Uzbek president releases 2,700 convicts in country's first mass pardoning

By bne IntelliNews December 8, 2017

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev has signed a decree ordering the first mass pardoning of convicts in Uzbekistan's history, state media reported on December 7. A total of 2,700 convicts were pardoned under the decree signed on the same day, with 956 released from prison - the rest were serving suspended sentences or were not in prison due to other reasons.

Since coming to power in September 2016, Mirziyoyev has released a number of dissidents and human rights activists from the country’s prisons. Moreover, according to the authorities, 191 defendants were acquitted in Uzbek courts in the last 10 months, compared with the seven acquittals seen over the previous five years. The mass pardoning once again demonstrates Mirziyoyev’s commitment to his reform goals.

On November 30, Mirziyoyev issued a decree making evidence obtained under torture inadmissible in the Central Asian country's courts. Uzbekistan is known as one of the world’s worst human rights abusers and, as such, the decree addresses years of international concerns about torture in Uzbekistan and rights groups’ accusations regarding widespread abuse committed by Uzbek authorities in the ex-Soviet country’s police stations, jails, and prisons.

Improvements in media and activist group freedom were also noted during the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s recent historic visit to the country.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has expressed cautious optimism about human rights-related developments in Uzbekistan. HRW has also recently reopened its office in the Central Asian country.

Mirziyoyev’s commitment to clean up Uzbekistan’s human rights record is also in line with the return of the European Bank for Reconstruction Development (EBRD) to Tashkent. The EBRD froze its links with Uzbekistan for 10 years because of late president Islam Karimov’s poor human rights history, a split highlighted at a public stand-off between the dictator and human rights groups in 2003 at an event organised by then finance minister Rustam Azimov and the EBRD to attract foreign investment into Uzbekistan. The bank afterwards unsuccessfully attempted to pressure Karimov into addressing the country’s human rights issues and steadily wound down its investments until it closed its representative office in 2007.

The reform-driven new president issued a decree in September to phase out forced labour in the cotton industry - however, independent reports suggest the measure has not been properly enforced in some parts of the country.

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