(Berlin) – Uzbek authorities have stepped up restrictions on media freedom and barred opposition candidates from participating in presidential elections scheduled for October 24, 2021, Human Rights Watch said today. In releasing a question-and-answer document on elections and human rights in Uzbekistan, Human Rights Watch expressed concern that these developments undermine the fairness and integrity of the first presidential elections since taking office. of President Shavkat Mirziyoyev in 2016.
“Uzbekistan has attracted considerable international attention for the pursuit of a reform program, but the recent human rights setbacks in the country, and the lack of opposition or independent candidates in these elections, expose the limits of those claims, ”said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Uzbekistan could have shown its real commitment to meaningful reforms by allowing presidential candidates who do not share the government’s views to participate in the next elections, but it failed to do so.
The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE / ODIHR), the largest election observation organization in the region, has warned that Uzbekistan does not had failed to act on a number of its long-standing recommendations. They include “those related to certain aspects of fundamental freedoms of association, assembly and expression, suffrage rights, citizen observation of elections and registration of political parties,” the organization said. The organization will monitor the elections in Uzbekistan.
Under Uzbek law, only registered parties are allowed to nominate candidates, denying wider political participation in this important vote, Human Rights Watch said. Two potential opposition candidates, linked to the opposition parties, the Erk Democratic Party and the Truth and Development Party, had announced their intention to run for president earlier in 2021, but authorities barred them from becoming presidential candidates. official candidates.
Both parties have reported that their supporters have faced harassment and interference in the run-up to the elections. The Party for Truth and Development actively attempted to register with the Ministry of Justice before the presidential election, but was refused registration. The OSCE / ODIHR said in a report in May that the ban on independent candidates was “against [human rights] standards. ”Four other candidates are on the ballot, all from pro-government parties, which are not seen as a serious challenge to the grip of President Mirziyoyev in power.
In recent months, the authorities have also increased restrictions on freedom of expression and media freedom. In March, Uzbekistan criminalized insulting the president online. In August, authorities indicted blogger and government critic Valijon Kalonov for the offense after criticizing the president and calling for a boycott of the upcoming elections.
Other independent bloggers who have criticized the Uzbek authorities or spoken out against the upcoming elections have also been the subject of false criminal charges. In May, Otabek Sattoriy, a freelance blogger from the Surkhandaryo region, was sentenced to six and a half years in prison for defamation and extortion. Authorities are also pursuing slander charges against an independent blogger from Tashkent, Miraziz Bazarov, who spoke out in favor of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights and criticized the upcoming elections earlier in 2021. The investigation into his case is ongoing and he remains under house arrest.
The question-and-answer document reviews aspects of the upcoming presidential election from a human rights perspective and analyzes the broader human rights context. It describes key human rights issues such as restrictions on independent civil society, ill-treatment and torture in places of detention, forced labor, and limitations on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“In the absence of opposition and independent presidential candidates, and in the absence of other reforms concerning basic human rights, this presidential election is another missed opportunity for the Uzbek government to keep its promises of reform” Williamson said. “The leadership of Uzbekistan should ensure that there is no turning back, but rather take urgent measures to ensure better protection of human rights in Uzbekistan.