Uzbekistan - Domestic policy

In November 1997, President Karimov admitted that "we do not fully meet many democratic standards today," blaming the "traditionalism" of the people and stating that he aimed to change this way of thinking "gradually and in stages." According to the U.S. State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2001 , the Karimov regime severely limits human rights. Citizens cannot exercise their right to change their government peacefully because the government represses opposition groups and individuals and applies strict limits on freedom of expression. No real opposition groups are allowed to legally function. Only approved public meetings and demonstrations may be held. Police and security forces use torture, harassment, illegal searches, property confiscations, and arbitrary arrest and detention to stifle dissent. Beating of detainees is routine. No opposition newspapers are allowed; the last was banned in 1993. Thirty to forty independent television companies have operated, though they practice self-censorship. The State Department's Report on International Religious Freedom for 2002 states that the Uzbek government regards unofficial Islamic groups as threats and has increasingly restricted their activities. The government tolerates many Christian evangelical groups, but often harasses those that try to convert Muslims to Christianity. The head of the Uzbek Human Rights Society, Tolib Yoqubov (also a leading member of Birlik) in September 1999 reported that "tens of thousands of innocent religious people are being kept in prisons" in Uzbekistan.

In April 2000, Karimov issued a draft booklet of his speeches and writings on creating a national ideology to supplant the vestiges of Soviet-style "slavishness" and "hostility" among the people. This ideology would draw on the past and present to emphasize a "free and prosperous" Uzbekistan, and would be the lodestone of domestic and foreign policies, he stated. He stressed that it would be particularly useful in helping younger generations to be "conscious of their national identity, to stick to their national traditions, [and] to bring our sacred religion to a higher level." At the same time, he averred, other ideologies would also be allowed to exist in Uzbekistan. He described Uzbeks as "the most simple…but also the most magnanimous people in the world," able to be easily swayed by "evil forces," particularly Islamic extremism that is being exported to the country by outside powers. Pointing to the autumn 1999 incursion into Kyrgyzstan by guerrillas aiming at invading Uzbekistan, he warned that hostile forces were again trying to invade, and called for "inculcating in our people's minds" the ability to repulse the "evil forces."

In addition to the IMU, the Hizb-ut-Tahrir ("Freedom Party"), another radical Islamic organization, operates in the country, although, unlike the IMU, it does not use violent tactics to pursue its goals. Among its goals are to revive Islamic life and to create a khaliphate system, first in Muslim countries, and then in the rest of the world. In January 2003, Uzbekistan requested that the United States place Hizb-ut-Tahrir on its international list of extremist organizations. International rights organizations have claimed that Hizb-ut-Tahrir associates have received unfair trials and convictions, and that their relatives have been persecuted.

Following a two-week International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission to Uzbekistan in February 2003, the head of the mission revealed Uzbek officials were not honoring previous commitments to the IMF, especially in the matter of currency convertibility, the lack of which hampers Uzbek trade. The IMF was also disappointed with Uzbekistan's refusal to liquidate unprofitable state-owned businesses. Although Uzbekistan might not be ready for the market reforms the IMF insists upon, Uzbekistan's move in 2002–03 to erect trade barriers with neighboring states can only harm the economy further. In tightening government control over the economy, Karimov seems to indicate he believes force to be the best strategy for containing popular discontent over poor living conditions.

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