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Uzbek Lawmakers Take Aim at ‘Undesirable’ Foreigners

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Uzbek Lawmakers Take Aim at ‘Undesirable’ Foreigners

A draft law seeks to guard Uzbekistan’s sovereignty by ousting foreigners who incite enmity or insult the dignity of the country. 

Uzbek Lawmakers Take Aim at ‘Undesirable’ Foreigners
Credit: Depositphotos

Uzbek lawmakers have advanced a bill that outlines the procedure for deeming a foreign citizen or stateless person “undesirable” and provides for a five-year entry ban, among other restrictions. 

On June 25, the lower house of the Uzbek parliament, the Oliy Majlis’ Legislative Chamber, adopted a bill amending the law “On the Legal Status of Foreign Citizens and Stateless Persons in the Republic of Uzbekistan.”

As reported: “Under this law, actions or public statements that are against the state sovereignty, territorial integrity, and security of Uzbekistan, or that incite interstate, social, national, racial, or religious enmity, or insult the dignity, value, or history of the Uzbek people can be the basis for declaring a person’s stay in the Republic of Uzbekistan as undesirable.”

The proposed law would prohibit such people from entering Uzbekistan, as well as bar them from opening bank accounts, purchasing real estate, “participating in the privatization of state property,” and essentially conducting business in Uzbekistan for five years. It also outlines procedures for deporting “undesirable” individuals, if they do not voluntarily leave the country within 10 days of being labeled “undesirable.”

As noted, the chamber’s press service justified the draft law as necessary to “establish new measures to protect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Uzbekistan in the modern context of globalization.”

The press service pointed to the “experience” of a range of countries – namely Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Russia, Poland, Belarus, and China – in informing the draft.

Precisely which foreigners, and what kinds of statements threaten state sovereignty, are not explained in media reports or the draft law beyond the broad language cited above. 

But the language cited in the law – particularly the laundry list of enmities that must not incited – is not new. This kind of language has been used repeatedly, via other laws in Uzbekistan, to silence domestic critics and, perhaps most egregiously, deny individuals their constitutional rights, whether to free speech writ large or, in the case of Karakalpakstan, the right to seek a referendum on independence.

One example is the case of Karakalpak lawyer Dauletmurat Tazhimuratov, who was given a 16-year prison sentence last year following his public dissent against the then-proposed draft constitution (which was later passed after reinstating the very provisions Tazhimuratov was complaining about the removal of). He was charged with, among other things, “preparation and dissemination of materials threatening public security and order.”

Another example is Karakalpak activist Aqylbek Muratbai, who was detained in Kazakhstan earlier this year at the behest of Uzbek authorities on charges of “public calls for mass disorder and violence” and “preparation and dissemination of materials threatening public security and order.” The charges stemmed from his posting of a video of another activist speaking at a major human rights conference in Europe. These cases provide a baseline for what Uzbek authorities have judged as threats to security in the past.  

Ultimately, if the draft bill passes and is signed into law, we will have to see how Uzbek authorities interpret and apply the law. Who will be declared “undesirable”? Will the law be applied to chauvinistic Russian commentators? Will it be used to target human rights activists who pen critical reports about government policies and decisions? Will it be used to target journalists, like myself, for writing articles like this one? Will branding any or all of the above as “undesirable” truly secure Uzbekistan’s sovereignty and preserve its dignity, or merely emphasize its extant insecurities?