b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly, but the government often restricted this right. Authorities have the right to suspend or prohibit rallies, meetings, and demonstrations for security reasons. The government often did not grant the permits required for demonstrations. Authorities subjected citizens to large fines, threats, arbitrary detention, and abuse for violating procedures for organizing meetings, rallies, and demonstrations or for facilitating unsanctioned events by providing space, other facilities, or materials. Organizers of “mass events” with the potential for more than 100 participants must sign agreements with the Ministry of Interior for the provision of security prior to advertising or holding such an event. This regulation was broadly applied, even to private corporate functions.
On August 3, the City Court in Chust, near Namangan, sentenced Pastor Alisher and his assistant Abror, to 10 days of administrative arrest. Judge Bokhodir Kazakov found them and six other individuals guilty of “illegal religious activity” that was allegedly just a tea party at the pastor’s home. The six other individuals were penalized under the same charges for 999,445 sums ($120) each, with payment due immediately. Their cell phones were also confiscated.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
While the law provides for freedom of association, the government continued to restrict this right. While the government released new laws and guidance it stated were intended to encourage the growth of civil society, the government still sought to control NGO activity, internationally funded NGOs, and unregulated Islamic and minority religious groups. The operating environment for independent civil society, in particular human right defenders, remained restrictive. Activists reported continuing government control and harassment.
On April 21 in Chimbay City, Karakalpakstan, local police raided a birthday party attended by a group of Christians. The participants were escorted to the local police station and charged with holding an “illegal religious meeting,” and released the next morning. On July 13, group members were summoned to the local court by telephone, not by written notification. The judge found all of them, except the minors, guilty of engaging in illegal religious activity. The women were ordered to pay penalties of $150-$200 (1,230,000 sum to 1,640,000 sum) each and the owner of the house to pay $1,000 (8,220,000 sum). The 11 men involved were sentenced to 5 to 7 days of administrative arrest. Eight of the convicted Christians were 18-19 years of age, and their parents did not receive any formal notification after their children were sentenced. As a result of international pressure, on July 17, the Supreme Court of Karakalpakstan vacated the verdicts of the Chimbay court and ordered restitution of personal belongs to the defendants.
The Ministry of Justice, which oversees the registration of NGOs, requires NGOs to obtain the ministry’s approval to hold large meetings with nonmembers, including foreigners; to seek the ministry’s clearance on any event where materials are to be distributed; and to notify the ministry in writing of the content and scope of the events in question.
On April 12, the President signed the new Law on Public Control to establish a legal framework for public oversight of the activities of government bodies and government officials. In accordance with the law, citizens, citizens’ self-government bodies, noncommercial organizations, and mass media have the right to exercise oversight regarding activities of government bodies and officials.
There are legal restrictions on the types of groups that may be formed, and the law requires that organizations with an operating budget and funds be registered formally with the government. The law allows for a six-month grace period for new organizations to operate while awaiting registration from the Ministry of Justice, during which time the government officially classifies them as “initiative groups.” Several NGOs continued to function as initiative groups for periods longer than six months.
The government issued a number of regulations that affected NGO activity. In May the president issued a decree entitled “Measures to Fundamentally Enhance the Role of Civil Society Institutions in the Process of Democratic Renewal of the Country.” In a separate action, in June the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) issued an order on the procedure for NGOs to inform the government of their planned activities. According to a summary posted on Norma.uz, starting from June 1, NGOs are no longer required to obtain approval from the MoJ in order to conduct events, but they still need to notify the MoJ of plans to conduct public programs. The minimum period for informing the ministry of planned activities is 10 days before the start of an event without the participation of foreign citizens, and 20 days before the start of event with the participation of foreign citizens. The MoJ only provides NGOs with written notice in cases of refusal to conduct the event. On June 27, another order established a new form of annual reporting on the NGO activities for submission to the government. In August the Ministry of Justice adopted the Regulation on Monitoring and Studying Activities of Nongovernmental Noncommercial Organizations, which establishes a separate procedure on monitoring and studying NGOs’ activities.
International NGOs praised the development of these procedures, stating that they offered new procedural rules and limitations for the actions of MoJ inspectors; one NGO stated, however, a concern that the latter regulation still provided the authority for the MoJ to audit and harass NGOs. The administrative liability code imposes large fines for violations of procedures governing NGO activity as well as for “involving others” in “illegal NGOs”; the law does not specify whether the term refers to NGOs suspended or closed by the government or merely NGOs not officially registered. The administrative code also imposes penalties against international NGOs for engaging in political activities, activities inconsistent with their charters, or activities the government did not approve in advance.
In May the president signed a decree abolishing the so-called banking commission, established in 2004 to regulate or oversee NGO receipt of foreign grants. Beginning on September 1, registered NGOs are allowed to receive grants from domestic and foreign donors. Receiving organizations must notify the Ministry of Justice of their grants and present a plan of activities to the ministry that details how the NGO would allocate the funds. If the ministry approves, no other government approvals are required. The ministry requires yearly financial reports from NGOs.
Parliament’s Public Fund for the Support of Nongovernmental, Noncommercial Organizations, and Other Civil Society Institutions continued to conduct grant competitions to implement primarily socioeconomic projects. Some civil society organizations criticized the fund for primarily supporting government-organized NGOs. The law criminalizes membership in organizations the government broadly deemed “extremist.”