In its latest human rights report, the U.S. State Department says that during 2007, citizens in Uzbekistan “did not have the right in practice to change their government through peaceful and democratic means.” Security forces, the report noted, “routinely tortured, beat and otherwise mistreated detainees under interrogation to obtain confessions or incriminating information, and found prison conditions to be poor. Those who criticized the government were subject to harassment, arbitrary arrest, politically motivated prosecution, physical attack, and forced psychiatric treatment."
Uzbekistan authorities tightly controlled the media throughout 2007 and treated criticism of the regime as a crime. Virtually all religious observance outside state-sanctioned structures was also treated as a crime. Courts convicted many independent Muslims of extremist activity and harassed several Protestant Christian groups.
At a recent embassy roundtable marking the report's release, U.S. Ambassador to Uzbekistan Richard Norland noted that this year, the government of Uzbekistan has made "small but significant steps on human rights, adding that, “in Uzbekistan, the discussion on how to balance national security and human rights is intensifying.”
Mr. Norland said there are signs “that some non-governmental organizations may soon resume their work in monitoring human rights and building civil society, despite previous suspicions about the activities of NGOs.” Some human rights defenders have been released from prison. “We hope," he said, "that the signs we see will gather momentum."
The International Committee of the Red Cross recently announced that it had agreed with the government of Uzbekistan on the resumption of prison visits. Ambassador Norland attributed this progress in part to expanded international dialogue and engagement with Uzbekistan. “Our engagement with Uzbekistan," said Ambassador Norland, "covers a broad range of mutual interests. These include stability for Afghanistan and more foreign investment and expanded cultural and scientific exchanges. Our engagement and success on these fronts," he said, "goes hand-in-hand with our progress on the human rights front.”