by Kateryna Mishchenko

Amnesty International has published its annual report on the Human Rights Situation in the World. The document covers 155 countries. The head of the organization, Agnès Callamard, noted that the report “paints a grim picture”: numerous repressions and violations of human rights are occurring worldwide. The authors of the report speak of an “almost complete collapse of international law.” What is the situation in Central Asia?

According to Amnesty International, in Kazakhstan, at least 64 women became victims of domestic homicides in the first 8 months of 2023. Gender-based violence is widespread throughout the country, but perpetrators often receive only warnings from the police.
One of the key human rights issues also remains unjustified restrictions on peaceful assemblies, as stated in the report: “Rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association continued to be unjustifiably restricted. Prosecution of law enforcement officers for unlawful killings, torture, and other forms of cruel treatment during mass protests in January 2022 continued, but often resulted in sentences that were disproportionate to the severity of the crime.”

In the past year, the authorities of Kyrgyzstan have also intensified a campaign to suppress dissent, emphasize the authors of the report. The country’s leadership, through changes in laws, restricts freedoms of speech and assembly, say human rights activists. Meetings are practically banned. The report pays particular attention to unjust detentions and trials of activists, especially in the “Kempirovabad case.”
“While 16 defendants in the Kempirovabad case were placed under house arrest, 11 remained in custody under conditions that can be likened to torture or other cruel treatment, in the pretrial detention center in Bishkek,” the report states.

‘The Kempirovabad Case’
In 2022, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan ratified agreements on demarcating certain sections of the Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan border and on joint management of the water resources of the Kempirovabad (Andijan) reservoir. According to the documents, Uzbekistan received 4957 hectares of territory from Kyrgyzstan within the Kempirovabad reservoir and an additional 19.5 hectares for the maintenance and protection of the dam. In return, Kyrgyzstan was given 1019 hectares of pastureland and 12,849 hectares in the Govasay (Gavasay) area as compensation for the unbuilt Kempirovabad canal on the left bank of the reservoir.
Discussions about these agreements with Uzbekistan sparked mass protests both in the region adjacent to the reservoir and in Bishkek. In late October 2022, more than 20 politicians and activists were detained in Bishkek for opposing the transfer of the Kempirovabad reservoir to Uzbekistan, and a case was opened against them for preparing mass disorder.
According to those arrested, the criminal case against them was “fabricated.” They claim that their stance on the Kempirovabad reservoir and the establishment of a committee to protect it did not sit well with the authorities of Kyrgyzstan. Several international organizations condemned the arrest of activists and journalists.

Courts against Karakalpak activists, excessive use of force by police during events in Nukus, and subsequent torture – these are the topics that formed the basis of the report on Uzbekistan. Researchers note that only three security officers have been held accountable after the brutal suppression of protests in Karakalpakstan.
“Torture and other forms of cruel treatment remain widespread in places of detention, and impunity continues to be a common phenomenon for persons suspected of criminal offenses (…) The parliamentary commission established in July 2022 to investigate cases of violence in Karakalpakstan, including allegations of torture, did not publish a report on its findings by the end of the year,” the report states.

Protests in Nukus
Protests in the capital of Karakalpakstan, Nukus, began on July 1, 2022, due to proposed amendments to the Constitution, which included a proposal to remove provisions from the Basic Law regarding the sovereignty of Karakalpakstan and the right of its people to secede based on the results of a referendum. On July 2, President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev arrived in Nukus and promised not to change articles of the Constitution concerning the autonomy of the republic, “if the Karakalpak people are dissatisfied.” Several days later, the Uzbekistan parliament decided to retain the status of Karakalpakstan’s sovereignty in the new Constitution draft.
According to the Prosecutor General’s Office of Uzbekistan, at least 18 people died as a result of the unrest. The agency claims that all of them sustained severe life-threatening injuries. Additionally, during the unrest, another 243 people were injured, including 38 law enforcement officers, and 516 protesters were detained.

In Tajikistan, after numerous arrests of government critics and representatives of the media, the few remaining independent media outlets in the country, as well as human rights defenders and bloggers, have resorted to self-censorship, according to analysts from Amnesty International.
Following the harsh suppression of protests in Gorno-Badakhshan, there have been no major demonstrations in the country.

Protests in Gorno-Badakhshan
Protests in the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region began on May 14, 2022. People demanded the resignation of the head of GBAO, Alisher Mirzonabotov, and the mayor of Rizo Nazarzoda, the removal of all checkpoints, an end to the persecution of Gorno-Badakhshan residents, as well as a fair investigation into the murder of Gulbiddin Ziyobekov and two others during the November 2021 protests in Khorog. Gulbiddin Ziyobekov, a resident of Roshtqal’a district, was shot dead during his detention on November 25, 2021, sparking four days of protests in Khorog. According to Radio Ozodi, two more people were killed and 17 were injured during the four-day protests. The protesters dispersed only after the authorities promised to investigate Ziyobekov’s death and not to prosecute the participants of the protest.
On May 17, 2022, the wave of protests shifted from Khorog to Rushan district. The next day, the authorities announced an “anti-terrorism operation,” citing that the protesters had attacked a convoy of security forces and blocked a section of the international road between Tajikistan and China.
The “anti-terrorism operation” in GBAO lasted for a month (from May 18 to June 17). During the clashes between civilians and security forces, 16 people were killed, and according to unofficial information, there were at least 34 casualties. Internet and mobile communications in the region were shut down for a month. The Ministry of Internal Affairs reported the detention of 220 people and the initiation of criminal cases against 53 individuals. Dozens of Gorno-Badakhshan residents received lengthy prison sentences following closed court proceedings. Three individuals were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Opposition activities are becoming increasingly dangerous even abroad, as stated in the report: “Arbitrary detentions and unfair trials remained common. Charges related to terrorism enabled the use of extraordinary measures and restrictions. Tajik citizens persecuted by the authorities abroad and forcibly returned to Tajikistan faced imprisonment as a result of unfair judicial processes.”

The Turkmen authorities continue to discriminate against women, girls, and LGBT individuals under the guise of national traditions, as indicated in the report. A campaign to suppress any criticism has been ongoing for many years, both domestically and abroad, as noted in the report.

On the cover photo, screenshot of the report from the Amnesty International website