimes have been committed against the Pamiri, an ethnic and religious minority, for at least a decade. The Tajik government forbade protests and blamed terrorist groups for orchestrating the demonstrations. At one protest, the police shot rubber bullets and used tear gas against activists.[23] Hundreds were accused of committing crimes. Authorities arrested Ulfatkhonim Mamadshoeva, a Pamiri activist and journalist, for supporting demonstrations and trying to undermine Dushanbe's authority. After she was arrested, Tajik media showed a video of Mamadshoeva admitting to her crimes in detainment. The journalist received a 21-year prison sentence. Two members of Commission 44, an independent investigative organization, were sentenced to 18 years in prison for establishing an illegal group and accepting international monetary aid.[24] 


Prisoners lack enough food, space, drinkable water, and medical assistance. Law enforcement mistreated and abused prisoners despite a 2019 law. The legislation declares that if a security official tortures someone, then they will face a 15-year prison sentence. Salimova stated that police abused her for filming them after they insulted her. Abdusattor Pirmuhammadzoda wrote that officers beat him and threatened his family. He also claims the police used electric shocks and placed him in solitary confinement. Other victims have spoken out against torture, but judges ignored their claims. Human rights workers could not independently research allegations because officers withheld essential information. Only a handful of security officers were convicted of committing crimes in 2022.[25] 


Freedom of expression is restricted in Tajikistan and abroad. Shodruz Akhrorov reproached Dushanbe because they did not support Tajiks working in Russia. Moscow sent the activist back to Tajikistan, where he received a six-year prison sentence for supporting extremism online.[26] Tajikistani law enforcement portrays independent writers and activists as extremists and terrorists. The state sentenced Khushom Gulom, a journalist, to at least eight years in prison. After four journalists questioned Mamadshoeva, attackers stole their equipment and nearly killed a reporter. Asia Plus decided it would stop discussing GBAO due to threats. The families of Tajik journalists abroad are threatened and monitored by security officials.[27] Some activists and reporters receive life sentences.[28]


TURKMENISTAN

Turkmenistan is bordered by Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to the north, Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the south, and the Caspian Sea to the east. The region has been under Persian, Greek, Muslim, Mongol, Turkic, and Russian rule. Moscow conquered present day Turkmenistan during the 19th century. The territory became a Soviet republic in 1924 and gained independence in 1991. Turkmen elected Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow as president in 2007, 2012, and 2017. The CIA does not view elections in Turkmenistan as democratic. Serdar Berdimuhamedow, Gurbanguly's son, was elected president in 2022. Media in Turkmenistan is controlled by Ashgabat, and there is a cult of personality around the Berdimuhamedows.[29] 


The government pressures citizens to attend the Berdymukhamedov family's events-sometimes to their detriment. Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov held a jubilee in 116.6 degrees Fahrenheit heat (47 degrees Celsius). Consequently, hundreds of attendees required medical attention. Ashgabat banned political parties, free media, and humanitarian organizations.[30] Activism is prohibited in Turkmenistan and abroad. When five Turkmen asked President Berdymukhamedov to help Turkmen abroad at Turkmenistan's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, consulate workers injured them.[31] 


Turkmenistan holds private and biased trials.[32] International and Turkmen law forbids the use of torture. However, the UN Committee Against Torture discovered that law enforcement abused prisoners to acquire confessions. Former inmates remark that officers hit kidneys with water bottles and exposed prisoners to the heat and cold for hours.[33] The government did not punish the perpetrators. Prisoners lived in overcrowded and unsanitary cells with little food.[34] More than 25 detainees have died in solitary confinement. The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention realized that Ashgabat arbitrarily arrested Pygambergeldy Allaberdyev for collaborating with international activists. Officials put Nurgeldy Khalykov in solitary confinement because he was an independent correspondent of Turkmen news. When the organization brought up Khalykow's detainment, authorities put him in solitary confinement.


A court sentenced Mansur Mengelov to 22 years in prison because he promoted minority rights in 2012. Murav Ovezov was imprisoned for four years because he criticized Ashgabat on YouTube in 2020. Law enforcement convicted Seryozha Babaniyazov of pornography because they created leaflets highlighting corruption in Balkanabat. He was sentenced to two years in prison. Prisoners are not guaranteed to be free post-detainment. Prove They Are Alive reported the disappearance of more than 160 citizens, some for up to two decades.[35] Turkmenistan prevents citizens from leaving the country by letting passports expire.[36]



UZBEKISTAN

Uzbekistan is south of Kazakhstan, west of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and north of Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Uzbeks fell under Russian rule during the late 1800s and became a part of the Soviet Union in 1924. Uzbekistan acquired independence in 1991, and the country is an authoritarian presidential republic. Islom Karimov, Uzbekistan's first president, ruled until 2016. Shavkat Mirziyoyev became the second Uzbek president, and Uzbekistanis reelected him in 2021. Tashkent is the capital.[37] 


Law enforcement used violence against protestors in Karakalpakstan, an autonomous region. Residents of Karakalpakstan protested the loss of regional autonomy. Two hundred seventy people sustained injuries, and 21 people died.[38] Law enforcement imprisoned over 500 citizens. According to Uzbekistani media, prisoners had difficulty communicating with relatives and lawyers. Tashkent set up a commission to examine allegations of human rights violations on July 15, 2022. However, the government influenced the group's actions.[39] 


Tashkent restricted Uzbekistanis' freedom of speech. Law enforcement has arrested journalists and bloggers for critiquing the government. Authorities imprisoned Fazilhoja Arifhojaev for threatening public security after he shared a post asking if "a Muslim should congratulate non-Muslims on their religious holidays''.[40] He received a seven-and-a-half-year sentence. Sobirjon Babaniyazov aggrieved the president online. He received a three-year prison sentence.[41] 


Law enforcement abused detainees physically and mentally as a method of extracting confessions. According to Uzbek law, officials acted within legal bounds.[42] The UN Committee Against Torture confirmed the usage of torture and the Uzbekistan government's approval.[43] Detainees have limited drinkable water, space, and nutritious food. Additionally, prisons were unsanitary and required renovations.[44] 

 

Bibliography

Central Intelligence Agency. ‘Kazakhstan’ (2023) https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/kazakhstan/

---- “Kyrgyzstan’ (2023) https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/kyrgyzstan/ accessed 17 December 2023

---- ‘Tajikistan’ (2023) https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/tajikistan/ accessed 17 December 2023

---- ‘Turkmenistan’ (2023) https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/turkmenistan/ accessed 17 December 2023

Central Intelligence Agency ‘Uzbekistan’ (2023) https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/uzbekistan/ accessed 17 December 2023

Human Rights Watch. ‘World Report 2023: Events of 2022’. https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/media_2023/01/World_Report_2023_WEBSPREADS_0.pdf accessed 16 December 2023.

US Department of State. ‘Kazakhstan 2022 Human Rights Report’ (2023) https://www.state.gov/reports/2022-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/kazakhstan/ accessed 19 December 2023

---- ‘Kyrgyzstan 2022 Human Rights Report’ (2023) https://www.state.gov/reports/2022-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/kyrgyz-republic/ accessed 19 December 2023

----. ‘Tajikistan 2022 Human Rights Report’ (2023) https://www.state.gov/reports/2022-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/tajikistan/  accessed 19 December 2023

---- ‘Turkmenistan 2022 Human Rights Report’ (2023) https://www.state.gov/reports/2022-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/turkmenistan/ accessed 19 December 2023

----.‘Uzbekistan 2022 Human Rights Report’ (2023) https://www.state.gov/reports/2022-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/uzbekistan/ accessed 19 December 2023

Walker, S., "Kazakhstan Unrest: What are the Protests about?" 06 January 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/06/kazakhstan-unrest-what-are-the-protests-about accessed 21 December 2023.


[1] Central Intelligence Agency, ‘Kazakhstan’ (2023) <https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/kazakhstan/ > accessed 17 December 2023.

[2] Shaun Walker, ‘Kazakhstan Unrest: What are the protests about?’ 2022. The Guardian <www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/06/kazakhstan-unrest-what-are-the-protests about > accessed 21 December 2023.

[3] Human Rights Watch. ‘World Report 2023: Events of 2022’ (2023) 352 <https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/media_2023/01/World_Report_2023_WEBSPREADS_0.pdf > accessed 16 December 2023.

[4] Human Rights Watch (n 3) 351.

[5] Ibid, 352.

[6] US Department of State. ‘Kazakhstan 2022 Human Rights Report’ (2023) 7 < https://www.state.gov/reports/2022-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/kazakhstan/ >  accessed 19 December 2023.

[7] US Department of State (2023), 4

[8] Ibid, 5.

[9] Ibid, 4-5.

[10] Ibid, 8.

[11] Human Rights Watch (n 3) 352

[12] US Department of State (n 6), 6.

[13] Human Rights Watch (n 3), 352; US Department of State (n 6), 5.

[14] CIA World Factbook, ‘Kyrgyzstan’ (2023) Central Intelligence Agency <https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/kyrgyzstan/ > accessed 17 December 2023.

[15] Human Rights Watch (n 3) 371.

[16] Ibid, 372.

[17] Ibid, 373.

[18] US Department of State. ‘Kyrgyzstan 2022 Human Rights Report’ (2023). United States Department of State 3. <https://www.state.gov/reports/2022-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/kyrgyz-republic/ > accessed 19 December 2019.

[19] US Department of State (n 18) 4.

[20] Human Rights Watch (n 3) 373-374.

[21] Central Intelligence Agency, ‘Tajikistan’ (2023)  Central Intelligence Agency < https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/tajikistan/ > accessed 17 December 2023.

[22] Central Intelligence Agency (n 21)

[23] Human Rights Watch (n 3) 585.

[24] Ibid, 586.

[25] US Department of State. ‘Tajikistan 2022 Human Rights Report’ (2023) 3-4. <https://www.state.gov/reports/2022-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/tajikistan/ > accessed 19 December 2023

[26] Human Rights Watch (n 3) 586.

[27] Ibid, 587.

[28] Ibid, 589.

[29] Central Intelligence Agency. ‘Turkmenistan’ (2023) Central Intelligence Agency < https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/turkmenistan/ > accessed 17 December 2023.

[30] Human Rights Watch (n 3) 617

[31] Ibid, 619.

[32] Ibid, 621.

[33] US Department of State. ‘Turkmenistan 2022 Human Rights Report’ (2023) 2-3. <https://www.state.gov/reports/2022-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/turkmenistan/ > accessed 19 December 2023.

[34] US Department of State (n 33) 3.

[35] Human Rights Watch (n 3) 621.

[36] Ibid, 620.

[37] Central Intelligence Agency, ‘Uzbekistan’ (2023) Central Intelligence Agency < https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/uzbekistan/ > accessed 17 December 2023.

[38] Human Rights Watch (n 3) 677

[39] Ibid 678.

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid.

[42] US Department of State, ‘Uzbekistan 2022 Human Rights Report’ (2023) United States Department of State. 4. <https://www.state.gov/reports/2022-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/uzbekistan/ > accessed 19 December 2023.

[43] US Department of State (n 42) 3.

[44] Ibid 5.




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