‘Positive changes’ in Uzbekistan since president Mirziyoev took power — report

Uzbekistan’s President-elect Shavkat Mirziyaev (official photo)

TASHKENT (TCA) — The Washington-based rights watchdog Freedom House said in a report released on August 28 that the international community should “acknowledge positive changes” in Uzbekistan since President Shavkat Mirziyoev took power almost a year ago and encouraged further “full-scale reform” in the country, RFE/RL reported.

The watchdog said that Mirziyoev has taken some steps to open up Uzbekistan since he came to power after the death of autocratic longtime President Islam Karimov was announced in September 2016.

But it said that some of these initiatives — including allowing media reports critical of Karimov’s legacy — may be largely aimed at securing Mirziyoev’s hold on power rather than indicative of a broad reform agenda.

“By increasing the transparency of some government operations and slightly cutting back on corruption that has traditionally enriched law enforcement, [Mirziyoev] may be looking to weaken the entrenched elites and transfer wealth to his support base — a more dynamic, pro-trade, pro-business elite,” the report says.

The report was authored by Bakhtiyor Nishanov, the deputy director for Eurasia at the Washington-based International Republican Institute.

Among the “positive” changes during Mirziyoev’s year in power is an opening of the “media space,” a “significant” improvement in ties with Uzbekistan’s neighbors, and a move to abolish exit visas that prevent citizens from traveling abroad without permission from the state, the Freedom House report says.

It adds that “observers have also noted a slight opening for civic activism” and “a greater opening for religious freedom in Uzbekistan.”

“Seemingly, then, there is a thaw in Uzbekistan. But the question is whether this is simply a thaw with no sign of a spring bloom or — even worse — only a brief respite before the coming re-freeze,” it states.

The report also suggests Mirziyoev could face security challenges if his incremental policy changes raise expectations of greater freedoms that authorities fail to deliver.

“The international community should acknowledge positive changes in the country but continue nudging the government toward a full-scale reform to ensure a prosperous, secure, and pluralistic Uzbekistan,” it stated.

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Times of Central Asia