Islam Karimov

Islom Abdug‘aniyevich Karimov is the first President of Uzbekistan, serving since 1989.

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Islom Abdug‘aniyevich Karimov (Cyrillic Uzbek: Ислом Абдуғаниевич Каримов; Russian: Ислам Абдуганиевич Каримов, Islam Abduganiyevich Karimov) (born January 30, 1938) is the first President of Uzbekistan, serving since 1989.

Early life and career

Karimov, placed in an orphanage in Samarkand at birth, grew up to study economics and engineering at school[citation needed]. He became an official in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, becoming the party's First Secretary in Uzbekistan in 1989. On March 24, 1990 he became President of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. Karimov's election to the Uzbek Communist Party resulted after his predecessor Rafik Nishanov failed to quell inter-ethnic clashes and instability in the Fergana region.[1] He declared Uzbekistan an independent nation on August 31, 1991 and subsequently won Uzbekistan's first presidential election on December 29, 1991, with 86% of the vote. The election was called unfair[citation needed], with state-run propaganda and a falsified vote count, although the opposing candidate and leader of the Erk (Freedom) Party, Muhammad Salih, had a chance to participate. Karimov permitted the participation of the opposition organizations Birlik ("Unity") and the Islamic Renaissance Party until his efforts to consolidate power over Shukrullo Mirsaidov, a former Communist Party elite who had originally supported Karimov's rise to the Party presidency. The period of political thaw was brief; Karimov began to complicate the registration process of opposition parties during elections. As Birlik grew in strength as a "popular movement", it was denied the ability to register as a "political party" without the required 60,000 signatures. The Karimov government allowed Birlik one day to gather these signatures, 25,000 of which they rejected. Karimov effectively took authoritarian measures to block any meaningful opposition.[2]


Uzbekistan under the Karimov government classifies as a hard authoritarian regime with little to no civil society promotion. The state's primary legitimacy claims are anti-Islamism and ethnic identity.[3] Karimov's primary authoritarian measures that were implemented following the brief period of "thaw" and political tolerance include the thwarting of alternative political leaders from coalition building.[4]

Election controversies

In 1995, Karimov extended his term until 2000 through a widely criticized referendum. He was re-elected with 91.9% of the vote on 9 January 2000. The United States said that this election "was neither free nor fair and offered Uzbekistan's voters no true choice".[5] The sole opposition candidate, Abdulhafiz Jalalov, implicitly admitted that he entered the race only to make it seem democratic and publicly stated that he voted for Karimov. Following this election in 1996, Karimov further tightened the restrictions on his opposition through the Law On Political Parties. This law ensured the right to meetings, publications, and elections of opposition parties, but only to those who had registered with the Ministry of Justice. This policy allowed for government blockage of unapproved parties. Political parties based on ethnic, religious, military, or subversive ideas were prohibited.[6] Karimov's reelection resulted from highly criticized electoral practices. 99.6% had elected to keep Karimov in office after his term had expired, but ballots had been created such that it was much easier for voters to cast a "yes" vote than a "no" vote. Unmarked ballots, as well as ballots of those who did not vote, were automatically counted as "yes" votes, while a full black mark, under the supervision of authorities, was necessary to count as a "no" vote.[7]

Administrative policies

Islam Karimov (left) meeting within Russian President Vladimir Putin

As a poor indication of contact and negotiation with Western nations, Karimov has taken fewer foreign visits, especially to the West, in comparison to his Kazakh counterpart. There is also a low number of foreign embassies in Tashkent as of 2003, with only 13 total embassies; only 7 from countries not part of the former Soviet Union and only 3 from the West.[8]

Under the Karimov regime, a heavy regulation policy of NGOs led to the creation of paradoxically-named GONGOs, or Government-Organized Non-Governmental Organizations. Trade unions became "an instrument of management rather than a means of interest group-based collective bargaining." The Karimov government requires universities to serve a strictly pedagogical purpose and not as a branch of civil society;[9] they must provide students with skills for the workplace without an emphasis on the skill of critique of public issues.

Policies towards Islam

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev meeting with Karimov in Tashkent in 2009

Karimov had originally cultivated Islamic symbols after independence in order to coopt religious opposition.[10] In May 1999, as a response to the threat of Islamic radicalism, the Oliy Majlis revised the 'Law on Freedom of Conscious and Religious Organizations' to impose new restrictions on religious groups. The construction of mosques, for example, required permission and specific documentation. An assassination attempt on Karimov in 1999 elicited even more repression of Islamic groups.[11] After the September 11, 2001 attacks Uzbekistan was considered a strategic ally in the United States' "War on Terror" campaign because of a mutual opposition to the Taliban. Uzbekistan hosted an 800-strong U.S. troop presence at the Karshi-Khanabad base, also known as "K2", which supported U.S.-led efforts in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan.[12] This move was criticized by Human Rights Watch which said the U.S. government subordinated the promotion of human rights to assistance in the War in Afghanistan. U.S.-Uzbek relations deteriorated in May 2005 when Karimov's government strongly encouraged the abandonment of the U.S. base in the face of U.S. government criticism of the government killings of protestors in Andijan. In July 2005 U.S. military forces left Karshi-Khanabad.[13]

Karimov mobilized against the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Hizb-ut-Tahrir, two Islamist organizations that have been designated as terrorist by his government.[14] The Uzbek government sentenced Tohir Yo‘ldosh and Juma Namangani, leaders of the IMU, to death in absentia.[15] Namangani died in Afghanistan in 2001, and Tohir Yo‘ldosh was killed in an air strike on August 27, 2009.[16] Though the Uzbekistani constitution protects the separation of religion and state, the Karimov regime has marginalized politically dissident Muslims and religious leaders who critique its human rights abuses through rhetoric of “anti-terrorism.” From 1991 to 2004, the government has imprisoned over 7,000 Uzbeks for “Islamist extremism,” and silenced Imams like Muhammad Rajab, who advocated for more open democracy in the early 1990s. These fears of extremism arose out of discourse among the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) of a "Jihad against the Karimov regime." The government of Uzbekistan retains fears of "large-scale all-encompassing anti-state conspiracies" and "echoes of Basmachi"[17] Among Karimov's anti-Islamist policies is the purge of Muslim leaders. Karimov led a crackdown on Adolat, a league of Muslim activists. Explicit fears of threats of Islamic extremism also led to a crackdown of displays of Islamic practice in public. The term "Wahhabis" became the umbrella term to refer to all strains of "extremist" Islam; it did not necessarily refer to the branch of Islamic extremism origninated in Saudi Arabia.[18] Ordinary practicing Muslims have been targeted and jailed without trial, and frequent use of torture and occasional "disappearances" have been reported.


Karimov sought another term in the December 2007 presidential election, despite arguments that he was ineligible due to the two-term limit on the presidency. On November 6, 2007, Karimov accepted the nomination of the Uzbekistan Liberal Democratic Party to run for a third term.[19] On November 19, the Central Election Commission announced the approval of Karimov's candidacy,[20] a decision that Karimov's opponents condemned as illegal.[21]

Following the election on 23 December, preliminary official results showed Karimov winning with 88.1% of the vote, on a turnout rate that was placed at 90.6%. Observers from groups allied to the Karimov administration such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Commonwealth of Independent States gave the election a positive assessment.[22] However, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe criticized the election as lacking a "genuine choice," while others deemed the election, a "political charade,"[23] given that all three of Karimov's rivals began their campaign speeches by singing Karimov's praises.[24]

Human rights and press freedom

Karimov during a visit to Brazil in 2009

The international community[who?] has repeatedly criticized the Karimov administration's record on human rights and press freedom. In particular, Craig Murray, the British Ambassador from 2002 to 2004, described widespread torture, kidnapping, murder, rape by the police, financial corruption, religious persecution, censorship, and other human rights abuses. This included the case of Karimov's security forces executing prisoners Muzafar Avazov and Khuzniddin Alimov by boiling them alive in 2002.[25] Murray became noted within the British government for memos disagreeing with official UK & US policy, which was at the time to back up Karimov as part of the global war on terror. Uzbekistan was used for extraordinary rendition and for the air base in Karshi-Khanabad. Murray wrote a memoir about his experiences; Murder in Samarkand, retitled Dirty Diplomacy in the United States.[26]

In response, the Uzbek government criticized Murray for not behaving like a genuine British ambassador. It informally stated that diplomacy is more about mutual compromise rather than one-handed harsh criticism. The British government replaced him in 2005.[citation needed]

The United Nations found torture "institutionalized, systematic, and rampant" in Uzbekistan's judicial system.[27] For several years, Parade magazine has selected Karimov as one of the world's worst dictators, citing his tactics of torture, media censorship, and fake elections.[28]

Karimov's Party apparatus gained effective control over the media during the immediate independence period. Due to a poor human rights and democratization record, the Karimov administration worked to improve its image by allowing broadcasts from Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe. A tarnished record had harmed the efforts to gain greater access to developmental aid and foreign investment.[29]

According to the Uzbek Constitution freedom of expression in the media is nominally guaranteed. The Karimov administration has persistently violated this press freedom. Article 67 states that "Censorship is not permitted." Under the Karimov government, all media publications must be "held accountable for the reliability" of the information released. This "accountability" actually introduces an opportunity for further government censorship, as the definition of "accountability" is left to the Karimov administration's discretion. Article 29 states that all freedom of media expression is to be allowed with the exceptions of releasing state secrets and statements against the Constitution. The printed media of Uzbekistan has a high number of publications, but is dominated by three: Khalq Sozi, its Russian edition Narodnoye Slovo, and another Russian-language publication, Pravda Vostoka. The state owns almost all media, and the State Control Inspecorate, located in Tashkent, secures tight editorial control. Topics deemed "sensitive" are not considered for publishing. A ban is in place that prevents publications that give space to "unregistered opinions." Arrests of journalists have been documented in Tashkent and Samarkand.

As a propaganda tool, the state strictly controls the tone and subject material of publish works. State censors give preference to works that provide a positive, uplifting ideology to its readers. Criticism that passes the censors is limited to low and mid-level officers. One publication, Vatantaraqqioh, is under investigation because of its criticism of the "lack of diversity" in the Uzbek press. Although the Karimov regime during the 1990s assumed a greater tolerance for foreign media, the state has heavily limited foreign publications during the past decade. There has been a considerable reduction of Russian-sponsored broadcasting, and Western media has diminished in publication as well.[30] Forty-six financially independent television and radio broadcasts were taken off the air unexpectedly.

Banned publications under the Karimov administration include Mustaqil Haftalik and Erk, the respective publications of the Birilik and Erk opposition parties. The Karimov government charged each publication on the grounds of being "disloyal to the current regime.".[31] In December 1995, Karimov was quoted in describing local journalists as "toothless."[30] Karimov had essentially called for more criticism in printed material, but only "approved" criticism.[32]

In May 2002, the Karimov administration lifted the pre-publication censorship, and fined the chief censor, Ervin Kamilov. The State Inspectorate for the Protection of State Secrets was disbanded. Two days later, the administration proceeded to reinstate further censorship measures. Among topics prohibited in Uzbekistan's publications are official corruption, opposition political parties and Islamic organizations. Radio Liberty lost its broadcast rights. Uzbekistan has one state-run internet server, UZPAK, that blocks prohibited websites.[33]

2005 Andijan Massacre

According to refugee detailed accounts, some 400 of the 500 killed were said to be driven deliberately into a trap – authorities had blocked all the exits from Bobur Square with Armoured personnel carriers, preventing people from dispersing home. Instead, they drove the crowd into a closed street, Chulpon Avenue, where snipers and police shot to kill. These scenes of deliberate killings prompted eyewitnesses to allege that troops not only shot to disperse the demonstration, but to summarily execute anyone who took part in it. Later, some tortured detainees recounted that police said they had received orders supposedly emanating from the president himself to shoot to kill.[34]

According to Ikrom Yakubov, a major in Uzbekistan's secret service who defected to Britain in 2007, the government "propped up" Akramia, which the Uzbek government blamed for fomenting the sparking the incident led to the protests. He believes that the attacks were a pretext to repress dissenters. According to Yakubov, President Karimov personally ordered government troops to fire on the protestors.[35]

Islam Karimov "placed blame for the unrest on Islamic extremist groups, a label that he has used to describe political opponents in recent years and that his critics say is used as a pretext for maintaining a repressive state." A press release from the government stated that "As a result of the clashes, 9 people died and 34 were injured".

Personal life

Karimov's first marriage to Natalia Petrovna Kuchmi led to a son, Rustam (later named Pyotr). They divorced in the late 1960s. Karimov's second wife, Tatyana Akbarovna Karimova, is an economist.[36][37] They have two daughters and three grandchildren. His elder daughter Gulnara Karimova, serves as an advisor for Uzbekistan's ambassador to Russia and is believed to have built an extensive business empire that includes the largest mobile phone operator in the country, night clubs and a large cement factory.[38] Karimov's second daughter, Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva, is known in Uzbekistan for her role in promoting education and sports, as well as championing the rights of children. She is founder of major charity organizations in Uzbekistan – "You are not alone", Republican Social Children's Fund for helping orphans, and Republican Center for Social Adaptation of Children, mainly focusing at disabled children and those from vulnerable groups.[39]


  1. Gulsen Aydin, Orta Dogu Teknik Universitesi, "Authoritarianism versus democracy in Uzbekistan: domestic and international factors", (Ankara: METU, 2004)
  2. Gulsen Aydin, Orta Dogu Teknik Universitesi, "Authoritarianism versus democracy in Uzbekistan: domestic and international factors", (Ankara: METU, 2004), p. 41.
  3. Schatz, pp. 263–284
  4. Bohr, pp. 5–29
  5. US slams Uzbek election as unfree, unfair and laughable EurasiaNet
  6. Bohr, p. 41
  7. Alisher Ilkhamov, "Controllable Democracy in Uzbekistan", Middle East Report, No. 222 (2002) pp. 8–10
  8. Schatz, p. 269.
  9. Bohr, p. 73
  10. Bohr, p. 17
  11. Bohr, p. 64
  12. Khanabad, Uzbekistan Karshi-Kanabad (K2) Airbase Camp Stronghold Freedom Global Security
  13. US asked to leave Uzbek air base BBC News
  14. Bombings and Shootings Rock Uzbekistan Yale Global Online
  15. Latest in a Series of Show Trials Condemns Peaceful Opposition Along with Militants Human Rights Watch
  16. Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) CNS
  17. Stuart Horsman (2005). "Themes in Official Discourses on Terrorism in Uzbekistan". Third World Quarterly 26 (1): 199–213. doi:10.1080/0143659042000322982. JSTOR 3993771.
  18. Bohr, p. 29
  19. "Islam Karimov agreed to remain the president another seven years". Retrieved 2007-11-13.
  20. "Uzbek Election Watchdog Clears Karimov For Third Term", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, November 19, 2007.
  21. Shukhrat Babajanov, "Uzbekistan: Official Acquiescence In Karimov Presidential Bid Draws Fire", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, November 21, 2007.
  22. "Uzbek Incumbent Wins Presidential Poll Without 'Genuine Choice'", Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 24 December 2007.
  23. Halpin, Tony (2007-12-21). "Torture an iron fist and twisted logic set stage for Islam Karimovs landslide victory". The Times (London). Retrieved 2010-05-05.
  24. Uzbek Leader’s Re-Election Dismissed as Charade. Retrieved on 2012-04-04.
  25. Rashid, Ahmed (2009) [2008]. Descent into Chaos. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-14-311557-1. Retrieved 12 September 2011. "Muzafar Avazov and Khuzniddin Alimov, who were accused of belonging to an Islamic extremist group [ Hizb ut-Tahrir ] died on August 8, 2002, after being boiled to death in hot water."
  26. Craig Murray. Murder in Samarkand, 2006, [ISBN 978-1845961947], and Dirty Diplomacy, 2007, [ISBN 978-1416548027], Scribner
  27. Civil and political rights, including the questions of torture and detention United Nations Economic and Social Council
  28. The World's Worst Dictators-2007. Retrieved on 2012-04-04.
  29. Bohr, p. 61
  30. Human Rights Watch, Violations of Media Freedom: Journalism and Censorship in Uzbekistan (1 May 1996), D07
  31. Bohr, p. 15
  32. Bohr, p. 16
  33. Bohr, pp. 75–76
  34. Andijan Refugees' Report Yields New Findings on 2005 Massacre by Government Forces. (2010-11-13). Retrieved on 2012-04-04.
  35. Former Uzbek Spy Accuses Government Of Massacres, Seeks Asylum. Retrieved on 2012-04-04.
  36. Karimov's wife, T.A. Karimova. Retrieved on 2012-04-04.
  37. Biography Government of Uzbekistan
  38. Mary Dejevsky British "The Independent" interviews Gulnara Karimova January 7, 2004
  39. Lola Karimova-Tillyaeva: official web site. Retrieved on 10 April 2009


  • Bohr, Annette Uzbekistan: Politics and Foreign Policy London: Royal Institute of International Affairs (1998) ISBN 1-86203-081-2
  • Schatz, Edward (2006). "Access by Accident: Legitimacy Claims and Democracy Promotion in Authoritarian Central Asia". International Politica Science Review 27 (3): 263–284. doi:10.1177/0192512106064463. JSTOR 20445055.