Area: 447,400 sq km
Date of independence: September 1, 1991
Large ethnic minority: Uzbek (81 %), Russian (5 %) and Tajik (4 %)
Religion: Islam (90% of population)
Uzbekistan – the only country at the heart of Central Asia, neighboring with all the other four Central Asian countries. Its territory is nearly the size of Sweden with vast diverse terrain from Tian Shan Mountains in the southeast and Kyzylkum Desert in the north and fertile lands of the Fergana valley in the east from Kyzylkum. Uzbekistan is home to more than thirty million people, making up the biggest population of Central Asia. It has a rich history and is known for its historical sites connected to the Silk Road.
The territory of present-day Uzbekistan was conquered by Russia in the late 19th century. Resistance to the Red Army was eventually suppressed after the Revolution in 1917 and the Uzbek Socialist Republic was established in 1924. Uzbekistan was the main producer of cotton in the Soviet Union, which was achieved at the cost of water supply depletion that left lands and Aral Sea degraded and dried certain rivers. Churning out white gold (cotton) in Uzbekistan not only created precedent for environmental debilitation, but also for human rights abuse such as forced labor, slavery, child labor and others.
Uzbekistan has gained its independence in 1991 and was ruled by the authoritarian leader, Islam Karimov who was atop of the power since 1989 until his death in 2016. Then the country’s rigid, state-controlled economy was very dependent on exports of cotton, gas and gold. Also, Uzbekistan’s human rights record was atrocious. It was not only one of ten nations labeled as the “Worst of the Worst” by the Freedom House in 2015, but has received the worst possible score every year since 2006.
In 2016, after the death of Islam Karimov, who ruled the country 25 years, the former Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoyev took over the office. The change of the power gave hope for positive developments in the country and its stagnant economy. He has improved relations with Uzbekistan’s neighbors and introduced wide-ranging economic, judicial, and social reforms. As a result, its economy was slightly diversified and its dependence on the cotton monoculture was decreased. Also, Shavkat Mirziyoyev improved the country’s appalling human rights record, by liberating political prisoners, loosening the restrictions on free expression and increasing accountability of government institutions to the citizenry. Some journalists are now covering sensitive issues that were previously taboo. Despite the new president’s attempts to bring about positive changes the country, human rights violations, torture, politically-motivated prosecutions, and forced labor still remain prevalent. Journalists are still persecuted and charged for offences on the freedom of speech.
The strict laws regarding the registration of NGOs are loosened and have given more freedom to conduct their activities; yet, tedious administrative procedures requiring a record of organizations’ each activity are still in place. The new government removed 16,000 names from a blacklist list containing 17,000 people suspected for religious extremism raising hopes for religious liberty in Uzbekistan. Yet, the current administration seems reluctant to lift stringent religious restrictions introduced by the previous government as it continues to detain and imprison individuals for expressing their beliefs on religious matters .
Women in Uzbekistan are denied their fundamental right to be free from violence. Current legal, economic, and social structures prevent women from receiving protection and appropriate services for domestic violence crimes. The absence of law on domestic violence causes inappropriate prosecution of such cases and indicates a lack of acknowledgement of the severeness of the problem by the government. LGBT+ community is subjected to severe discrimination and homophobia. Consensual sexual relations between men are criminalized, with a maximum prison sentence of three years. It is often reported that police use blackmail and extortion against gay men, threatening to out or imprison them.