Many governments in Central Asia have accelerated efforts to silence independent and opposition voices they deem threatening to the stability of their regimes. It is for this reason, said U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Robert Berschinski, the people of Central Asia value continued U.S. engagement because the U.S. promotes respect for their individual rights and freedoms.
A significant area of concern is the intensification of heavy-handed policies by Central Asian governments, including detentions, torture, and punishment of peaceful religious activities and expression under the guise of countering extremism.
With regard to politics, the most recent elections in the region have been neither free nor fair. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Uzbekistan’s March 29 presidential elections not only exceeded the constitutional limit of two consecutive presidential terms, but lacked a viable political opposition, and restricted freedoms of expression and association.
Similarly, Tajikistan’s March 1 parliamentary elections were neither free nor fair. The government interfered in the campaign activities of opposition groups, and engaged in ballot box stuffing.
Finally, Kazakhstan’s April 26 snap presidential elections lacked political alternatives, and took place within a restrictive medial environment that stifled public debate and freedom of expression.
Many Central Asian governments continue to restrict the independent civil society and the media, including through legislation aimed at limiting the activities of non-governmental organizations. Kyrgyzstan, for example, has introduced a draft “foreign agents” law, that if passed threatens to greatly curtain civil society and damage Kyrgyzstan’s reputation as a democratic country.
There continue to be reports of systemic abuse of citizens by state security forces. It is imperative that military and police forces prevent and account for human rights violations that have undermined public trust and security.
The United States continues to call for Central Asia’s governments to respect the universal rights of their citizens, as well as for an end to corrupt governance.
“Only when these conditions are met,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary Berschinski, “will Central Asian states truly provide their peoples with the free, prosperous, and secure societies they deserve.”