USDOS – US Department of State (Autor)
Overview: With the death of President Islam Karimov in September and the election of Shavkat Mirziyoyev as president in December, Uzbekistan is experiencing its first significant political transition since independence. Uzbekistan’s security policy has prioritized counterterrorism along with countering narcotics trafficking.
With the drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, the Government of Uzbekistan continued to express concern about the potential for spillover of terrorism from bordering Afghanistan and its Central Asian neighbors. Uzbek officials expressed confidence that Uzbekistan can control its border with Afghanistan, but doubted its neighbors’ ability to do so. The Government of Uzbekistan is particularly concerned with infiltration of violent extremists through Uzbekistan’s long borders with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. In the past, Uzbekistan did not foster close cooperation with its neighbors on security matters. President Mirziyoyev, however, has prioritized improving relations with Uzbekistan’s neighbors in his statements and may change Uzbekistan’s stance towards regional collaboration. Uzbekistan has actively participated in the C5+1 regional framework of cooperation between the United States and the Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan), which includes a program related to countering violent extremism (CVE).
The Government of Uzbekistan restricts information on internal matters, making it difficult to analyze the extent of the terrorist threat and the effectiveness of Uzbek law enforcement efforts to counter it. Uzbekistan does share U.S. interests in combating ISIS, but did not formally join in Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS efforts and does not participate in similar efforts as a longstanding matter of policy.
An ethnic Uzbek allegedly participated in the terrorist attack at the Istanbul airport in Turkey on June 28. In November, two Uzbeks were arrested in Turkey for preparing to be ISIS suicide bombers. Russia’s Federal Security Service also reported that it foiled several terrorist plots planned by groups of Central Asian extremists, which included Uzbek nationals. An Uzbek national who worked as a nanny in Moscow beheaded a child in a possible terrorist act in February. Additionally, Uzbeks have participated in attacks in Afghanistan and Syria. The Government of Uzbekistan did not issue comments regarding reports of these incidents.
Legislation, Law Enforcement, and Border Security: The overarching legislation governing terrorism-related investigations and prosecutions is the “Law on Combating Terrorism” passed in 2000. Uzbekistan also criminalizes terrorism under Article 155 of the criminal code. This legislative basis identifies the National Security Service (NSS) as the lead counterterrorism law enforcement agency, with primary responsibility for the coordination and supervision of all interagency efforts.
In 2016, Uzbekistan amended the criminal code to include prison sentences of eight to 10 years for individuals acting as terrorist recruiters or trainers. New measures also instituted sentences of up to eight years for propagating ideas of religious “extremism” and three to five years for displaying symbols of “extremist” or terrorist organizations. The Government of Uzbekistan additionally enacted regulations establishing compensation for damages resulting from counterterrorism operations.
Beyond these measures, Uzbekistan passed a judicial reform package to reinforce the independence of the judiciary and defendants’ rights in October. Notably, this reform shortened the maximum period of suspect detention from 72 to 48 hours, pre-trial detention from one year to seven months, revised judges’ appointment terms, and transferred responsibilities for court financing from the Ministry of Justice to the Supreme Court.
Despite these positive developments, the Government of Uzbekistan routinely uses security concerns related to terrorism as a pretext for detention of suspects, including of religious activists and political dissidents. For example, in 2016, the Government of Uzbekistan prosecuted an ethnic Armenian Christian, Aramais Avakian, on terrorism charges based on dubious evidence in an internationally publicized case. Uzbekistan also periodically blocks social media sites and networking platforms, such as Skype, to purportedly prevent the spread of terrorist messaging. The April amendments to the criminal code prohibiting the spread of “extremist” propaganda via the internet are vaguely worded and can be used to suppress criticism or dissent.
Uzbekistan does not publicly share any information regarding operational counterterrorism activities. Both the NSS and the Ministry of Interior (MIA) have dedicated counterterrorism units, with specialized equipment. For example, the MIA explosives lab has advanced chromatography equipment obtained with U.S. support.
Uzbekistan’s border control infrastructure varies widely, from a highly militarized stretch on the Afghan border to loosely controlled zones along the borders with its Central Asian neighbors. Most border posts and airports are equipped with biometric data scanners. Uzbekistan began issuing biometric passports in 2011 and plans to convert all passports to the new biometric version by July 1, 2018. Uzbek law enforcement maintains its own terrorist watchlist and contributed to INTERPOL databases. The state airline collects and disseminates advance passenger information. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration conducted several inspections of the Tashkent airport in 2016.
The Government of Uzbekistan has not reported taking specific actions to implement UN Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs) 2178 (2014) and 2199 (2015). The government has voiced concerns, however, about the return of foreign terrorist fighters and the recruitment of Uzbeks by ISIS and other groups operating in Syria and Iraq, as well as terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and the Islamic Jihad Union. Enhanced security measures that include frequent document checks and house-to-house resident-list checks seek to identify potential foreign terrorist fighters transiting or active in Uzbekistan. According to press reports, Uzbek law enforcement detained approximately 550 people on suspicion of involvement in “extremist” or terrorist activities during the first half of 2016. In the majority of trials related to terrorism covered by the press, suspects were charged with the spread of extremist materials or association with banned organizations, particularly Hizb ut-Tahrir and ISIS. All publicized trials resulted in convictions.
Both law enforcement and the judicial system in Uzbekistan are subject to political influence and corruption. The government’s approach to stifling terrorism, such as detaining suspects without strong evidence and invasive document checks, are not necessarily effective in detecting terrorism networks and could contribute to anti-government sentiment. Secrecy surrounding counterterrorism efforts and compartmentalized information sharing among stakeholder law enforcement agencies also could diminish Uzbekistan’s capabilities to effectively counter terrorism.
Countering the Financing of Terrorism: Uzbekistan belongs to the Eurasian Group on Combating Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism (EAG), a Financial Action Task Force-style regional body. The EAG conducted its most recent mutual evaluation of Uzbekistan in 2009. In the 2016 follow-up report, EAG found Uzbekistan to be adequately progressing in implementing its recommendations.
Uzbekistan criminalizes terrorist financing under Article 155 of the criminal code. In April 2016, the Article was amended to introduce prison sentences of eight to 10 years for terrorist financing. In the same month, Uzbekistan also amended its basic anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) law to introduce and define the terms “freezing of funds or other assets” and “suspension of a transaction,” mandating that all financial entities check parties to a transaction against lists of persons involved or suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. Additional amendments to the terrorism law designated Uzbekistan’s financial intelligence unit (FIU), the Department for Combating Tax and Currency Crimes and Money Laundering of the Office of Prosecutor General, the body responsible for money laundering and terrorist financing investigations, as a counterterrorism agency.
Despite these amendments, Uzbekistan’s AML/CFT regime does not clearly define the FIU‑maintained procedures that govern the freezing of assets or suspension of transactions. The Government of Uzbekistan has not released the procedures or relevant statistics related to amount of assets frozen in 2016. This led international experts to conclude that financial institutions may face difficulties in fulfilling their obligations due to lack of procedural clarity, raising questions as to the effectiveness of implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1373 and the UN Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida sanctions regime.
Legislation governing the creation of lists of those involved or suspected of involvement in terrorist activities, which are maintained by the FIU based on information provided by a number of ministries, has not been updated since 2009. It does not establish a specific mechanism for review and incorporation of information received from foreign countries, beyond inclusion of information passed by other foreign affairs ministries. Nor does it establish a procedure for delisting requests. The FIU announced in October that it would release a single consolidated list on its website in 2017.
For further information on money laundering and financial crimes, see the 2017 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), Volume II, Money Laundering and Financial Crimes: http://www.state.gov/j/inl/rls/nrcrpt/index.htm.
Countering Violent Extremism: The Government of Uzbekistan does not differentiate in its legislation or public statements between violent extremism and “extremism,” which it defines as any non-state sanctioned religious expression. Public officials avoided discussions of extremism or Uzbekistan’s counter-“extremism” strategy with foreign interlocutors. In 2016, the Government of Uzbekistan did not release or acknowledge conducting research on the drivers of violent extremism. U.S.-commissioned research has shown that Uzbeks are most likely to radicalize while working as migrants abroad. Within Uzbekistan, law enforcement effectively curtails unsanctioned religious or political organizing and access to unauthorized religious materials. However, Uzbek migrants working in relatively open Russia or in other countries can become targets of violent extremists’ online or in-person recruitment.
To counter violent extremism, the government works through local government organizations – such as neighborhood, women’s, and religious committees – to conduct outreach and educate citizens about the dangers of extremist ideologies. Representatives from these organizations monitor for suspicious behavior and conduct interviews with at-risk individuals.
There were few known reintegration efforts underway in Uzbekistan as there was no significant population of returning foreign terrorist fighters in 2016. The government has raised concerns over the potential radicalization of Uzbek migrants, however, without undertaking any concrete steps to facilitate reintegration.
Official media produced counter-messaging through public service announcements and media reports about the dangers of “Islamist extremism” and joining terrorist organizations, and have posted them on social media platforms like YouTube. Public religious figures, such as the Grand Mufti of Uzbekistan, frequently made public speeches condemning “extremist” ideology. In his first public speech as president, Mirziyoyev highlighted the dangers of “extremism” and urged parents, teachers, and neighborhood leaders to offer guidance to young people.
International and Regional Cooperation: Uzbekistan is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Tashkent hosted ministerial meetings of both organizations in 2016 and declaratively welcomed closer cooperation between member states in fighting terrorism and “extremism.” The SCO Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure is located in Tashkent, but its activities appeared to be limited. The Government of Uzbekistan has worked with multilateral organizations such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime on security issues.
Uzbekistan prefers bilateral over multilateral security cooperation. According to the media, Uzbek law enforcement has cooperated with Russian counterparts in sharing information about terrorist suspects. Russian and Uzbek religious organizations have also held joint seminars devoted to countering “extremism.” It is unclear how closely Uzbekistan cooperates on counterterrorism with other countries. While Uzbek officials often welcome collaboration, the Government of Uzbekistan does not release detailed information about such efforts.