Uzbekistan. According to CountryAAH, the total population in Uzbekistan is 33,469,214 people in 2020. Uzbekistan suffered a series of acts of terror during the year. In the capital Tashkent and Buchara, in March and April, 47 civilians and police were killed in gunfire and bomb attacks, including suicide bombers. The security police arrested a large number of suspects and the authorities blamed the attacks on Uzbekistan’s Islamic movement, which wants to overthrow the country’s secular regime. It was suggested that the culprits behind the attacks may have been linked to the al-Qaeda terror network. President Islam Karimov claimed that it was international terrorism and that the insurgents were trying to break Uzbekistan’s anti-terror alliance with the United States. Outstanding judges also pointed to political and religious oppression, widespread poverty and deep hatred of the corrupt police as explanations for the death.
In October, 23 people were sentenced to prison from three to 18 years for involvement in the terrorist attacks in the spring. Prosecutors claimed that the attacks had been planned in Pakistan, where the suspects would have been trained by al-Qaeda. All accused refused to crime. In a letter to President Karimov, the International Human Rights Alliance stated that the trials had been accompanied by harassment and torture against the accused.
The UK ambassador to Uzbekistan was taken off duty in the fall after criticizing the British intelligence service for using information that would have been obtained during torture practiced by the Uzbek authorities. The United States, which received international criticism for its support for the undemocratic Uzbek regime, declared during the year that human rights were being suppressed in Uzbekistan. Citing the lack of democratic reform, the United States decided to withhold some of the plentiful assistance that Uzbekistan receives since the war on terror began in September 2001.
In the city of Kokand in the Fergana Valley, at the end of the year, thousands of people walked the streets in protest of a law that put restrictions on extensive cross-border trade. Such protests are unusual in the heavily controlled Uzbekistan. The protesters threw stones at police, set fire to police cars and vandalized government offices. The new law, according to the government, was intended to keep prices down, but the locals thought it would kill the commerce of tens of thousands of merchants in the bazaars that form the heart of Uzbekistan’s economic and social life.
In December, parliamentary elections were held, where no opposition candidates were allowed to stand.
Turmoil and terrorism
In 1998, Tahir Yuldashev and Juma Namangani founded the Uzbek Islamic Movement (IMU), which declared jihad against Uzbek authorities that year. The IMU is suspected of being behind the bomb attacks in Tashkent in 1999 that killed 16 people, as well as bomb attacks and shooting in Tashkent and Bukhara in March 2004, which claimed at least 47 lives.
The turmoil that followed the emergence of the IMU led to increasingly harsh backlash from the regime, especially against religious groups. Uzbek security forces hit the group hard, prompting the IMU to flee to neighboring Kyrgyzstan, and in 2000 to Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, the IMU swore its oath to the Taliban, and suffered major defeats after the US and later NATO began its warfare against various terrorist groups in the country (Stein, 2011). The IMU now has its main base in the tribal areas (FATA) in Pakistan, and in 2015 the group stated that it considers itself a member of the Islamic State terrorist organization .
The violence in Andizan
On May 13, 2005, the government security forces opened fire on thousands of protesters in the Uzbek city of Andizjan. Authorities claimed that only 187 were killed and almost all of them were “terrorists financed from abroad”. On-site journalists reported a massacre of defenseless civilians in which as many as 1,000 were killed. A report published in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) estimated the number of deaths to be between 300 and 500 (OSCE, 2005). In addition, more people are likely to be injured as a result of gunshot wounds to demonstrating crowds.
Ikrom Yakubov, a former official of the Uzbek security service, claimed that President Karimov himself ordered the shootings against the protesters. However, an OSCE delegation was not allowed to visit Andizjan, after the regime rejected all claims for independent scrutiny. The information about the events is therefore mainly based on testimony from survivors who fled to neighboring Kyrgyzstan.
The shooting took place during a lawsuit against 23 local businessmen who were accused of belonging to a banned Islamic movement, Akromiya. Armed men stormed the prison to free the prisoners, and people poured into the streets to show their sympathy as the regime’s security forces opened fire on the crowds. One year after the carnage, about 180 people were sentenced to harsh punishment for participating in the riots; most received between 12 and 20 years in prison after lawsuits that were largely held behind closed doors.
At the same time, the authorities opposed the political opposition elsewhere in the country, especially the one based on Islamic fundamentalism. Following the violence in Andizjan, the Uzbek police forces, the border police and the Interior Ministry were put under the control of the security service (Burnashev & Chernykh, 2007).
Uzbekistan ended up under a strict sanctions regime from the EU and the US following the events in Andizjan, which was disbanded in 2008 and 2011. A large part of the reason for this was that NATO and the US started the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The withdrawal made Uzbekistan an important transit country for military equipment in the so-called Northern Distribution Network (NDN), as one of the network’s routes from Afghanistan goes through Uzbek territory (Nichol, 2013).