Uzbekistan. Newly elected President Shavkat Mirziyoyev showed some signs during the year of wanting to soften the iron-hard rule of his representative and open up the country and its economy more to the outside world.
In January, the traditional mass protest for prisoners was issued, but some political prisoners were also released under the new president. In February, journalist Muhammad Bekjanov was released after 18 years in prison. Bekjanov testified about torture with broken bones, lost hearing and isolation so difficult that he forgot his children’s name. He said international support kept him alive, among other things, he was awarded Reporters Without Borders Freedom Award during prison time.
According to Countryaah.com, the EBRD, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, resumed in March the cooperation with Uzbekistan that was broken under the previous regime. The EBRD wants to promote market economy and support small and medium-sized businesses, municipal services and more. The return of the EBRD was a victory for President Mirziyoyev’s line to modernize the Uzbek economy, which retained much of the Soviet unity.
In April, regular air services between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan resumed after a 25-year hiatus. The relationship between the two neighboring countries has long been poor, with disputes over, among other things, water resources, but President Mirziyoyev has seen to improve it.
During the summer, a recording of President Mirziyoyev’s harsh criticism of his staff leaked, including Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Azimov, an ally of the former president. Shortly thereafter, Azimov was moved from his post, a sign that Mirziyoyev strengthened his position of power.
In July it was announced that former President and dictator Islam Karimov’s daughter Gulnara Karimova is being investigated for a series of crimes. Prosecutors confirmed that she has been held in custody since a verdict in 2015. She is suspected of money laundering and having received billions of dollars from, among others, TeliaSonera. In Sweden, three Telia executives were prosecuted during the year for gross bribery in Uzbekistan, where the company received business benefits and made profits by paying bribes to Karimova.
In August, it became possible for Uzbekistanis to travel internationally without having to seek special permission, a change that facilitates migrant workers in particular.
When state radio and TV at President Mirziyoyev’s call departed from his uncritical reporting on power, the critical issues became so numerous that Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov had enough. The newly appointed head of TV and radio was laid off in August.
President Mirziyoyev announced in September that some 16,000 people have been removed from the authorities’ list of suspected or potentially suspected terrorists threatening state security. About 1,000 people were left. According to human rights groups, the list has been used to silence dissidents and freeze them from society. The President promised that the restorers will get work. One of those who were deleted from the regime’s black list was the writer and regime critic Nurulloh Muhammad Raufkhon. He therefore returned from exile in September in hopes of being able to operate freely, but he was arrested at the airport and charged with propaganda against the government.
To attract foreign investors, the government implemented a currency reform in September. The currency sum was allowed to float freely, which led to a 50 percent devaluation. Foreign currency restrictions were also removed.
In September, the president reformed the government and replaced the Minister of Defense, who was close to former President Karimov. Thus, Mirziyoyev had relocated all strong men from the Karimov era except the head of the State Security Service.
At a visit to Kyrgyzstan in September, President Mirziyoyev promised that Uzbekistan would be involved in financing a major hydropower project, which had previously been a conflict issue between the two neighboring countries.
The government announced in September that students, teachers and health care workers will no longer be forced to work with the cotton crop. The regime has previously received harsh international criticism for thousands of people risking losing their place of study or employment if they refused. Students should study, Prime Minister Aripov said when announcing the decision.
In October, several political prisoners were released, including the well-known human rights activist Azam Farmonov. At the same time, a writer was arrested in an opposition newspaper accused of calling on the government to overthrow.
The terrorist attack in Stockholm in April, which killed five people, was carried out by a Uzbek citizen. Also at the terrorist attack in New York in October, with eight casualties, was the perpetrator from Uzbekistan. Oppositionists in Uzbekistan believe that the dictatorship’s repression has driven extremism among regime opponents, who cannot work in Uzbekistan and have gone into exile.