The European Union praised Uzbekistan for the release of Mr Samandar Kukanov, Uzbek politician who was imprisoned in 1993 while serving as an MP in ex-Soviet Uzbekistan’s parliament on embezzlement charges that supporters say stemmed from his opposition to the late strongman Islam Karimov.
Samandar Kukanov, now 72, became one of the world’s longest-held political prisoners. The EU said that his release was an encouraging political message for the overall political space in Uzbekistan as well as for the further strengthening of EU-Uzbek bilateral relations. Steve Swerdlow, a Central Asia researcher for the New York-based Human Rights Watch group commented that Mr Kukanov’s release was a collective effort of the diplomatic community, including the US government, which publicly appealed to Tashkent to release him.
The EU has also said that the planned entry into force of the amnesty law, as foreseen by the government of Uzbekistan for early December 2016, ought to lead to the release of additional prisoners, which would be yet another positive step towards the improvement of the human rights situation in the country. Brussels seeks to continue to engage with Uzbekistan on human rights, including the annual human rights dialogue.
Uzbekistan’s human rights record is weak, according to human rights observers. Human Rights Watch says that Uzbekistan imprisons thousands on politically motivated charges and torture is part of the criminal justice system. Uzbek authorities continue to crackdown on civil society activists, opposition members, and journalists and freedom of expression is severely limited. Moreover, Muslims and Christians who practice their religion outside strict state controls are persecuted and freedom of expression is limited. The Uzbek government also still denies justice for the 2005 Andijan massacre in which government forces fired into a crowd of protesters in Andijan in the Republic of Uzbekistan, killing hundreds.