Monitoring press freedom and international affairs from Mid-Missouri Public Radio and the Missouri School of Journalism

Country profile: Uzbekistan

16 February 2012

Uzbekistan maintains a democratic front while pushing out reporters and abusing human rights.

Population: 28,128,600, as of July 2011. Uzbekistan is the most populous country in Central Asia.

Capital: Tashkent, with a population of 2.2 million.

Religion: Predominantly Sunni Muslim, with Eastern Orthodox and others.

Ethnic Groups: Primarily Uzbek, with some Russian, Tajik, and others.

Historic sites: Uzbekistan lies along the Silk Road which once connected China with western traders. The historic towns of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva harbor ancient architecture and cultural heritage.

Government: Uzbekistan claimed its independence from the Soviet Union on Sept. 1, 1991, but the country kept the former Soviet leadership. President Islam Karimov was first appointed Communist Party leader of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic in 1989; he has remained president of the Republic of Uzbekistan ever since.

Resources: Uzbekistan is the second leading exporter of cotton in the world. It is widely criticized for its use of forced child labor during the harvest.

Uzbekistan also produces natural gas, which is often exported abroad where it can be sold at a greater profit. Uzbeks are sometimes unable to heat their homes during winter when gas is restricted.

Farmers in outlying towns and villages have in the past heated winter greenhouses with natural gas. This year many have had to seek other fuel or forgo winter farming.

Press: Freedom of press is restricted in Uzbekistan. In 2011, Reporters Without Borders ranked Uzbekistan 157th country in the world for press freedom. Local journalists critical of the government have been imprisoned, fined and exiled.

Journalists working for foreign press agencies have had their pictures, addresses and family information broadcasted as intimidation. But most foreign journalists were expelled from the country in 2005 after a massacre in the city of Andijan.

Internet usage is also restricted and monitored.

The Andijan Massacre: In Andijan on May 12, 2005, authorities arrested several demonstrators who had been protesting for months the trial of 23 local businessmen charged with Islamic extremism. In the early morning of May 13, gunmen assaulted the jail and freed the protestors and businessmen. By midday, a mass of local people had converged on the city center and overwhelmed government offices in a generally peaceful protest against social and economic conditions under President Karimov.

Before evening, security forces in armored cars opened fire on the crowd, shooting people as they ran for cover in the open square. Hundreds were cut down as they fled. Witnesses said troops executed the wounded where they lay. Some said the bodies of women and children were carted off and hidden by authorities.

Foreign media were not allowed in the city to cover the event.

Human Rights: Human Rights Watch reports that torture is systematic in Uzbekistan. Citizens detained by local authorities have been subjected to asphyxiation, rape, beatings, electric shock and other abuses during pretrial detention. The abuses have been used to extract forced confessions.

Habeas corpus reforms" requiring judicial review of detention were adopted in 2008, but they have not effectively curbed abuses. Detainees are sometimes barred from their own hearings, and judges sometimes uphold detentions without regard to evidence or claims of abuse.

Relationship with the West: U.S. diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks in 2010 revealed the embassy’s view of the continued degradation of life in Uzbekistan. The cables said it was characterized by systematic torture, forced labor and collusion of government with organized crime.

Recently, the United States and EU have increased their tolerance of Uzbekistan’s human rights abuses in exchange for access to the Northern Distribution Network, which is a rail and road network through Russia and Central Asia that supplies NATO forces in Afghanistan. On Jan. 18, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rescinded a ban on providing military aid to Uzbekistan. The aid for military supplies is intended to defend the NDN.

CIA World Factbook
Huffington Post
Human Rights Watch
Radio Free Europe: Radio Liberty
Reporters Without Borders
The Guardian
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

Monitoring press freedom and international affairs from Mid-Missouri Public Radio and the Missouri School of Journalism.
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