Uzbekistan. According to Countryaah official site, President Islam Karimov visited Brussels in January for meetings with EU and NATO leaders, for the first time in nearly six years. Karimov signed an agreement on energy cooperation with the EU, but it was security cooperation with NATO that was the main topic. NATO’s unsafe transport route through Pakistan to Afghanistan and the uncertainty surrounding the US air base in Kyrgyzstan had made cooperation with Uzbekistan a priority for NATO. EU sanctions against Uzbekistan’s undemocratic regime had been lifted in 2009, according to NATO’s request.
Just over a month after the visit to Brussels, Karimov decided to close the human rights organization Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) office in Uzbekistan, and its staff were no longer allowed to be in the country. Other international organizations had been expelled from Uzbekistan since the outside world condemned the Andizjan massacre in 2005, and human rights activists saw NATO and the EU’s real politics against Uzbekistan as reasons why the regime dared to expel HRW as well. The West’s concern to keep the northern transport corridor to Afghanistan through Uzbekistan open made Karimov a strategic partner who did not have to fear harsh reactions, analysts said. Human Rights Watch confirmed in a report at the end of the year that Western governments have dramatically weakened their resistance to human rights abuses in Uzbekistan.
In March, Uzbekistan’s security service, police, taxpayers and religious authorities raided the capital Tashkent and closed many bookcases specializing in religious literature, mainly on Islam. Holding literature that is considered extremist, or illegally imported, can lead to arrest. Thousands of Bibles had recently been confiscated, police had conducted an “anti-terrorist campaign” against Baptists, and Muslims were urged not to hold daily prayer times at work. According to human rights activists, the authorities had intensified their already tight grip on religion in the wake of the political uprisings in North Africa.
Following pressure from international human rights organizations, the imprisoned opposition poet Yosuf Juma was released in May. He described torture in prison and daily abuse. The human rights group IGNPU reported during the year that between 20 and 30 imprisoned activists die each year as a result of torture in prison, and hundreds receive injuries that require medical attention.
During the spring, constitutional amendments were approved which included, among other things. means that the Prime Minister is responsible to Parliament and not just to the President. Prime Minister Shavkat Mirzijajev therefore criticized Parliament for the first time in July for its financial report. State-controlled media praised the new scheme as a sign of democratization, but other judges said it was about increasing factional struggles within the regime.
In exile, the Uzbekistani opposition group Uzbekistan’s popular movement was formed during the year. In September, one of the movement’s leaders, Fuad Rustamhojaev, was murdered in the Russian Federation. A few weeks before the murder, the Uzbek security agents had visited Rustamhojaev’s home in Andizhan, and a few days before the murder, Rustamhojaev had given a regime-critical interview in the BBC’s Uzbek broadcasts.
In September, the United States lifted seven years of US aid restrictions, including military, to Uzbekistan. In October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came to visit and thanked for helping with transportation to Afghanistan, while urging President Karimov to improve human rights conditions.
During the year, Karimov’s regime sought to promote small and medium-sized enterprises. Among other things, a uniform tax charge was introduced for all employers with less than 100 employees, but it proved to benefit larger companies while small family businesses became unprofitable. Despite simplifications in the bureaucracy, many companies complained of difficulties, such as arbitrary inspections from rows of authorities whose officials wanted bribes. At the same time, new trade fees that would protect local industries led to price increases for consumer goods.