The damning report given to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in the US State Department’s annual human rights document is an accurate reflection of the truth, NBCentral Asia observers say.
Experts are sceptical that either government will take steps to improve the human rights situation.
At the end of February 28, Central Asian media reported the finding of the State Department’s 2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which listed Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan as the most authoritarian states in the former Soviet Union.
Despite some modest improvements, the report said, the Turkmen and Uzbek authorities continue to violate human rights, limit political and civil freedoms, use torture and other inhumane forms of treatment against detainees, conduct arbitrary arrests, intrude into private life, and curtail the freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.
With regard to Turkmenistan, the report cites the 11-year jail term handed down to human rights activist Gulgeldy Annaniazov and the arrest of RFE/RL stringer Sazak Durdymuradov who was tortured while forcibly detained for two weeks in a psychiatric hospital in June 2008.
In Uzbekistan, freelance journalist Solijon Abdurahmonov was given a ten-year sentence last October on fabricated drugs charges in the Karakalpakstan region.
In 2008, the Uzbek authorities continued to carry out wide-scale arrests of individuals deemed to be religious extremists.
The experts interviewed by NBCentralAsia do not anticipate a rapid improvement in the human rights situation in either Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan any time soon.
“Unfortunately, everything comes down to empty slogans,” said Tajigul Begmedova, chair of the Turkmen Helsinki Fund, which is based in Bulgaria.
The reality on the ground is still very different from the Turkmen authorities’ much-reported ambition to liberalise the political situation in the country. For instance, human rights activists still have very limited access to information about Turkmenistan’s prisons, and the authorities are not working with international organisations to reform the penitentiary system.
“A real improvement in the situation can be expected only when the authorities find the courage to admit the mistakes made by the previous regime and announce the need for reform,” said Begmedova.
There are still dissidents and other political prisoners who were incarcerated during the 21-year rule of Saparmurat Niazov, who died in December 2006.
Commentators say freeing political prisoners would serve as a real indicator that things are getting better and that Turkmenistan’s leaders are trying to break with the its authoritarian past.
The situation in Uzbekistan is similar. According to the Human Rights in Central Asia Association, there are 25 political prisoners, and most dissenters have had to leave the country for the fear of persecution.
Komiljon Ashurov, head of the unofficial Human Rights Initiatives Centre in Samarkand, says local activists have welcomed the US State Department report.
“We are glad that the US State Department speaks and writes about this,” he said.
The report is only discussed by the local human rights community, but Ashurov thinks it possible that the external criticism may prompt the Uzbek government to take some small steps.
“They may not admit [violations], but they need to ease up,” said Ashurov.
Cautious predictions that the Turkmen and Uzbek governments will take some action to improve things are based on the growing dialogue between these governments and the West. Whereas previously they simply ignored the international community’s views, they are now keen to show themselves in a more positive light and have been talking about liberalisation.