The police force in Uzbekistan is set for a reorganization that looks in part designed to balance power away from the security services. Authorities claim the reform will enhance rights protections, but activists are skeptical.
On April 10, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed off on a decree that officials say will represent the largest shake-up of the police in the nation’s history.
The reform is intended on paper to tackle a dense web of problems including the burdensome and inefficient structure of the Interior Ministry, the lack of channels for communication with the public and the non-existence of a complaints mechanism.
Several departments are to be created or revamped; one will be tasked with liaising with the underage children and youths, another will be a dedicated criminal investigations department. And then there is a plan to create a department for the protection of human rights.
Maybe the most politically curious aspect of the reform will see the police increase its involvement in anti-terrorism activities. That domain is traditionally the preserve of the National Security Service, or SNB in its Russian initials, the successor agency to the KGB and the seat of much, if not most, of the country’s power.
Mirziyoyev is ostensibly drawing on public support for his shake-up of the Interior Ministry. Ever since a virtual comments and complaints box was set up on the presidential website, a deluge of people have been in touch — many of them to grumble bitterly about the excesses of the police. From September to December alone, around 218,000 messages were lodged with the website.
Police in Kazakhstan are as of now under instructions to be more polite to the public and to refrain from using informal pronouns — such as the Russian “ty” (you) — or beckon people by just saying “hey.”
Tengri News website on March 15 cited the Interior Ministry as saying that instructions on politeness and proper behavior are included in overall police training courses.
“The conduct of Interior Ministry personnel is regulated by the government workers ethical code and departmental edicts laid down by the Interior Ministry. For police or traffic inspectors to talk in a rude manner or address people and drivers as ‘ty’ is not permitted,” the ministry was cited as saying in a statement.
People that feel they have been improperly addressed can file complaints with the Interior Ministry in person or over the phone.
Rules regulating proper behavior by police when dealing with the public already existed, although in practice there is often slippage in standards.
In another recent example of an apparent attempt by authorities in Kazakhstan to raise general levels of urbanity among the population, city hall in Shymkent last month “strongly forbade” bus conductors from yelling at every stop. The conductors would typically advertise their route by shouting the name of every stop ahead — a cacophonous practice that seems to have irked many members of the public. (See here for examples).
Uzbekistan’s upper house of parliament is due later this month to consider long-awaited legislation outlining the rules and responsibilities of the police force.
The Central Asian nation’s absence of law regulating its notoriously corrupt and violent police and security services has been object of much criticism from rights organizations. Proposals to be considered by the Senate on August 24-25 for a law titled “On Interior Affairs Organs” do not seem to relate to the National Security Service, the successor agency to the KGB and the country’s de facto administrator.
A law on the police was devised by members of parliament and security officials toward the end of 2012 following earlier calls to do so from President Islam Karimov, but that initiative lost steam along the way.
As a result, police to this day operate under non-statutory guidelines drawn up in 1991. This means that police operate without explicit rules of engagement when deploying live ammunition and treat criminal suspects in a manner at their discretion.
Karimov spoke again about the need to adopt a law on police during a speech to mark Independence Day last December. Somewhat surprisingly, he spoke with some asperity about shoddy practices among law enforcement bodies.
“It is not unusual to come across cases of nonobservance and crude violations of legal norms and provisions and principles of justice, as well as sloppy attitudes among law enforcement and regulatory authorities toward their duties. This is a reality and it is impossible not to notice it,” Karimov said.
But quite how Karimov noticed it is something of a mystery. Even his most generous champion could hardly accuse the president of having his finger on the pulse.
At least four people, including three policemen and one civilian, were killed on July 18 in the heart of Kazakhstan’s largest city following an attack on a police station.
Police in Almaty said that the attack began around 11 a.m. local time as a man attempted to force his way into the Almaly district police station. The attacker shot a sentry guard and stole his weapon, officials said in a statement.
The suspect then shot two pursuing officers, the statement said.
Police say that during his escape, the gunmen tried to carjack a civilian, killing him in the process.
Authorities have detained a 27-year old native of the southern Kyzylorda region who is also suspected of killing a woman over the weekend. Police earlier said that another person connected to the attack remained on the loose.
There have scattered reports of separate attack around the city, suggesting a coordinated action, but the details remain highly confused.
Soon after the unrest began, police issued a statement to say an antiterrorism operation was underway and asked the public to avoid large crowds.
“Law enforcement authorities will in good time provide information about all suspect individuals and asks the public to be understanding toward the actions of police and special forces,” the Almaty police said in a statement.
The National Security Committee, or KNB, said in a statement that it had raised the terrorism alert in Almaty to red, which stands for critical. The statement said gunmen attacked the Almaly district police station and an Almaty branch of the KNB.
Earlier this week, the recently appointed acting head of police in Kyrgyzstan’s capital pledged to clear the city of sex workers within a matter of days.
Samat Kurmankulov’s department went a step further on June 16 by suggesting city residents organize their own raids on brothels and take photographs of prostitutes and hand them in to the police. The police described its proposal as being a form of “public control.”
Bishkek police spokesman Olzhobai Kazabayev did not specify how the public should identify the prostitutes.
Prostitution is not technically a criminal offense in Kyrgyzstan, but sex workers are nonetheless habitually targeted for harassment by police and self-appointed moral guardians. Kurmankulov said there was still grounds for pursuing prostitutes through the law, however.
“We have to detain and punish them under the hooliganism statute. We have had some results in this. In the space of one day, 25 people providing paid sexual services were brought in to police station entered into police records,” he told news website Zanoza.kg.
In December 2014, a group of traditional felt hat-wearing men with the nationalist-patriotic Kyrk Choro movement raided a karaoke club and made women working there file out, accusing them of prostitution. Filming them on camera, they also grabbed few Chinese men in the establishment and accused them of corrupting the morals of young Kyrgyz women.
Authorities in Kazakhstan reacted with startling severity to attempts to hold rallies against land reforms on May 21 by detaining possibly hundreds of journalists, activists and demonstrators.
Police had been laying the ground for their hardline approach in the days ahead of the demonstrations by arbitrarily detaining and jailing people suspected of organizing the protests.
Security was notably high in the capital, Astana, where scores of police and national guardsmen occupied the city center in anticipation of the rallies. Around 50 police officers lined the boulevard leading to the presidential palace from the landmark Baiterek monument.
The protest had been scheduled to kick off at 11 a.m. although police were left with little to do at the appointed time. As the morning wore on, police around Baiterek began detaining people they suspected of being potential protesters. Onlookers refrained from filming anything for fear of also being carted away. One man observing everything from a bench said a few buses full of people had already left the scene.
“They detain anybody who says something negative about the government,” the man said.
Police in Kyrgyzstan “arrested” a red piano found standing outside main post office in the capital on May 16, local media reported, sparking widespread ridicule in the process.
Officers of the law confirmed the detention took place, with one spokesman citing security concerns in an interview with local outlet Kloop.kg.
"We were called on the 102 [number] and told unknown persons had abandoned the piano. We had to cordon off the area to ensure public order and the safety of residents and guests in the capital. We conducted search operations and found no explosives," said spokesman Olzhobay Kazybayev of the suspicious object in the center of the city.
As underwhelming bomb scares go, this is matched only by an incident in Britain over the weekend, when police evacuated Manchester United’s Old Trafford stadium after detecting a fake explosive device that was left behind in a security exercise last week.
This jittery behavior should hardly come as a surprise. Kyrgyzstan’s government has appear more nervous than usual in recent months, and pianos do have previous.
They were seen seen surrounded by demonstrators in full voice during both the Gezi Park protests that rocked Turkey in 2013 and Ukraine’s EuroMaidan uprising the following year, for instance.
But on this occasion the offending object seems to have been a gift to the public from a nominally socialist party in the coalition government, Ata-Meken.
“We gave it as a present, so that anybody who wanted could play on the instrument. It was the idea of our youth wing,” a party representative Kairgul Urumkanova told24.kg.
A video uploaded to Internet showing a police officer in Uzbekistan stamping on a woman’s face has caused a ripple of indignation.
It is unclear who created or uploaded the footage, which has now been circulated more widely by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Uzbek service, Ozodlik.
What can be seen in the short video is a woman lying face up on the ground as she is aggressively addressed by a policeman standing next to her. At one stage the officer stamps on the woman’s face and then kicks her in the head.
Ozodlik reported that the incident took place on April 10 in the Uchtepa district in the capital, Tashkent. The radio station reported that the victim of the maltreatment was 55 years old and that the police officer was called Izzatulla Hashimov.
When Ozodlik contacted Hashimov for comment on the incident, he denied that it had even taken place.
“The police got a report that this woman was disrupting the public peace. She was shouting, running after small children and threw herself under a car. She then lay on the hood of a car. We called an ambulance and the doctors took her away. We later learned that she attacked the doctors as well,” Hashimov said, relating his version of events.
A local resident told Ozodlik that the woman in the incident was well presented and was indeed shouting in the street, apparently in the grip of psychotic fit. A group of people gathered around and tried to calm her down, but to no avail, which is when the police were called.
It is not necessary to be a member of the ruling family in Tajikistan to land a top job. Being one of their friends is also enough, to go by an interesting recent appointment.
Earlier this month, Shohruh Saidzoda, son of the chairman of the customs service, Abdufattoh Goib, and a close friend of the president’s son, Rustam Emomali, was named deputy head of the country’s criminal investigation department.
Saidzoda, 30, has no background in law enforcement, but was elevated to the rank of police mayor all the same.
The chatter around the capital, Dushanbe, is that this may presage important movements at the top. One piece of speculation is that following a May 22 referendum that will, among other things, allow President Emomali Rahmon to run for office indefinitely, Rustam Emomali may be named Interior Minister.
Saidzoda first came to prominence a couple of year back, while Emomali was heading a government department fighting customs violations and serving as president of the national soccer federation. As a regular Emomali hanger-on, Saidzoda was regularly seen at high-profile events about town.
Rumors in April 2014, linked Saidzoda to a job heading the committee for youth, sports and tourism, but that came to nothing.
Saidzoda is a member of the football federation’s executive committee and president of the Dushanbe soccer team Istiqlol, which is reviled by most soccer fans in the country for the tacit assistance they are said to receive from partial referees.
Nobody seem wholly certain about Saidzoda’s main source of income, but there is a great deal of chatter about his private life.
After almost a quarter of century, Uzbekistan’s President Islam Karimov has decided it is time to shake up the police force.
The force, he said on December 5 during a speech to mark Independence Day, lacks proper regulation and is as a consequence rife with shoddy practices.
“It is not unusual to come across cases of nonobservance and crude violations of legal norms and provisions and principles of justice, as well as sloppy attitudes among law enforcement and regulatory authorities toward their duties. This is a reality and it is impossible not to notice it,” Karimov said, speaking 24 years after Uzbekistan’s Interior Ministry was formed.
Karimov said he was moved to criticism by the flood of public complaints brought to his attention.
“Over the first nine months of this years, 500 complaints have come in from citizens about the law enforcement officials and regulatory authorities,” he said. “Every fifth complaint concerned the unlawful actions of police officers.”
Karimov was eager to convey the impression that the feedback process is working well, however, and said that 96 percent of complaints registered over the phone had been resolved satisfactorily.
“What do these data tell us? They tell us that complainants had every right to be unhappy with the decisions taken by state bodies,” Karimov said.
The claims may cause jaws to drop even among a rights advocacy community already used to egregious whitewashing.
A recent United Nations Human Rights Committee report on Uzbekistan notes that while torture, for example, remains commonplace throughout the criminal justice system, recourse is rarely an option.