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Uzbekistan 2019 Crime & Safety Report

Uzbekistan 2019 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

 

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Uzbekistan at Level 1, indicating that travelers should exercise normal precautions.

 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

 

The U.S. Embassy in Tashkent does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The ACS Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

 

Review OSAC’s Uzbekistan-specific webpage for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

 

Crime Threats

 

There is moderate risk from crime in Tashkent. The Government of Uzbekistan does not release accurate crime statistics; most data comes through informal sources. Open-source reporting on crimes within Uzbekistan increased in 2018, but this does not necessarily correspond to an increase in actual crime. Violent crimes against foreign victims are rare. Crimes of opportunity (e.g. mugging, pickpocketing, snatch-and-grab robbery, theft of unattended bags, purse snatching) are common, especially in crowded places (e.g. bazaars, public transportation) and in more impoverished areas of Tashkent. Home burglaries and break-ins occur, even in wealthier neighborhoods. In general, locals perceive foreigners to be wealthy, and target them for financially motivated crime. Most expatriate houses in Uzbekistan have more substantial residential security features relative to U.S. houses.

 

Nightclubs frequented by foreign clientele are targets for illicit activity, and often become the focus of law-enforcement operations. Simultaneous raids on these and similar establishments occur; authorities sporadically enforce a nighttime curfew of 11:00 pm for many establishments. Application of the curfew typically involves law-enforcement arriving at the venue, operations (e.g. dancing, music, food and beverage service) ceasing, and everyone departing without incident. However, authorities can detain patrons for document verification and questioning, which can take several hours. In 2018, there were several incidents at nightclubs in Tashkent, including the murder of a patron beaten to death by security guards after having threatened them with a knife. The nightclub, located in the center of Tashkent, closed; the security guards face criminal charges.

 

Unofficial news outlets and informal sources report violent crimes in some of the more impoverished areas of Tashkent, including some parts of Sergeli, Chilanzar, and Hamza districts, and around the Chorsu Market in the Old City. Unsolved property and violent crimes are more common in these areas.

 

Although the official and black-market exchange rates for the Uzbek soum have come back into alignment, the practice of exchanging money on the black market is still illegal. Anyone engaging in black market currency exchange risks receiving counterfeit bills, as well as detainment, interrogation, or arrest. Uzbekistan remains a predominately cash economy. Establishments often do not accept credit cards or U.S. ATM cards. ATMs regularly run out of cash. Vendors and banks frequently rejected U.S. cash that is not “crispy” (clean, no wrinkles, no marks). There is a substantial risk of fraud outside of major establishments and banks. For more information, review OSAC’s report, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud.

 

There are no official statistics reported for vehicle theft (including carjacking), but unofficial reports advise that it does occur.

 

Corruption is endemic in the public and private sectors, and often closely involves criminal mechanisms. Criminal links exist throughout Uzbek society.

 

Other Areas of Concern

 

Exercise caution while traveling throughout Uzbekistan. Due to increased security measures, any attempts to navigate Uzbekistan’s land borders could be difficult and invite delays. Despite official Uzbek government announcements of an increased number of border-crossing stations, many border crossings with neighboring countries remain closed or inoperable. Proper documentation (i.e. current passport, valid visa for the destination) are essential for both internal and external travel. Even with proper documentation, unexpected border closures and restrictions against non-Central Asians may prevent crossing.

 

If you plan to return to Uzbekistan after crossing the border, ensure you have a valid multiple-entry visa. Some Western travelers have traveled to neighboring countries only to realize they cannot return because their visa was for a single entry. The most direct routes in certain areas of the Fergana Valley are along roads that may temporarily cross poorly demarcated or disputed borders. Locals use these so-called transit roads daily by without incident. Authorities may consider crossing the border in this manner, even inadvertently, as an immigration violation.

 

Transportation-Safety Situation

 

For more information, review OSAC’s Report, Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

 

Road Safety and Road Conditions

 

Traffic safety is a major concern. Roads suffer poor maintenance, with uneven surfaces and large potholes. Traffic lights frequently malfunction, and street lighting is poor to non-existent, particularly on secondary roads where driving at night is ill advised. Highways and roads outside of most major cities are serviceable; travel only during daylight hours for adequate visibility. It is common for local drivers to drive at night without headlights, especially outside of Tashkent.   

 

Local drivers exhibit a general lack of respect for traffic rules/regulations, from disregarding lane markings, to driving on the opposite side of the street, to making sudden lane changes without signaling. Personal vehicles operating as ad hoc, informal cabs will pull over without warning to pick up passengers, and often make turns from any lane. Minor and moderate traffic accidents are frequent. Officially, parties involved in an accident must contact the police and exchange insurance information; in practice, cases often resolve on the street with a cash payment by the offending party. This is a normal, albeit illegal, practice, since formal investigations are time-consuming, bureaucratic, and cumbersome. Rampant corruption with respect to traffic citations and accident investigations exists. Newly installed traffic cameras enforce red light and speeding violations, which has led to new, abrupt traffic behaviors. Drunk drivers are also a concern, although there is technically a zero-tolerance policy. Stay alert and drive defensively.

 

Pedestrians have the right of way. Vehicles will often stop abruptly to allow pedestrians to cross at designated areas. While crosswalks are common, they are not always used. Pedestrians frequently stand in traffic to hail a taxi and attempt to cross the street where there is no pedestrian crossing. Many people walk in the street, often wearing dark clothing, and are difficult to see, especially in inclement weather and in the dark. Some drivers are inattentive to the presence of pedestrians. This combination leads to frequent, serious pedestrian/vehicular accidents – especially at night.

 

The government has been installing traffic radars and cameras on roads and intersections in the country that are able to detect speeding, and traffic light violations. A speed limit is set for 70km/h in towns and 100 km/h at highways outside towns.

 

Depending upon security conditions, Americans could expect restricted personal movement to certain parts of the country, including the temporary closing of roads to traffic, and frequent vehicle and personal identification checks.

 

Uzbekistan allows a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.3 for drivers. For more information on self-driving, review OSAC’s report, Driving Overseas: Best Practices.

 

Public Transportation Conditions

 

Public transportation in Tashkent consists of an underground metro system and buses (including microbuses). The metro is fairly clean and affordable, and features armed police surveillance. Authorities usually search personal items, and it is common for guards to review identification documents. Buses are generally crowded and offer pickpockets easy targets. Unlicensed buses and damas vans come with increased safety and security risks.

 

The U.S. Embassy advises its employees to use radio-dispatched, app-dispatched, or well-marked taxicabs. Avoid unregistered cabs for crime and safety reasons. Taxis may try to pick up additional passengers, raising the risk of crime or scams. Police will not assist victims of price gouging or scamming by unregistered taxis. Very few taxis have or allow the use of seatbelts.

 

Travel by rail is popular, and the advent of high-speed rail lines provides an effective, alternative form of transportation. Security measures at train stations are similar to those at airports.

                                          

Aviation/Airport Conditions

 

Islam Karimov Tashkent International Airport (TAS) maintains relatively robust security. Travelers should prepare for long lines, line jumpers, and an extremely crowded baggage retrieval area; however, the airport is implementing customer service improvements. Customs regulations allow importation of up to $2,000 in cash without customs declaration; travelers must declare any amount exceeding $2,000 upon entry/exit into Uzbekistan. Save your customs declaration to show the amount of money declared upon entry into the country.

 

When possible, arrange transportation in advance. While taxis are abundant, language barriers and subsequent negotiations over fares can lead to problems or exorbitant fares. The exit area of the arrival terminal is crowded, with a large number of taxi drivers harassing travelers with offers of overpriced transport. There are marked taxicabs in the parking lot near the terminal for those needing transport; they will provide an official receipt, but the fare is unreasonably high. 

 

Regional airports maintain similarly robust security, although amenities are substandard or non-existent. Domestic air travel has improved, with multiple flights to many larger regional cities.

 

Terrorism Threat

 

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

 

There is moderate risk from terrorism in Tashkent. Uzbek security and law enforcement bodies have successfully prevented terrorist attacks since 2004, and aggressively pursue investigations of potential radicalization or terrorism support. Radicalization of Uzbek nationals or ethnic Uzbeks has occurred abroad, raising the risk of returning fighters or terrorists. Over the past few years, Russia has arrested dozens of Uzbeks for suspected ties to terrorism or for links to extremist organizations. Uzbeks allegedly participated in the terrorist attacks against the Istanbul airport in June 2016, the Reina nightclub in Istanbul in January 2017, in Sweden in April 2017, and in the United States in October 2017. In July 2018, members of an ISIS cell attacked and killed four cyclists as they biked through Southern Tajikistan; two of the victims were U.S. nationals. Uzbek nationals or ethnic Uzbeks reportedly have become foreign terrorist fighters in Syria.

 

Supporters of terrorist groups are active in Central Asia. The U.S. Government remains concerned that terrorist groups may be planning attacks, possibly against U.S. interests, in Uzbekistan and across Central Asia. Supporters of terrorist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), al-Qa’ida, the Islamic Jihad Union, and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM/ETIP) are active in the region. In the past, these groups have conducted kidnappings, assassinations, and suicide bombings. Terrorist groups do not distinguish between official and civilian targets. Since official U.S. facilities have increased security, terrorists and their sympathizers may seek softer targets.

 

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

 

Members of various terrorist groups have expressed anti-U.S. sentiments and have attacked U.S. government interests in Central Asia previously, including U.S. Embassy Tashkent, and may attempt to target U.S. government or private interests in the region.

 

The Government of Uzbekistan maintains friendly relations with the U.S. Government. Expressions of anti-U.S. or anti-Western sentiment are rare; the U.S. remains a popular destination for business/leisure travel for Uzbek citizens.

 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

 

Civil Unrest

 

There is minimal risk from civil unrest in Tashkent. While Uzbekistan’s constitutional provisions afford citizens the right to hold rallies, meetings, and demonstrations, authorities can ban or suspend these on security grounds. While the potential for civil disturbance exists, demonstrations are rare. Unapproved demonstrations of typically less than a dozen people have occurred in front of the General Prosecutor’s Office, Monument of Courage, the Supreme Court, and district courts in Tashkent; authorities often shut them down. In outlying regions, larger demonstrations and road blockages, some consisting of as many as 200 participants, occasionally occur in protest against utility shortages or currency issues. Authorities usually disperse these quickly, too.

 

Civil unrest and political violence are uncommon due to the high degree of control and engagement by the government from the national level to the local neighborhood associations (mahallas).

 

Although the rare demonstrations are typically peaceful, avoid them. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn unpredictable and violent; moreover, there is a significant risk that security authorities will use force to control the demonstration and/or conduct follow-on investigations and criminal proceedings against demonstrators.

 

Post-Specific Concerns

 

Environmental Hazards

 

Uzbekistan is located on a major earthquake fault line, and tremors are frequent. In 2011, a 6.1-magnitude earthquake damaged/destroyed at least 800 homes in the Fergana valley. The reported death toll was 13 people, and more than 80 others sustained injuries.

 

Local housing rarely meets Western construction standards; however, major Uzbek hotels reportedly meet earthquake design standards.

 

U.S. Embassy Tashkent strongly encourages residents and visitors to evaluate their own earthquake readiness and emergency-response capabilities. Find a useful resource regarding emergency preparedness on the U.S. Embassy Tashkent’s website. For more information, review OSAC’s report, Central Asia Earthquake Preparedness.

 

Critical Infrastructure

 

Industrial and transportation accidents are very common, as occupational safety, health standards, and traffic regulations are often lacking or ignored.

 

Privacy Concerns

 

Visitors and residents have no expectation of privacy. Security services monitor foreign visitors closely and may employ surveillance practices. It is reasonable to expect that authorities may monitor hotel rooms, offices, cars, taxis, gyms, and other public places on site or remotely. Do not expect privacy in communications via phone, Internet, or fax. Authorities may search personal possessions without your knowledge or consent. Maintain direct control of all electronic devices while traveling in country.

 

Personal Identify Concerns

 

LGBTI rights are very limited to non-existent, with sexual relations between men punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment. The law does not specifically address same-sex sexual activity between women. Same-sex sexual activity is generally a taboo subject in Uzbek society, and there are no registered LGBTI organizations. Same-sex couples may experience discrimination by the local population.

 

Authorities only allow religious congregation within registered religious communities. The registration process is strict and complex. Proselytizing, importing and disseminating religious literature, and offering private religious instruction are subject to criminal penalties/deportation. Carrying religious literature and/or open displays of worship can attract the attention of security authorities.

 

Foreign citizens should not give public speeches or engage in other public events, regardless of size, unless the Ministry of Justice or a relevant branch has authorized their participation in the event. The Uzbek government is strict about public events, especially when a foreigner is present.

 

Drug-related Crimes

 

Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Uzbekistan are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. There is a risk of narco-terrorism issues, given the geographic proximity to Afghanistan and its location within a major corridor of trade and transport routes for Afghan heroin and opium. Several times each year, Uzbek authorities announce the seizure of large drug shipments at border crossings, likely representing just a fraction of what is transiting the country. Corruption and lack of training/equipment for law enforcement agencies hamper efforts to stem the flow of narcotics. The drug addiction problem is also likely significantly worse than acknowledged by the government. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates there are ten times as many drug addicts in Uzbekistan as officially acknowledged. This issue generally does not affect the expatriate community.

 

Kidnapping Threat

 

Kidnappings have occurred; however, the U.S. Embassy is not aware of any recent instances involving the expatriate community.

 

Police Response

 

Police training and equipment is often below U.S. standards. Police reportedly commonly solicit bribes to supplement their salaries, or may readily accept bribes when offered. Very few local law enforcement officials speak English. While police response capability is available, there is little investigative ability to solve crimes primarily due to limited training, funding, and equipment.

 

Tourist police units operate at regional police headquarters in Samarkand, Bukhara, Khorezm, and Kashkadarya. Tourist police aim to aid tourists/visitors and prevent offenses against them at sightseeing and cultural sites. Tourist police officers patrol areas by foot and in specially marked police vehicles.

 

In 2018, a realignment of responsibilities among the Armed Forces and Security Services resulted in creation of the National Guard. Currently the National Guard provides public order and security in cities throughout Uzbekistan. The National Guard patrols the streets in conjunction with local police forces.

 

Authorities enforce a prohibition on taking photographs of military or security installations or other locations of strategic significance (e.g. government ministries, border and other checkpoints, bridges, tunnels, reservoirs, mountain passes, etc.). However, there is no longer any prohibition on photography of the metro system. Obey all signs restricting photography, and remember that the absence of signage does not imply permission. Photography of cotton harvesting remains a sensitive subject. For more information, please review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography. Authorities generally prohibit the personal use of drones in Uzbekistan.

 

Travelers to Uzbekistan are subject to frequent document inspections. Travelers should have proper identity documents or a copy of their passport with them, and cooperate with police authorities if stopped for questioning.

 

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

 

The risk of abuse while in police custody is a potential danger. If police harassed or detained a U.S. citizen, immediately report the incident to the American Citizen Services Unit (ACS) at +998-78-120-5450.

 

Crime Victim Assistance

 

If a U.S. citizen is the victim of a crime, immediately report the incident to ACS.

 

Uzbekistan has an emergency response telephone system. Dial 102 on local phones for police services. Reach fire services at 101. Dialing 1050 reaches the Ministry of Emergency Situations, where you can report all other critical incidents. Emergency dispatch services will likely speak only Russian or Uzbek, not English. 

 

Medical Emergencies

 

The health care system is not adequate to meet the needs of many serious emergencies. There is a lack of basic supplies and little modern equipment. Emergency medicine is very basic. A large percentage of medication sold in local pharmacies counterfeit. Elderly travelers and those with pre-existing health problems may be at particular risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Most resident U.S. citizens travel to North America or Western Europe for their medical needs.

 

You can reach emergency medical services locally by dialing 103. Emergency dispatch services will likely speak only Russian or Uzbek, not English. 

 

Uzbek customs authorities strictly control the importation of controlled pharmaceuticals and psychotropic medicine for personal use. Even arriving with personal prescriptions of common medicines can meet unexpectedly stringent requirements. For more information, refer to travel.state.gov, the U.S. Embassy website, and OSAC’s report, Traveling with Medication.

 

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

 

The Tashkent International Clinic (TIC) (Tel: +998-78-291-0142/0726) meets Western standards. There is a physician on-site during the day and on-call during non-working hours. TIC has basic diagnostic equipment and can handle some trauma emergencies. More severe injuries require air evacuation. For mass casualty scenarios, authorities have identified Tashkent Emergency Hospital as the receiving institution for trauma care.

 

Available Air Ambulance Services

 

Air-ambulance response times can easily stretch beyond 24 hours. This is mostly due to the bureaucratic process for obtaining aircraft clearances and visas. If an expatriate patient needs an air ambulance, TIC should be their first contact. Because of the high costs associated with an emergency medical evacuation (medevac), travelers should obtain medevac insurance coverage. Medicare and Medicaid do not apply overseas.

 

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

 

Drink only boiled or bottled water, peel fruits and vegetables, and avoid undercooked meat. Avoid eating unpasteurized dairy products and most food sold in the street.

 

There is the risk of exposure to multidrug resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB). The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Uzbekistan.

 

OSAC Country Council Information

 

The Tashkent Country Council has 50 member organizations from the private sector and ten member organizations from the diplomatic community attending meetings. The main point of contact for OSAC issues is the Assistant Regional Security Officer. Contact OSAC’s South & Central Asia team with any questions.

 

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

 

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

 

3 Moyqorghon Street, 5th Block, Yunusobod District, Tashkent 100093

Hours: Monday-Friday 0900-1800

 

Embassy Contact Numbers

 

Main Operator: +998-78-120-5450

Regional Security Office: +998-78-140-2347

Consular Affairs: +998-78-140-2215

Website: http://uz.usembassy.gov

 

Embassy Guidance

 

Travelers are encouraged to check their visa to ensure it is valid through the length of their stay and should register with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). 

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