President Mirziyoyev Presses Onward with Reform Agenda
On June 26, the Tashkent City Court sentenced former Uzbek Prosecutor-General Rashidjon Qodirov to ten years in prison on charges of bribe-taking, extortion, financial fraud, tax evasion, obstruction of justice, and money laundering — concluding a trial that started in January 2019.
Qodirov was arrested in February 2018, three years after he was fired in connection with the investigation of the daughter of the late Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Gulnara Karimova; Gulnara was later found guilty of mass embezzlement and money-laundering. Gulnara Karimova’s imprisonment is the latest high-profile sentencing to come in Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s drive to reform Uzbekistan.
Gulnara’s father, Islam Karimov, was Uzbekistan’s president from its independence until his death in 2016. An isolationist with a penchant for human rights abuses, President Karimov modeled his state after the Soviet Union, corruption and all. Pursuant to this, Karimov made the National Security Service (MXX) ultra-powerful – a state within the state. The office of the Prosecutor-General, in particular, was widely disliked and seen as an institution of repression and retaliation. The justice system was opaque, with Supreme Court cases being cloaked in secrecy, judges subject to bribes or threats. It was this environment, untenable for any developing country, that Karimov’s successor Shavkat Mirziyoyev confronted upon ascending the presidency.
Shavkat the Reformer
A year into his presidency, on December 22, 2017, President Mirziyoyev laid out his plans for reform in a four-hour address to both chambers of the Uzbek Parliament. His stance on judicial reforms was unique. His remarks took direct aim at the National Security Service, the bedfellow of President Karimov and the ultimate power in Uzbekistan, and announced in January 2018 that Rustam Inoyatov, the head of the MXX for 23 years, was fired.
In addition to firming presidential control over the MXX, President Mirziyoyev announced the creation of a Higher Judicial Council to run parallel with the Uzbek Supreme Court. Mirziyoyev emphasized the need to create a parliamentary commission alongside the Higher Judicial Council in order to protect the judiciary’s independence, as well as seriously consult appeals from the Uzbek public. The President also noted the importance to limit outside influences on judges and to strengthen the law establishing habeas corpus in the country.
Accomplishments and Obstacles
Mirziyoyev has already removed entrenched and corrupt officials. The President has maintained the offensive against the MXX. Following Inoyatov’s removal, the organization was further weakened by a presidential order transferring the majority of responsibilities of the MXX to the Interior Ministry and the Ministry of Defense in March, 2018. That same month, Article 221 of Uzbekistan’s criminal code was scrapped. This article referred to “violations of prison rules,” which enabled authorities to arbitrarily extend the sentences held by political prisoners. Given that a few thousand remain in jail for political and religious beliefs, the government still must work to win the people’s trust.
At the same time, Mirziyoyev continues to face obstacles. In January 2019, the recent MXX chief Abdullayev was found illegally phone tapping the President, which resulted in his firing. The outgoing Defense Minister, Abdusalam Azizov, was placed in charge of the MXX. In June 2019, the President fired his replacement Prosecutor General, Otabek Murodov on charges of graft and bribery; however, Murodov is currently under investigation. In response to the corruption seemingly endemic to the office, Mirziyoyev issued a decree in mid-March that fired (and transferred) 1,200 staff members of the procuracy. Mirziyoyev’s campaign against the corruption of the Procuracy has picked up on the complaints from Uzbekistan’s entrepreneurial class, the President himself criticizing the procuracy at the 20th plenary session of the Senate.
President Mirziyoyev is running against corruption embedded into the country predating the state’s independence from the Soviet Union. The firing, arrest, and imprisonment of Qodirov was a major win for law and democracy in Uzbekistan. Mirziyoyev has shown that he has the energy and tenacity to tackle this issue. Should the United States and the European Union continue to support Uzbekistan and its reformer president, there is good reason to believe that Uzbekistan will make itself a wealthy and democratic state.
Photo: President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev/Adobe Stock