Friday, February 14, 2014

The Domestic Theater of Uzbek National Security: Protest & Demonstration

                When they hear the term “national security”, most people imagine risks posed by external threats from abroad which might affect the interests of the nation.  However, there is the often overlooked domestic part of this equation.  States evaluate domestic threats under varying degrees of severity.  In the Republic of Uzbekistan, unauthorized protest, demonstration, or other political participation might be of the highest priority among these security concerns.
                The criminal code of Uzbekistan outlaws unlawful public associations.  Any unlawful public association is one which is not registered with the Ministry of Justice.  Many of these are automatically considered outlawed if they have a perceived combination of religious and political motives.  This is likely enforced as a response to protest activities of the Adolat (Justice) party in the early 1990s [1], which evolved into organized challenges against the authority of Uzbek President Islam Karimov.  Also worth considering when observing Uzbekistan’s state response to demonstrations is the Andijan protest of 2005.  While the official state evaluation of regime response against the protestors estimates 187 dead, human rights organizations report the number to be as high as 1,500 [2]. 
                Protests and mass mobilization bring a considerable amount of concern to the administration of Islam Karimov.  Today, the lightest of demonstrations appears to attract police retaliation and detention.  One opposition party, Birdamlik Demoratic Movement, has seen its activities restricted in a similar manner.  The party was founded in 2011 by Bahodyr Choriyev, an Uzbek refugee and businessman residing in the United States.  Since 2011, Choriyev has issued numerous calls for Uzbeks to mobilize against Karimov’s administration [3], though they have not always been successful in attracting participants.  In 2012, Choriyev issued instructions encouraging civil disobedience and non-violent demonstrations against the state [4].  In this plan, Choriyev mentions plans to resurrect and improve the entrepreneurial class in Uzbekistan.  According to his statement, he intends to do this after assuming the office of the presidency.   For the moment, however, he appears to be depending on the commitment of Uzbek citizens to effect this change.
                The Birdamlik party self-promotes an association with the “color” revolutions experienced in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan by encouraging its participants to wear white clothing while demonstrating.  The color white is supposedly symbolic of the nation’s abundance of cotton.  Choriyev also announced a photo contest in 2013, where participants could take pictures dressed in white and submit them for cash prizes. [5]  In 2013, the Uzbek state made an apparent response to the vocal activity of Birdamlik by arresting Choriyev’s father. [6]  Nevertheless, the movement appears to be active.  While demonstrations were still relatively small in number in 2013, it was reported that members were still detained and intimidated by authorities. [7] 
                Birdamlik is not the only party which Islam Karimov appears to be concerned with, however.  The state also maintains that the political organization Birlik remain an illegal party.  Over the past few years, the Uzbek Ministry of Justice has made it increasingly difficult for the party to become officially recognized, citing insufficient signatures of membership every time. [8]  The Uzbek state has also outlawed any activity by the parties Hizb ut-Tahrir (Party of Liberation) and Erk (Liberty Democratic Party).  My next entry will focus more on the activities of these particular organizations.
                From what can be seen, demonstration and protest in any number is absolutely not tolerated by President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan.  Out of fear of the potential effect a “color revolution” might have, the state seems to act quickly to suppress any such activity.  In the end of January 2014, a group of activities were arrested for performing a demonstration of solidarity with the Euromaidan protestors of Ukraine.  According to reports, two of the demonstrators were photographers who had recently tried to display their photo art which involved themes of labor, struggle, and poverty in Uzbekistan.  Some of the demonstrators carried Georgian and Ukrainian flags.  Although the demonstration numbered barely more than six people, they were detained by authorities.  [9]  As the 2014 parliamentary elections and 2015 presidential elections come ever nearer, one has to wonder whether or not future demonstrations will occur.  If we do see more mobilization in Uzbekistan, what fate awaits the participants?

1. Naumkin, V.V.  "Evolyutsiya Islamskogo dvizheniya Uzbekistana" Tsentr arabskikh i islamskikh issledovaniy.
2. HRO "Zametaya sledy: Tashkent perepisyvayet istoriyu andizhanskikh sobytiy" May 13, 2007

  3. Uznews "Protest dvizheniya «Birdamlik» v Tashkente ne udalsya" October 13, 2011 
4. Fergana News "Dvizheniye «Birdamlik» obeshchayet vydelit' $1 mlrd na sozdaniye klassa sobstvennikov v Uzbekistane" Dec 22, 2013
 5. Fergana News "Uzbekistan: Narodnoye dvizheniye «Birdamlik» vydelilo na pervyy etap «barkhatnoy revolyutsii» 16 tysyach dollarov" September 3, 2013
6. Rosbalt "Arest kak mest' za syna?" June 21, 2013
7. Ferana News "Uzbekistan: V Tashkente sotrudniki militsii v ocherednoy raz presekli aktsiyu dvizheniya «Birdamlik»" December 6, 2013

8. Harakat Newsletter "Vystupleniye predsedatelya OPCH Uzbekistana «Ezgulik» Vasili Inoyatovoy na Yezhegodnom sobraniye OBSE v Varshave" October 3, 2013
9. Uznews "Akhmedova i drugiye sochuvstvuyushchiye Yevromaydanu pod arestom" January 30, 2014

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