Global Policy Forum

Uzbek Activist Sues Interior Ministry Over Exit Visa

An Uzbek human rights activist who was denied an exit visa is suing the Interior Ministry.  Uzbekistan is the last remaining former USSR country to still require citizens to obtain an exit visa to leave the country.  Activists and opposition members allege that exit visas are used by the government to control their activities.  In March 2005 the UN Human Rights Committee recommended that Uzbekistan remove the exit visa requirement, and did so again in March 2010 when it considered Uzbekistan's third report.  The Uzbek government has so far ignored the UN's recommendations.

By Farangis Najibullah and Mirzo Salimov

January 5, 2011

A human rights activist is suing the Uzbek Interior Ministry for denying him an exit visa to travel outside the country, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reports.

Dmitry Tikhonov, 37, from the city of Angren in the Tashkent region, applied for an exit visa twice in 2010; first in May when he was invited to take part in an African expedition as a zoologist, and the second time in the autumn when he wanted to visit his brother in Germany. Both applications were rejected without explanation.

Tikhonov, a member of the Human Rights Alliance of Uzbekistan, told RFE/RL on January 4 that he had no choice but to file the lawsuit, even though he said he has little hope it will succeed.

"There should be more lawsuits like mine," he said. "But I don't think the whole system will be changed [by them]. But at least one should never sit quietly. I am doing my utmost to make this case public in order to shame authorities for what they doing against me and others like me."

A court hearing on Tikhonov's lawsuit is due to be held on January 7 at the Yakkasaroy district court in Tashkent.

Tikhonov, an ethnic Russian, has been an outspoken critic of human rights violations and alleged corruption in his hometown, Angren, which is 110 kilometers east of the capital.

Uzbekistan is the only former Soviet republic that still requires exit visas. Even Turkmenistan -- notorious for imposing travel restrictions on its citizens -- abandoned exit visas in January 2002.

Uzbek authorities insist that permission to travel abroad is needed to protect the country from terrorism.

But Uzbek opposition members and human rights activists claim the authorities use the exit-visa regime to put pressure on them and restrict their contacts with the West. The decision to give or refuse travel permission is taken in coordination between the Interior Ministry and the National Security Service.

Rights activists Bakhodir Namozov, Saida Kurbanova, Mamirjon Azimov, and Oktam Pardaev are among the hundreds of people who have been banned from traveling outside Uzbekistan in recent years.

Last month, security authorities imposed tougher travel rules on foreign citizens living in Uzbekistan under long-term visas or with a residence permit. There have been a number of complaints by Russian and Ukrainian citizens who could not leave Uzbekistan without exit visas.

An Interior Ministry official told RFE/RL that, in fact, the requirement for foreigners with residence permits to obtain exit visas was introduced in 1996 but never properly enforced until recently.

The official said that due to an increase in economic crimes committed by foreigners the Ministry has decided to reimplement the exit-visa regulation for foreigners living in Uzbekistan.

Some Uzbeks consider the Travel Permissions Department -- which is within the Interior Ministry -- to be corrupt. Under the law, an exit visa is to be granted within 15 working days. But in practice, applicants must pay around $100-$220 to get the exit visa within that time.

An exit visa expires within two years and the Uzbek citizen is required to return upon its expiration in order to avoid fines or a ban on future travel.

Critics point out that millions of Uzbek citizens leave the country every year in search of work and this presents a great opportunity for some officials at the Interior Ministry.

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