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Trump Meets Uzbek President, Making No Mention of Human Rights

May 16, 2018

“They’ve actually made investments here; we make investments there,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re working together from the standpoint of the military, including his purchase of equipment and military equipment from the United States.”

In the run-up to Mr. Mirziyoyev’s visit, Uzbekistan last week released Bobomurod Abdullaev, a freelance journalist who was detained and imprisoned in September by Uzbekistan’s feared National Security Service. Mr. Abdullaev’s wife and lawyer have said he was tortured, and he was charged with “conspiracy to overthrow the constitutional regime.”

Three days after Mr. Abdullaev’s release, the White House announced that Mr. Mirziyoyev would be coming to the White House for a “historic” meeting with Mr. Trump. This week, administration officials also said they counted it as a good sign that Uzbekistan granted credentials to Voice of America, a United States-government news outlet. But the Uzbek government is still tightly restricting press access; on Monday, it denied a visa to a New York Times reporter who had been invited by the Nukus Museum, which houses an important collection of Russian art.

American officials said the administration would push the Uzbek government during the visit to drop restrictions on the right of religious groups to assemble, a point they said would be pressed by Sam Brownback, the American ambassador at large for international religious freedom.

Human rights groups see the visit as an opportunity for the Trump administration and Congress to pressure Uzbekistan to release thousands more political prisoners and overhaul its laws and legal system, scrapping charges of “extremism” that have been used to punish dissenters.

“We are heartened to see the release of long-held activists,” Nadejda Atayeva, president of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia, said in a statement released by a dozen human rights groups in advance of the visit. “To ensure lasting change, the repressive legal framework used to persecute and imprison peaceful activists and religious believers on ill-defined charges of extremism for so many years should be changed for good.”