Uzbekistan nabs 549 extremist suspects so far in 2016

By Maksim Yeniseyev

MVD Academy cadets practise apprehending criminals in Tashkent last December. [Maksim Yeniseyev]

MVD Academy cadets practise apprehending criminals in Tashkent last December. [Maksim Yeniseyev]

TASHKENT -- Everyday life in Uzbekistan has become safer compared to last year, authorities say.

The number of felonies recorded in Uzbekistan in the first half of 2016 decreased by 13.5% compared to the same period last year, according to the government.

One factor helping improve public safety was the never-ending fight against extremism. In the first half of 2016, police solved 334 extremism- and terrorism-related crimes, the government says. They nabbed 549 suspected extremists during the same time.

Safer and safer

Such work is consolidating perceptions of safety in Uzbekistan. The country was ranked third safest in the world, behind only Singapore and Iceland, in the Gallup Global Law and Order 2016 Report. Hundreds of respondents accounted for that ranking, by answering a number of questions in 2015, such as "Do you feel safe walking alone at night in the city or area where you live?".

"The crime rate falls every year," Deputy Interior Minister Tursunpulat Toshpulatov said at an August 19 news conference in Tashkent. "The number of felonies recorded in the first half of the year fell by 13.5% [compared to the same period last year]."

The country has 3,788 police stations hard at work in protecting the public, according to the Interior Ministry (MVD).

"You can walk around safely anytime," Tashkent resident Dmitrii Shestakov told Caravanserai. "People don't lock their cars."

Foreigners welcome the sense of safety in Uzbekistan.

"While I was there, I didn't sense any threats," German tourist Moritz Finke, who visited in July, told Caravanserai. "You don't fear for your wallet, camera or passport there."

Seeking to defeat extremism and reform police

During an August 26 session of the senate, the members heard about the anti-extremism work of law enforcement.

The 549 suspected extremists detained in the first half of 2016 included "members of ISIL [the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant'] and the Turkistan Islamic Movement", senate spokesman Javokhir Mavlonov told Caravanserai.

Police "seized more than 7,000 pieces of extremist literature ... calling for the government's ouster" in the first half of 2016, he added.

Throughout the year, the Uzbekistani senate debated a bill on police reform. The country's police have operated under the same law since 1991.

On August 24, the senate passed the bill. It awaits a decision by President Islam Karimov.

Both the public and law enforcement hope the bill will become law and will fix some problems that have formed over the years. The bill's content remains undisclosed unless Karimov approves it.

Police officers have operated under "internal instructions inaccessible to the public" since 1991, Tashkent political scientist Valerii Khan told Caravanserai.

The bill that the senate passed August 24 will "outline the rights, obligations and powers of MVD personnel", the senate said in one publication.

On the other hand, police officers point to the difficulty of their job.

"Almost nobody knows that ... we might, if needed, have to work a few months in a row without any days off," a Tashkent police officer told Caravanserai on condition on anonymity. "Our work day is not fixed. An inspector doing outreach work can be on duty for 12 to 14 hours a day and earn no overtime. We hope the new law will make our job easier."

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