Uzbekistan adopts first-ever law on police

By Maksim Yeniseyev

Uzbekistani MVD personnel assemble in formation in the summer of 2015 in Tashkent Province. [MVD photo obtained by Maksim Yeniseyev]

Uzbekistani MVD personnel assemble in formation in the summer of 2015 in Tashkent Province. [MVD photo obtained by Maksim Yeniseyev]

TASHKENT -- Uzbekistani police have a basic law regulating their activities for the first time in their country's 25-year history of independence.

Acting President Shavkat Mirziyoyev signed the "On law enforcement agencies" bill September 17. On the same day, he reshuffled Interior Ministry (MVD) leadership in hopes of upgrading the ministry's work.

It was no routine bill -- it ended a quarter-century in which Uzbekistani police had nothing but internal or provisional regulations to govern them.

The bill takes effect March 17, six months after its signing.

An all-encompassing law

The law describes in detail the rights and duties of police officers, their working methods and their job-related benefits.

Analysts are hoping to see a transformed relationship between the public and police.

Uzbekistani police "existed for a long time in a ... legal vacuum", Tashkent political scientist Valerii Khan told Caravanserai. "They acted on the basis of the 'Provisional Charter' adopted by the government in 1993, as well as a large number of documents ... unavailable to the public."

Even after the issuance of a clarifying presidential decree in 2001, police work "remained opaque", Khan said.

Benefiting both sides

Besides making the police more transparent to citizens, the bill is meant to give police the "regulatory protection" that other workers in Uzbekistan have, Khan said.

Reforms had been looking increasingly likely since then-President Islam Karimov criticised law enforcement's job performance last December 8.

This year, some MVD personnel faced prosecution for dishonouring their positions.

They include Col. Odiljon Soliyev, who was chief of the MVD's visa issuance department for Fergana Province. He was sentenced to eight years in prison July 8 for forging travel documents. Several radicalised citizens used the documents to go join militants in the Middle East.

Police officers who do their jobs honestly hope to start receiving compensation for overtime.

"We have been waiting for this law a long time," a Tashkent police inspector told Caravanserai, requesting anonymity. "Sometimes we worked several months in a row without weekends off and earned no overtime."

"This law ... will regularise our schedules," he predicted. "I hope we receive additional pension benefits."

Citizens, meanwhile, hope for more accountability.

"Until recently we had no clear information on how police officers should behave if they checked your documents without making an arrest," Tashkent resident Abduvokhid Tursunov told Caravanserai.

High confidence so far in security

Whatever day-to-day frictions may occur with law enforcement, Uzbekistanis generally rate their personal security highly. Gallup, the global polling organisation, in 2015 surveyed residents of 133 countries for its 2016 Global Law and Order Report "to gauge people’s sense of personal security in their neighborhoods and their personal experiences with crime and law enforcement", according to a Gallup statement.

Uzbekistan tied for second with Iceland, behind only Singapore, in its citizens' sense of confidence in their security.

Besides signing the bill, Mirziyoyev reshuffled MVD leadership in a bid to optimise the ministry's work. He appointed 10 officials, including Aitbai Temirkhanov, the new interior minister for Karakalpakstan.

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