Uzbek bill on emergencies is meant to maintain security

By Maksim Yeniseyev

Tashkent children, members of a patriotic club, learn to assist disaster survivors in a May 2015 contest organised by the Uzbekistani  Emergency Situations Ministry. [Ministry photo obtained by Maksim Yeniseyev]

Tashkent children, members of a patriotic club, learn to assist disaster survivors in a May 2015 contest organised by the Uzbekistani  Emergency Situations Ministry. [Ministry photo obtained by Maksim Yeniseyev]

TASHKENT -- Uzbekistani lawmakers and the public have a chance to weigh in on a bill meant to ensure an effective response to terrorist attacks and other emergencies.

The Uzbekistani Emergency Situations Ministry (MChS) recently submitted the "On the State of Emergency" bill for public discussion. Parliament is planning to decide on the bill by August 31.

If the bill becomes law, it would impose restrictions, such as curfew and temporary bans on public gatherings, to maintain security after a terrorist attack or other emergency. Presently, authorities react to emergencies without a formalised game plan.

The public submitted comments via the country's e-government portal for several weeks until July 11.

Recent events, such as two earthquakes June 26 and 29 and the Istanbul airport massacre June 28, are making consideration of the bill especially timely.

"Declaring a state of emergency ... after a [disaster] is generally accepted worldwide practice," Tashkent-based political scientist Valerii Khan told Caravanserai. "Uzbekistan lags somewhat behind other countries. Until now, we haven't had any laws governing how to declare a state of emergency."

The pending bill "will help maintain security and citizens' rights, protect them from lawlessness, and compensate them for destroyed property", Khan said.

The "On the State of Emergency" bill was up for 20 days of public discussion on the e-government site, the Single Portal of Interactive State Services, ending July 11. Parliament is assessing it now and is planning to make a decision by August 31.

Users of the e-government site were able to "leave comments, which [MChS] personnel answered", parliamentary spokesman Azamat Mukhtarov told Caravanserai. "The bill [went] to the parliament after consideration of revisions."

Ramifications of the bill

The bill, if it became law, would require both presidential and parliamentary approval before a state of emergency may take effect, MChS spokesman Miralim Mirkhamidov told Caravanserai.

"National states of emergency would be able to last 30 days," he added. "Local ones would last 60 days. If we need an extension, the president would have to issue a decree."

Situations qualifying as states of emergency "include an external threat; an attempt to overthrow the government; a mutiny; riots; terrorist acts; ethnic, inter-ethnic and border conflicts; and natural and man-made disasters", Mirkhamidov said.

The bill, if it becomes law, would compensate citizens who suffer economic losses during states of emergency.

The bill includes emergency "restrictions on freedom of movement and on commerce, a ban on public gatherings, a curfew [and other provisions]", Mirkhamidov said. "At the same time, it guarantees compensation for property damage incurred during an emergency, housing and employment [if needed], and compensation for authorities' use of private property [during emergencies]."

Recent reasons for concern

Recent events in Uzbekistan and abroad made clear the potential consequences of having no established procedure for states of emergency.

Earthquakes struck June 26 and 29 in various parts of Uzbekistan. Though nobody was killed, they aroused anxiety.

"These earthquakes are very common [in Uzbekistan]," Samariddin Yunusov, a researcher at the Uzbekistani Academy of Sciences Institute of Seismology, told Caravanserai. "Tragedies ... like the 1966 Tashkent quake and the 1976 and 1984 Gazli quakes claimed many lives. We should be ready for such events."

"If they pass this law and the public becomes aware of it, then the public will be ready for potential consequences in a state of emergency," Tashkent resident Farrukh Muminov told Caravanserai.

The June 28 terrorist attack at Istanbul Atatürk Airport was another reason for Uzbekistanis to mull their absence of formal provisions for disasters.

Two Uzbekistanis were killed in that massacre. Moreover, one of the three terrorists was an Uzbekistani.

"The attack shocked all of us," Alfiya Usmanova, a Tashkent resident, told Caravanserai. "People were just getting out of their taxis or were checking in ... I hope that nothing like that ever happens in our country."

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