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Central Asia Should Protect Rights As It Seeks Investment, HRW Urges

Blatant attacks on media and speech freedoms became less frequent under Kyrgyz President Sooronbai Jeenbekov, HRW says.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is urging Central Asian leaders who are seeking greater regional cooperation and international investment in an effort to boost economic growth to place human rights at the top of their agenda.

HRW made the call in a statement issued on January 17 as the New York-based rights watchdog published its annual review of human rights practices around the globe.

“To improve the lives of Central Asia’s 105 million residents, human rights improvements need to go hand in hand with economic growth and regional cooperation,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at HRW.

He added that Central Asia’s leaders should “start by allowing critical voices to be heard and ending the worst abuses such as politically motivated imprisonment and torture.”

Last year, Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev “initiated greater cross-border cooperation and took notable steps to improve the domestic human rights situation,” HRW said, while “blatant attacks on media and speech freedoms became less frequent” in neighboring Kyrgyzstan under President Sooronbai Jeenbekov.

However, the group said “negative trends intensified” in other Central countries, with Tajikistan and Turkmenistan “continuing a slide into ever more repressive policies.”

And there was “no meaningful human rights improvements” in Kazakhstan, where the authorities “clamped down heavily on free speech, assembly, and association,” the statement said.

Williamson called on the United States, European Union, and other partners to make it clear to the Central Asian leaders that “any reform agenda without human rights improvements will certainly fall short.”

“Human rights and greater accountability should be at the heart of any growth or investment strategies to truly respond to the aspirations of citizens in Central Asia,” he added.

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